As others have mentioned ethnic/specialist supermarkets are the best place to find both individual ingredients and spice blend/packs; you'll generally get a far better selection and at a better price. I should note that's speaking from a UK perspective rather than a US one; we obviously have pretty deep connections with India and Bangladesh (quick bit of trivia; most "Indian" restaurants and dishes in the UK are actually owned by Bangladeshi's and cooked in a Bangladeshi style) and as such have a lot of specialist shops around.
Likewise as others have said, home made is almost always superior to prepared. It's generally cheaper (especially if you cook in bulk and freeze), you can adjust recipes to your personal taste and even without adjustment in my experience the best prepared sauces taste about as good as a mediocre home-cooked one.
Slow cookers/crock pots are perfect for currys and depending on what style you use so can an oven; dum pukht in particular is a style of Indian cooking that is based around slow and low cooking in sealed containers.
Here's my Thai Red Curry paste recipe; it's simple and quick to make and can be stored in bulk for use when you need:Ingredients:
(Will make about half a pint's worth)
Four mid-sized red chillies (just generic chillies unless you like a specific flavour/heat level)
Four teaspoons of coriander seeds
Four teaspoons of cumin seeds
Four trimmed and chopped lemongrass stems
Two tablespoons of hot paprika
Two teaspoons of fresh grated ginger
Six cloves of garlic
The zest and juice of two limes
Optional Step: Split the chilies and remove the seeds. Most of the heat within a chilli comes from the seeds; for a hotter curry leave them in, for a more mild one take them out.
1) Heat a frying pan to a medium heat and gently toast the coriander and cumin seeds, tossing frequently. Heating spices allows the flavours and oils to develop and is one of the key aspects of getting the best out of them. That said less is more here when first starting out; you don't want to burn the spices (which will leave the end product tasting bitter). Try for between three and five minutes.
2) Remove the spices and crush them, preferably in a pestle and mortar but at a pinch the flat side of a blade and some heavy pressure can do the trick. You want a powder-like consistency.
3) Takes this powder and all the other ingredients, add to a food processor and pulse together until you have a paste.
This should make about eight tablespoon sized portions, with one portion being roughly enough for one person.
Now you have a paste, this is my basic Thai red curry recipe in a slow cooker: this is for a chicken and vegetable curry but you can take them out and just have the sauce:Ingredients:
One kilogram of chicken thigh fillets
Two tablespoons of vegetable oil
140ml of coconut milk
One tablespoon of brown sugar
Four tablespoons of the above Thai red curry paste
235ml/one cup of chicken stock
150g of fresh shiitake mushroom
230g of bamboo shoots
One tablespoon of fish sauce
Basil leaves (optional, for serving)
1) Using on tablespoon of oil brown your chicken in a hot pan until golden (about one or two minutes a side)
2) Reduce heat to low, remove chicken and put aside, add remaining oil and paste. Cook for one or two minutes until it becomes aromatic (i.e. the aroma is everywhere and awesome)
3) Add stock and stir until the paste has dissolved
4) Add mushrooms and shoots, leave for one or two minutes.
5) Pour over chicken (probably best to do this in
the slow cooker/crock pot) and stir so everything is coated.
6) Cover and cook on high (around 195F, 90C) for three and a half hours.
7) Combine sauce, sugar and coconut milk in a bowl/jug, pour over curry and stir in. Cover and cook for around 30 minutes (still on high).
8) Either put aside to use later (it will last around four days in a fridge or you can freeze it) or take what you need, able a couple of basil leaves and serve immediately.
Ethiopian food is great. Berbere
is the main thing behind the heat; for a milder version try using/asking for turmeric. Probably the first dish you'll want to try is wat, a thick stew traditionally served on top/with injera, a sourdough flat bread.