Tastes of Thailand
Today was an amazing food day. I spent it with a very special young woman, Tia. Not long ago my dear, sweet Tia traveled to Thailand. Tia’s journey took her across this exotic, tropical country filled with ancient ruins, temples, mountains, beaches and amazing food. During her time in Chiang Mai located in northern Thailand, she spent most of a day participating in a cooking class. The class prepared several of Thailand’s famous dishes. The salads, soups and stir-frys were bursting with the five essential flavors common in Thai cuisine: sweet, salt, sour, spice and bitter.
I have been a fan of Thai food for many years. So I was excited and maybe a bit jealous to learn that she was going to have such a memorable culinary experience. Tia reassured me that when she returned we would get together so that she could teach me how to prepare authentic Thai dishes in my mid-Missouri kitchen.
We began our morning visiting a local Asian market and were delighted to discover that they had every ingredient on our list except for fresh kafr lime leaves and green papaya. They usually carry those items, but were out today. We got some intel from the store manager that Fridays are the best day to shop for fresh Asian produce. So you know where I’ll be headed on Friday.
As with most Asian cooking, the majority of time is spent in the preparing all of the ingredients. Once everything is chopped, sliced, ground and grated, the actual cooking process goes very quickly.
One unique feature of Thai cooking is the use of a mortal and pestle. We ground chili peppers, garlic and other spices and herbs which became part of the seasonings and sauces. Grinding the fresh herbs, chilies and spices not only helped to release their amazing flavors but allowed for the ingredients to be ground into finer pieces. We used my ceramic one, but a stone type is preferred and can really take a beating when grinding up fibrous things like lemon grass and galangal. If you don’t own a mortal and pestle, you could chop things very finely and also use a meat mallet to crush peppers or lemon grass. In other words don’t let the fact that you don’t own a mortal and pestle stop you from trying to make your own Thai food.
Grinding the hot chili peppers, garlic and long beans
Three Course Lunch (salad, soup and stir-fry)
So if you’re like me and love Thai food but leave the cooking up to a local restaurant, I hope this will inspire you to try your hand at making one of your restaurant favorites at home. We did it. The food turned out so full of flavor. We had a such a great time cooking together that we’re planning to tackle 3 new Thai dishes when we get together in my kitchen again next month.
Papaya Salad (Som Tum)
Such bright, fresh flavors.
- 2 Thai green chili peppers
- 1/2 cup long beans sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 2 cloves garlic peeled
- 1/2 tomato sliced
- 2 cups shredded green papaya sub english cucumber
- 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar chopped fine
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 Tablespoon lime juice freshly squeezed
Place chilies, long beans and garlic in bowl and grind together until the break up.
In medium size bowl gently mix together the ground chili mixture, tomato and green papaya or cucumber.
In small bowl, combine palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice. Stir until sugar dissolves.
Pour dressing over salad, toss gently to combine and top with roasted peanuts.
- We substituted English cucumber for the green papaya. After you shred the cucumber, place it in a colander that is lined with paper towels and on top to draw out excess moisture.
- Palm sugar was a brand new ingredient to me. It came in little pre-formed hard cakes. I shaved off pieces with a chef's knife and chopped it very fine. I think you could also grate it as well.
Hot and Sour Prawn Soup (Tom Yum Koong)
This packs all 5 of the flavors of Thailand. We were so amazed at how we developed so much flavor in a soup that takes just minutes to cook. Wow!
- 3 cups water
- 1 stalk lemon grass, smash and cut into 3 inch lengths cut off woody end, discard
- 3 thin slices galangal peel before slicing
- zest 1 lime save lime for juice
- 3 small thai chilies smashed
- 1/2 cup red tomato chopped
- 1/2 cup mushrooms sliced
- 1/2 cup yellow onion chopped
- 6 prawns/large shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar grated/chopped fine
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 Tablespoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon hot chili sauce
- 1/4 cup cilantro chopped for garnish
In deep sauce pan, heat water over high heat until just boiling.
Add lemongrass, galangal, lime zest and chilies. Cook for 3 minutes.
Add tomato, mushrooms and onion. Cook for 2 minutes.
Lower heat then add prawns/shrimp, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and chili sauce. Leave on low heat until prawns/shrimp are cooked through. About 5 minutes.
Ladle soup into bowls. Top with fresh cilantro and lime wedges.
Stir Fried Hot Basil with Chicken (Pad Kra Proaw)
This dish is so fragrant, full of basil flavor and lots of umami from the fish and oyster sauce.
- 2 teaspoon palm sugar grated
- 4 teaspoons fish sauce
- 6 teaspoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil coconut or canola
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 Thai chilies finely chopped
- 1/2 pound chicken breast boneless, skinless, medium chop
- 2 medium carrots sliced
- 2 medium shallots sliced
- 1 handful thai basil rough chop
In a small bowl combine, palm sugar, fish sauce and oyster sauce. Stir until sugar dissolves.
Heat oil in wok over low heat.
Add garlic and chilies. Cook until fragrant. One minute.
Turn wok up to high. Add chicken and cook 2 minutes.
Add carrots and shallots. Cook 2 minutes.
Turn heat to low and add the fish sauce mixture. Stir to coat the chicken and vegetables.
Add chopped basil, stir and cook for one more minute until basil wilts.
Serve with hot jasmine rice. Top with Sriracha sauce if you like more spice.