Category Archives: Thai

Aromatic Thai Curry (Geng gari) with Chicken and Asparagus

If green asparagus can perfectly face the flavours and heat of an Indian curry,  why not test it with Thai one? Leafing through David Thompson’s Thai Food I chose a curry called “aromatic”, combining both Indian and Thai seasoning ingredients. When I say “I chose a curry”, I mean the paste because this extraordinary book has a different paste recipe for every single curry. Though the original recipe calls for duck, I replaced it with chicken (the author suggests different protein sources anyway). This modification, the presence of asparagus and of button mushrooms didn’t stop this curry from being one of the best I’ve ever had.

I couldn’t post this recipe without writing once more about Thai Food by David Thompson, one of the best cooking books I have ever seen (and I talk about all the cuisines from around the world). If you like and cook – or would like to cook – Thai food, this is the most genuine, complete and simply the best written source of recipes I can imagine. It can be a bit intimidating at first, but as soon as you start putting it into practice, every single dish will make you say “wow”, especially if, like me, all you know is food served in Westernised restaurants. As always, I’ve made some alterations to the original recipe, “slimmed” it down skipping coconut cream and replacing a part of coconut milk with water (to be frank the only part I didn’t change was the curry paste) so make sure you check the original source.

TIPS: Beware, the crucial point here is preparing your own paste, which makes this curry unique and so different from those made with store-bought product. Dried spices can of course be bought in Indian shops (or even normal supermarkets) and the fresh ingredients in Thai shops. I have been recently buying fresh turmeric in my organic shop, so you might check these too. I cannot say if any store-bought Thai curry paste will be equally good with asparagus, but you can give it a go.

This paste will keep in the fridge for about a week. You can also freeze it (though David Thompson is totally against it, I find it still more than acceptable when defrosted).

Instead of green asparagus you can also use the violet (purple) one, but I don’t advise the white one. I haven’t tested it in any fiery dish and since it’s very different, the result might be disappointing.

I’ve added some mushrooms to this dish simply because I had some fresh leftover mushrooms from another dish, but they aren’t necessary (add more asparagus instead).

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves two):

Curry paste:

7 medium hot red dried chillies, soaked in warm water until they soften (usually 20-30 minutes)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh turmeric, chopped

4 small Asian shallots or 2 medium European shallots, chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped galangal

1 tablespoon lemongrass stalks (the lower half part only, outer tough “leaves” removed), very finely chopped

2 teaspoons coriander root, chopped

15 white peppercorns

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

3 sheaths mace or 1 teaspoon ground mace

Remaining ingredients:

2 small chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

100 g button mushrooms, sliced

250g green or violet asparagus (the tougher low part removed), cut into bite-sized pieces

200 ml coconut milk

fish sauce

(palm sugar)

Prepare the paste: on a clean frying pan roast the whole seeds and then grind them in a spice grinder, mortar or a coffee grinder. Mix the chopped fresh ingredients in a food processor (a small baby food processor is best here), adding some water if needed. (You can also grind them in a mortar, then no water is needed). Combine the fresh and the dried paste ingredients and mix them well again.

Pour some coconut milk into a pan add about 1/3 of the curry paste (keep the remaining paste in a well closed jar in the fridge for about a week or freeze it).

Heat the paste, stirring, until it starts smelling really strong.

Add the remaining coconut milk, the chicken and the mushrooms and simmer at low heat for about 5 minutes. (Add some water or more coconut milk if you find the curry too thick).

Add the thicker asparagus parts and simmer about 5 more minutes.

Finally add the thinnest asparagus parts and simmer for about 3 more minutes.

Season with fish sauce and, if it’s a bit bitter, with sugar.

Serve. (The author advises deep-fried shallots but I thought they wouldn’t suit this light spring version).

 

Aromatic curry paste:

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

chillijampEven if you have tasted lots of different chilli preserves, pickles, jellies or sauces, you will still be blown away by the extraordinary richness of flavours of this Thai condiment. It is obviously hot, but also smokey, sweet, salty, slightly sour, slightly pungent and, most of all, utterly addictive. At first I wondered why it’s called “jam”, but I quickly understood: as soon as I tasted the first spoonful, all I wanted was simply spread a thick layer of it on a piece of crunchy bread and enjoy every single bite of this astonishing product.

Nham Prik Pao/Nam Prik Pao is a famous Thai chilli paste, available in Asian grocery shops. According to David Thompson (Thai Food), there are two distinct methods to obtain it: grilling or frying and he advises the latter, more versatile, technique which I followed as closely as I could. The presence of dried shrimp, shrimp paste, galangal and most of all tamarind creates an incredibly complex and sophisticated result: sticky, pungent irresistible jam which, according to what I read on different internet sources, is indeed eaten as a bread spread in Thailand. According to David Thompson, this jam can be used as a relish, added to a sour soup (such as Tom Yum Goong), act as a basis for stir-fries and as a salad sauce. I have a friend who uses it all the time, so I’m sure it will not stay forgotten in your fridge. Definitely worth the long cutting and frying process!

I have mixed here two recipes (from David Thompson’s Thai Food and Thai Street Food), slightly changing the amounts of certain ingredients, so check either of these fascinating books to see the original recipe.

TIPS: If you cannot find shrimp paste, skip it. In his other book (Thai Street Food) David Thompson doesn’t include it in chilli jam recipe, so I guess it’s not obligatory, but I preferred the jam with it.

According to David Thompson galangal can be skipped here, but one does taste its presence in the final product and I think it creates and even more interesting taste, so if you can find it, buy it!

If you don’t find dried shrimp, you can easily dry fresh or defrosted small shrimp in the oven set at low temperature.  Check David Thompson’s Thai Food for the exact recipe (that’s what I did and my own dried shrimps were not only ridiculously easy to prepare, but largely superior to the bought stuff).

Tamarind can be bought in different forms: fresh, as a ready-to-use paste or in a square block. I use only tamarind blocks, advised in both Indian and Thai cookery books, so I have no idea how much of it should be used if you opt for the paste instead.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (fills a 200-250 ml jar):

oil for deep frying

150 g Asian shallots (I have used European shallots)

75 g garlic

2 slices fresh galangal

5 dried long chillies (you can use any variety, but I would avoid bird’s-eye chillies or Scotch bonnet or other extremely hot ones)

2 heaped tablespoons dried shrimp

3 flat tablespoons palm sugar

2 cm square of tamarind block

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste

Start with obtaining tamarind juice.

Cut about 2 cm square piece of tamarind block and pour 50 ml boiling water over it. Dissolve, stirring with a spoon. Put aside.

After about 15 minutes strain it: you obtain the tamarind juice, aka tamarind water.

Soak the dried chillies in salted water for ten minutes, deseed them (or not, if you want a hotter result) and dry them well.

Heat an empty pan and roast the 1/2 teaspoon of shrimp paste.

Rinse the dried shrimp and dry with paper towels.

Slice finely both the garlic and the shallots.

Heat the oil in a pan and deep fry the ingredients separately (in my opinion the following order is the best): galangal slices, chilli (until it starts looking crispy, but don’t let it burn!), garlic (beware, it starts changing colour very quickly and burns even quicker, so take it out with a slotted spoon as soon as it starts becoming light golden) and finally the shallots until they are golden (this will take a while and you need to do it in two batches at least).

Combine all the fried ingredients and dried shrimp in a mortar and pound them or, as I did, mix them in a baby food processor, adding some oil – as the author advises – to make the process easier.

Transfer the paste to a pan, add several more tablespoons oil and bring to a boil. Add the sugar, the tamarind juice and the fish sauce. Stir for about a minute, taste and adjust the flavours if needed (though it’s difficult while still hot…). Apparently the sugar can easily burn, so don’t heat the paste for too long. Now your chilli jam is ready!

It will keep in the fridge forever (I empty mine in several days…).

Thai Cucumber Relish/Thai Cucumber Salad

cucrelish2pAfter buying David Thompson’s inspiring Thai Food I became more serious about Thai cooking. I visit sometimes three shops to make sure I have all the necessary fresh herbs and seasoning, I discover flavours I had never dreamt of and, most of all, I make now all the curry pastes from the scratch. This change was the biggest breakthrough, since curries is what I appreciate most in Thai cuisine. With all the efforts I put into their preparation, a quick and versatile side-dish was what I seriously lacked. The recipe had to be made with the products I usually stock or can buy downstairs and I found the perfect solution in Thai Street Food, another book by David Thompson. This delicious cucumber relish/salad has an obvious Thai touch, but contains ingredients I almost constantly keep in my kitchen (and, I guess, many of those of you who cook Asian food), but, most of ll, it is perfect with every single curry I’ve made.

I found three very similar versions of cucumber relish in Thai Street Food and chose to present you the one with the shortest ingredients list. It is supposed to go with pork satay, but I’ve paired it successfully with other meats and seafood too. I have kept all the ingredients from David Thompson’s recipe, but instead of Thai vinegar, I used Japanese vinegar, slightly changed the amounts and cut down on sugar content because the brine was simply too sweet for me. Check the original recipe in David Thompson’s Thai Street Food, a fascinating and inspiring cookery book.

Preparation: about 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves two if it’s the only side-dish):

1/2 long cucumber

3 Asian shallots (I have used two European shallots instead)

1/4 fresh long red chilli

1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves

Brine:

4 tablespoons white vinegar

2 tablespoons white sugar

salt (to taste; the author advises 1/2 teaspoon)

several tablespoons water

First prepare the brine. Combine the ingredients and bring to a boil.

Put aside and let cool.

In the meantime slice the shallots, chop finely the chilli.

Cut the cucumber in four lengthwise and then slice it.

When the brine is completely cool, combine it with the remaining ingredients and serve.

 

Red Curry with Pork and Green Fresh Peppercorn

pork_currypAs many foreign Thai cuisine fans I am impressed by the number of ingredients used in every curry, not to mention the mystery of their combinations. I keep on wondering how the cooks cited by David Thompson in Thai Food (THE book to buy if you are seriously interested in this cuisine) decided on the composition of a curry. First of all, the items used to create numerous pastes, but also herbs, roots and other condiments. In this curry I had no doubts at least about the presence of fresh peppercorns: not only do they go perfectly with the paste and the remaining ingredients, but, most of all, they are ideally suited for pork.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for this curry I would have probably never discovered fresh peppercorns.  Until very recently, each time I saw them I assumed it was another exotic vegetable I had no idea how to use… I had known pickled green peppercorns for long years (I suppose they are popular in many Western countries), but would never suspect the grape-like clustered grains to be the raw version of what we buy bottled! Now that I think how much I love the very popular French pork pâté with pickled green peppercorns, I shouldn’t be surprised I have appreciated so much the Thai combination of tenderloin with fresh ones.

I’m not a peppercorn specialist and I’m sure you can find detailed information on Wikipedia, but for those who have doubts: black, white and green peppercorns are exactly the same fruit of the same plant. They are simply processed (or not, in case of raw ones) in a different way. It’s a bit like black and green olives or green and black tea…

As usually, I tried to follow the recipe as closely as possible, but, as always, I have seriously cut down on coconut milk and cream because of the taste (I simply preferred a less rich, sharper version ) and for dietary reasons (just like I try to cut down fat in many Western dishes). Another thing I do is thicken most curries; they end up still liquid, but not as soupy as they probably are in Thailand. I have also doubled the amount of meat and adapted the ingredients to a dish for two. I have used pork tenderloin and its use forced me to change a part of the cooking process. You can use any cut you prefer, but if you have a fatter or/and tougher pork cut, check David Thompson’s steps to follow (and of course to see his unaltered recipe).

The missing holy basil is the only not intended change. Unfortunately, the only day I had a chance to take the photograph of this particular curry (not obvious during the rare daylight hours I’m at home during the winter…), I didn’t have holy basil, cited in the ingredients list. If you can find it, definitely buy it! (Holy basil, or graprao, is pungent and has green serrated leaves, while the more popular Thai basil is totally different: it has dark violet hues and smells like liquorice or anise seed).

TIPS: 

Fresh peppercorns
I know some of you cannot find fresh peppercorns (though do not despair! if I find them easily in several shops in my Swiss city, I’m sure you will find it in many other much bigger Western countries; sometimes fresh produce is sold also online, especially in the USA). Look out for Vietnamese, Thai and generally Asian shops (here even a big supermarket for restaurants sells fresh peppercorns in the Thai section) and ask about the ingredients (sometimes they have small batches arriving once a week). Using rinsed pickled green peppers is another solution, though the taste changes a lot (I have seen these sold in several different European countries, so I hope it’s a universally acceptable tip) and I’ve also seen on some blogs the use of dried green peppercorns, but I’d go rather for the pickled version if the fresh ones are impossible to find.

Curry paste
If you cannot find the products to prepare a curry paste, it’s better to buy a ready-to-use one (in this case red curry paste is the right solution) rather than skip such crucial ingredients such as galangal, coriander root or lemongrass. Your dish will end up closer to genuine Thai cuisine. This being said… if you have all but makrut lime zest, skip it. Do not substitute it with lime zest which has a completely different aroma and taste. To be frank, I once forgot this ingredient and the difference in the served dish was tiny… (I will probably get angry looks if a Thai visitor reads my post…).

If you find the curry paste preparation tiresome, you can easily make it the day before (or even several days) and store in the fridge for several days (tightly closed; David Thompson advises to cover it very tightly with plastic film and then close the jar/box). Do not freeze it or it will become mushy (some ingredients at least).

Curry paste can be prepared in a mortar (an optimal solution, apparently) or, quicker and easier, in a food processor (I use a small baby food mixer). The author recommends to add some water if you opt for the latter (not coconut milk which would make the leftover paste spoil quicker in the fridge). Water makes it easier to obtain a smoother paste in a food processor.

Coriander root
Coriander root appears practically in every curry paste ingredients list, so it’s a very important product. Thai and Vietnamese shops sell (at least here) coriander with roots, but if you cannot get it, you might ask for roots at any farmers’ market (vendors will be surprised, but you will probably get them for free next time you come!) or buy potted plants (it’s really worth it!) or grown your own coriander or, at worst use the lower parts of stalks, but they will be much much more pungent.

Freezing fresh ingredients
I have realised that – purists might criticise me here – certain Thai ingredients freeze quite well (though they do lose some of their aroma, so I advise using a bit more of these; I usually use 50% more makrut lime leaves for example). I have been freezing makrut lime leaves, grachai, galangal (this one loses quite a lot in the process, but is still acceptable), coriander roots and fresh pepper corns. Frozen ingredients are obviously better than no ingredients at all and definitely better than dried ones.

Do not freeze homemade curry paste (certain ingredients become mushy when defrosted).

Special equipment: a mortar and pestle or a small food processor (baby food processor is perfect), coffee/spice grinder (if you don’t use a mortar)

Preparation: about 60 minutes (if you use tenderloin)

Ingredients:

about 300 g pork tenderloin in one piece

300 ml coconut milk

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or about 500 ml coconut cream according to the original recipe)

pinch of salt

offcuts from the lemongrass used in the paste

1 teaspoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2-3 tablespoons green fresh peppercorns

3 makrut (also known as kafir) lime leaves, finely sliced (or more, if you use frozen leaves)

a handful of holy basil (graprao) leaves

1 long red chilli, julienned

Paste:

6 long dried chillies (or more!)

large pinch of salt

6 tablespoons chopped lemongrass ((remove the outer tough leaves, the upper 1/3 of the stalk and also the lowest toughest small bit, use the offcuts in the “stock” at the beginning)

2 tablespoons chopped coriander roots

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

First prepare the paste.

Soak the chillies for about 15 minutes in warm salted water.

Drain and cut into pieces.

Roast the cumin and the coriander seeds (don’t burn them).

If you intend to use a food processor, grind the cumin and the coriander seeds in a spice or coffee grinder. If you use a mortar, start grinding them in a mortar, adding one by one the remaining paste ingredients, starting from the toughest. If you use a food processor, simply put the ground spices and the remaining ingredients and mix everything, adding water if necessary to make a smooth paste.

Combine 200 ml of the coconut milk, the lemongrass offcuts and the salt.
Boil for about 20 minutes.

Add the pork loin and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Leave to cool in this “stock”.

Remove the cold meat from the stock and cut into bite-sized pieces or slices.

Fry the paste in the coconut oil + the remaining coconut milk (about 100 ml) or in coconut cream for several minutes.

Add the palm sugar and the fish sauce.

Add the pork, the makrut lime leaves, the peppercorns and as much of the coconut “stock” as you need to obtain the desired thickness of the curry.

Just before serving add the holy basil leaves and sprinkle with fresh chilli.

According to the author the curry should taste hot and salty at the same time, so adjust the taste accordingly.

 

 

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Galangal and Chicken Soup) with Oyster Mushrooms

tomkhagai_Galangal, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, coriander root, chilli, lime juice… In this famous soup Thai flagship ingredients’s flavours are perfectly recognisable, one by one, creating a recurrent mixture of sour, salty and hot flavours, embellished with a typical sharp aroma. This dish perfectly illustrates the elegance and sophistication of Thai cuisine one might not necessarily see throughout years of eating sloppily prepared curries, served in so many restaurants in Europe (and maybe elsewhere too).

“Tom kha gai” means roughly a dish with galangal (tom kha) and chicken (gai) and this soup does contain a particularly high dose of galangal root, which slightly dominates it. I have followed here the recipe from David Thompson’s Thai Food (a most extraordinary cookery book I recommend to every Thai food lover) and as the author suggested, apart from the chicken, I added also some delicate-tasting mushrooms (oyster mushrooms proved perfect). (In the meantime I made a test with cultivated button mushrooms (aka “cremini”, when they are brown) and their taste was too strong).

I tried to make this dish as close to the original as possible, but I won’t pretend it is (mainly due to what I did with coconut milk and cream). I have cut down the coconut milk amounts and skipped the coconut cream, replacing both liquids with more chicken stock. The original version was just too fatty and rich for me. (In fact I do this very often in Thaï dishes, just like I cut down on cream and fat in Western cuisine). I have also added more chicken meat and more mushrooms in order to make it a very filling one-course meal, easily served with rice or bread; not to mention the amounts adapted to a dish for two. I encourage you to check the extraordinary David Thompson’s Thai Food for the original recipe.

TIPS: This dish is a good way to test if you are able to cook certain genuine Thai dishes… because its ingredients appear in almost every curry (and I assume curries are what most Thai food lovers try to make at home first). In short, if you can find fresh (or at worst frozen) lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, galangal root and coriander roots, then you are almost ready to buy David Thompson’s book without being utterly frustrated (there are some other products, such as fresh peppercorns, Thai basil, holy basil, grachai, makrut lime zest… but these aren’t used as often as former ingredients). From my experience, the smallest damage through freezing is done to makrut lime leaves and coriander roots. Lemongrass and galangal become mushy and the galangal’s taste changes, but it’s still better than using dried versions.

Coriander roots are particularly difficult to get for some people, but I have recently read on a forum a fantastic trick: buying a potted plant in a gardening shop! Of course, if you are able to grow your own herbs on a balcony, windowsill or in a garden, finding roots should no longer be a problem. You can also ask a farmers’ market vendor to bring you next time coriander with roots or only roots (I’m sure many would happily give them for free).

If you use frozen makrut lime leaves (I can find them here only frozen), double the amount because they are less aromatic (in general, if using frozen vegetables in Thai dishes, I increase their amounts).

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

400 ml chicken stock

250 ml coconut milk

1 big chicken breast (skinned)

250 g oyster mushrooms, tough stalks removed (or other delicately flavoured mushrooms)

7 thin slices of fresh galangal

pinch of salt

1/2 flat teaspoon palm sugar

1 big thick stalk lemongrass or two thin stalks (whole, only the tough end trimmed)

2 small Asian red shallots (I have used 1 medium European shallot)

1 big coriander root

2 red bird’s-eye-chillies + 2-3 more for the final serving stage

2 makrut (also known as kafir) lime leaves (if you have frozen lime leaves, see the TIPS)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (or more)

1 tablespoon lime juice (or more)

coriander leaves

Pour the stock and the coconut cream into a pan.

Bring to the boil.

In the meantime wash the mushrooms and tear them into bite-sized pieces.

Slice very finely the chicken breast and sprinkle with salt (do not add too much salt).

Put aside.

Place the shallots, the lemongrass stalk, the coriander root and the bird’s-eye-chillies in a mortar and bruise them with a pestle. You can also do it, placing them on a cutting board and using an ice “pestle” for cocktails (this is what I did) or any other heavy object.

Put aside 2-3 chillies for the final serving stage.

Place the remaining bruised vegetables into the boiling stock, adding salt, palm sugar, galangal and lime leaves.

Let it simmer for about ten minutes.

Add the mushrooms and after 5 minutes, the finely sliced chicken breast.

Continue simmering until the mushrooms and the chicken are done.

Mix the lime juice, the fish sauce, the additional bird’s-eye-chillies and the coriander leaves in an empty serving bowl. Pour the soup over it, stir well, adjust the taste – the author says it should taste rich, salty, sour and hot, though if you have “thinned” the stock, as I did it won’t taste very rich – and serve.

I prefer dividing the sauce, the juice, etc. into individual bowls and then putting the fish sauce and a piece of lime on the table, so that I can still adjust the taste.