Category Archives: Thai

Thai Squid Salad (Yam pla meuk)

squidsaladpIt has been five months since I bought Thai Food by David Thompson, a renowned Australian chef. As much as I was thrilled to own and read this beautifully edited, huge mine of information, I found it somehow intimidating and wasn’t in a hurry to cook from it. However, as soon as I tested a first recipe, I became literally addicted to this fascinating book and now I’m going through a phase of Thai cooking frenzy. Thanks to David Thompson I finally start slowly realising what genuine Thai flavours taste and smell like. Needless to say, I will never ever buy ready-to-use curry paste again.

In barely two weeks I tested – with a successful outcome – several curries, but I thought I would share with you first this quick squid salad, the most summery of all the dishes I have prepared. Its mixture of hot, tangy and sweet flavours, enriched by an explosion of a typically Thai combination of bold scents, create a fabulous refreshing treat for all the squid and Thai cuisine lovers.

I have slightly adjusted the ingredients’ quantities to my taste, so check Thai Food to read the original recipe and to learn how to cook genuine Thai dishes.

TIPS: The author advises to serve this salad immediately, after blanching the squid and, even though it is still good when served cold, I prefer it slightly warm.

Although I suppose you might successfully substitute squid with some other protein sources, I wouldn’t advise replacing any other ingredient (in my opinion only mint could be skipped here without much harm).

Preparation:

Ingredients (serves two as a starter):

2 big squids, cleaned (about 15 cm long)

3 small (Asian) shallots or two medium Western shallots

1 stalk lemongrass

2 big kaffir lime leaves

3-4 tablespoons of fresh (torn or roughly chopped) coriander and mint (I have used a 3 : 1 ratio because I preferred coriander’s taste to prevail)

Sauce:

1 tablespoons lime juice

1/2 teaspoon white sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

3 bird’s eye chillies

pinch of salt

First prepare the squid.

Make a big vertical cut through the body, spreading it flat and score it diagonally in two directions, on the interior side.

Cut the squid into long 2 cm thick strips. Then cut the strips and tentacles into bite-sized pieces.

Put aside.

Slice very finely the kaffir leaves (I always remove the central vein when using them raw).

Chop the shallots.

Remove the outer tough leaves from the lemongrass, the upper 1/3 of the stalk and also the lowest toughest small bit.

Slice the remaining part very finely (I have used a mandolin).

Prepare the sauce in a big bowl: seed and chop finely the chillies and combine with the remaining ingredients.

Taste the sauce and adjust it to your taste (it should be rather salty because the squid is not salted).

Blanch the squid in boiling water until it is opaque.

Drain the squid, throw into the sauce and add the remaining salad ingredients.

Give the salad a stir and serve immediately.

Teriyaki Pork Rolls with Thai Basil and Gochujang

porkbasilrollspEven though my “garden” means only a couple of boxes on a small balcony, I regularly find myself suddenly overwhelmed with huge crops of certain plants. This is a great occasion to learn new recipes and an excellent creativity booster. This summer Thai basil has been particularly prolific, so after several Thai or Thai-inspired meals in one week, I desperately needed fresh ideas because the basil would still grow like crazy until it even developped flowers (see above).

I started to look for inspiration out of the Thai cuisine. Since, just like shiso (aka perilla), Thai basil supports well heat and cooking process, I tested it in Teriyaki Pork Rolls I always prepare with shiso. The result of this triple fusion (Korean gochujang, Japanese teriyaki and Thai basil) was highly satisfying and all the ingredients seemed to go extremely well together. After this experiment, I’m planning to use Thai basil more boldly and strongly encourage all those who cannot get shiso leaves to substitute them with Thai basil in other dishes too. The taste will be completely different, but the result at least equally good.

If you feel like playing with pork and shaping it into rolls, you might also like some of these:

Pork Rolls and Shiso in Tempura

Pork Rolls and Shiso in Tempura

Okra Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Okra Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Potato Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Potato Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls

 

TIPS: Gochujang is not necessary here. If you don’t have it or don’t like very hot dishes, simply skip it.

If you don’t have a butcher nearby (sadly less and less people do), who can slice the pork very thinly (with the slicing machine), you can cut the thin pork slices on your own. I have one knife which is wide, long and sharp enough, but if you find it difficult,  try slightly freezing the meat before cutting it. It should be easier. I also sometimes pound the slices before rolling if I find them too thick.

Pork rolls (raw) can be prepared the day before, stored in the fridge and fried just before serving.

There are several basil varieties used in Thai cuisine. My basil is called also “sweet basil”; bai horapha/horapha in Thai and has an anise aroma and flavour.

Preparation : 40 – 45 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2 – 3):

12 -15 thin pork slices (max. 3 mm thick)

1 big bell pepper (or another variety of sweet pepper)

about 20 medium sweet Thai basil (horapha) leaves (or more if they are small)

flour

salt, pepper

oil

Teriyaki glaze with gochujang:

3 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons soy sauce (or 4 if you have low sodium soy sauce)

3 tablespoons sake

1 heaped tablespoon gochujang (or less if you gochujang is particularly hot – mine is medium hot – or if you don’t like very hot dishes)

Cut the bell pepper into thin strips (cut them in two horizontally if they are very long; their length should be adapted to the size of pork slices, so that they do not stick out too much).

Season slightly the pork slices with salt and pepper.

Prepare the Thai basil leaves.

Place the pork slice on a cutting board, seasoned side up. Put two or more Thai basil leaves to cover most of the surface.

Put 3 pepper strips at one end of the pork roll.

Roll it tightly and put aside.

Do the same with all the pork strips.

Heat some oil in a pan.

Dust the pork rolls with flour and fry (sealed side down), covered on a medium heat until they are well browned (it will take about 15 minutes).

Combine the teriyaki sauce ingredients and heat them in a small pan or in a microwave.

Pour the teriyaki sauce over the rolls and make sure they are well coated.

Let the sauce thicken for about one minute.

Transfer the rolls to a plate and garnish with the remaining sauce.

Thai Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup (Tom Yum Goong)

sshrimpsoupp

As promised, here is the shrimp soup I mentioned in my last post where I wrote about Roast Chili Paste, its key ingredient. Tom Yum Goong is apparently very popular, but even though I have heard about it and probably saw it on some restaurants’ menus, I had never tasted it because until recently I was convinced all the Asian dishes labelled as “sour” were also horribly sweet at the same time. I didn’t really know what to expect and was relieved the result was excellent and not sweetish at all. I was enchanted by the sharpness and complexity of the flavours, much more distinct than in the Thai dishes containing curry pastes or/and coconut milk. The elegance,  pureness and freshness of this soup reminded me a bit of the recently discovered Burmese-Style Pork Curry with Ginger, which also doesn’t contain coconut milk, but which is richer and slightly sweet. I also found it surprisingly quick and easy to prepare, the only difficulty lying in the correct balance between the sour and hot flavours.

I found this recipe in “Real Thai. The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking” by Nancie Mc Dermott and have only slightly modified it, mainly leaving out canned straw mushrooms which I don’t like (I have increased the amount of shrimps instead) and scaling it down to two servings.

TIPS: Lemongrass and lime (kafir) leaves freeze very well, so it’s easy to have them all year round. As for the Roast Chili Paste, it’s done in twenty minutes (see the recipe here) and keeps for ages, but you can also buy it in most Asian shops.

The author advises shrimps with tails on, but they make the eating process difficult and not very elegant, so I have removed all the tails, apart for two or three, for decoration.

Preparation: about 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2 – 3):

750 ml (about 3 cups) chicken stock

300 g (about 10 oz) shrimp, peeled, with or without tails

2 lemongrass stalks

8 fresh or frozen lime (kafir) leaves

2 – 4 fresh small chilies

juice of 1/2 lime

2 Asian green onions or 1 Western green onion (here the green part only), cut diagonally into 2 – 2,5 cm pieces

1/2 – 1 tablespoon roasted chili paste (see the recipe here)

fish sauce to taste

Heat the stock and in the meantime cut off the leafy part of lemongrass stalks and remove the dry outer leaves.

Crush the lemongrass stalks with a wide blade of knife or a handle (I always use a knife handle), so that they release the aroma.

Put 4 lime leaves and lemongrass stalks (you might need to cut them in two if your pan is small) to the stock and let it simmer for about five minutes.

Put the shrimps into the stock, add the Roasted Chili Paste, two tablespoons fish sauce and cook on medium heat until the shrimps are all pink.

Remove the fresh chili stems and crush them slightly.

Put the chilies, the remaining lime leaves, juice from 1/2 lime and green onions into a big serving bowl (I have divided them into individual bowls). Cover with the soup, give it a stir and adjust the taste adding more lime juice, more roasted chili paste or more fish sauce.

This soup can be made in advance and reheated.

Thai Roasted Chili Paste (Nham Prik Pao)

roastedpastep

For those addicted to fiery flavours, experimenting with a new chili variety or a new hot seasoning is always an exciting adventure. This simple chili paste, completely different from anything I have ever tasted, has proven an extraordinary discovery. Obligatory ingredient of the famous Thai hot and sour shrimp soup (Tom Yum Goong), roasted chili paste (Nham Prik Pao/Nam Prik Pao) is widely available in Asian grocery shops, but it’s so easy and quick to prepare, I strongly discourage you from the shopping trip.

All you need are shallots, garlic, dried chilies, oil and, after about twenty minutes, you obtain a surprisingly complex, aromatic, smoky seasoning that can enrich many – not only Thai – dishes. Even a tiny amount of this paste will transform any boring stir-fried meat, seafood or soup into a fragrant, well-seasoned meal.

I have found this recipe in “Real Thai. The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking” by Nancie Mc Dermott, the book I mentioned last week when I presented you the fantastic Pork Curry without coconut milk. Apparently, this paste is traditionally roasted over charcoals, but the author’s dry-frying method can be made in every kitchen. I have followed the author’s instructions, but using a food processor instead of a mortar and slightly changing the ingredients’ amounts.

Obviously, the dish I prepared shortly after I made this paste was the above-mentioned Hot and Sour Shrimp soup (I will write about it soon) and it was just perfect. Then, the following day I simply added this paste to stir-fried shrimp and obtained once more a delicious result. According to the author, the paste will keep at room temperature for at least a month, so I hope to experiment with it in many more meals.

If you like the idea of making your own oily chili seasoning, you might be interested in the moderately hot and completely different Japanese thick sesame and chili oil condiment called Taberu Rayu:

tabrayu3p

TIP: Unless you are a crazy hot food addict, make sure you remove all the chili seeds. As you see above, I didn’t and I think me and my husband are the only people I know who can enjoy food seasoned with this explosive paste.

Preparation: about 20 minutes

Ingredients (yields about 125 – 150 ml/ 1/2 cup or a bit more):

6 big garlic cloves, unpeeled and halved lengthwise

8 small shallots, unpeeled and halved lengthwise

15 small dried chilies 

250 ml / 1/2 cup oil (I have used peanut oil) (+ a small amount for dry-frying, if necessary)

Warm a pan or a wok, pour a tiny amount of oil (or not, if you have a pan which allows the absence of fat). Dry-fry the chilies at low heat, constantly stirring for about 5 minutes until they become darker but make sure they are not burnt.

Remove the chilies.

Dry-fry the garlic and shallots (you can fry them together or separately depending on the size of your pan or wok) until they have charred black spots, but, once more, do not let them burn completely.

Put the garlic and shallots aside and when they are cool enough to be handled, remove the peel.

Remove the seeds from the chilies (or, if you are very bold, leave them) and the stems.

Put the three ingredients in a food processor and mix until a thick, relatively smooth paste is formed (mine was slightly chunky).

Heat the 250 ml oil in a pan and, constantly stirring, fry the paste for about 5 minutes until it darkens.

The oil will be almost totally absorbed by the paste, so you will end up with a rather small batch.

Put the paste into a jar, wait until it cools down, close well the jar and keep at room temperature for at least one month.

Burmese-Style Pork Curry with Ginger (Gaeng Hang Ley/Kaeng Hang Ley)

 

porkginger_pp

Doesn’t Thai cuisine bring spring to your mind? Kafir lime leaves, lemongrass, galanga, tamarind… there is always something tangy, zesty or simply refreshing even in the heartiest meal and this Northern pork curry is no exception. I found it in a very humble-looking book entitled “Real Thai. The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking” by Nancie Mc Dermott, bought for a bargain at a charity sale. The book looks modest, contains no photos, but it was worth buying even only for this one sensational recipe.

As someone whose vision of Thai cuisine is limited to several coconut-milk based curries, two soups and spicy meat skewers, I was stunned and at the same time delighted by this discovery. The most astonishing detail in Gaeng Hahng Ley (or Kaeng hang laywas probably the lack of coconut milk, apparently typical of Northern Thailand. The substantial amount of fresh ginger and the presence of turmeric were intriguing too, but the biggest surprise was of course the taste. The complex, explosive flavours balancing between sour, sweet and hot have instantly won my heart and palate. In spite of several modifications and mistakes I have made, I am wondering if it’s not the best Thai dish I have ever had in my life…

This being said, I would be dishonest if I said this curry is a crowd pleaser. If you don’t like tangy and/or hot food, you might find it impossible to enjoy (not to mention the fact that here the sharp flavours are not tamed down by coconut milk). On the other hand, those who like taste bud-stimulating, explosive combination of tangy, hot and sweet flavours, have a big chance to fall in love, just like I did.

As for the modifications, I have scaled down the amounts to a portion for two and cooked the sauce until it was very thick and clang to the meat. Accidentally, I have put too much soy sauce, which darkened the dish, but I don’t regret it and think it hasn’t destroyed the balance. The only thing I will change next time is the meat cut. Traditionally, this curry is made with fatty pork cuts, but since I had only pork loin, I tested it instead. The meat ended up too dry (it didn’t however spoil my meal!), so next time I will try it with tenderloin, shoulder or other fatter cuts.

TIPS: If you cannot get tamarind juice, I have seen once someone advising prune juice instead. It seems an excellent idea, but I would use at least twice as much.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any substitution for fermented shrimp paste. I used it here for the first time in my life and was amazed at how it changed the taste and aroma. It’s available in many Asian shops, so you should find it quite easily.

As I have mentioned above, pork loin can become too dry, so use shoulder or other fatty cuts instead. I think you might try also tenderloin if you want a leaner cut. I am sure that the same dish can be successfully made with chicken.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves two):

300 g/about 10,5 oz pork with fat attached or a slightly fatty cut, such as shoulder (I think using tenderloin might work too)

30 g/about 1 oz pork belly (can be skipped and you can use a bit more of the above cut)

Paste:

6 dried small chilies, cut in two pieces

1 teaspoon galanga, finely shredded

1 stalk lemongrass, thinly sliced

1/2 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste

2 generously heaped tablespoons brown sugar (I have used demerara)

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon turmeric

3 tablespoons fresh ginger, cut into fine slivers

2 heaped tablespoons shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 x 1 cm bit of tamarind paste

600 ml water

(1 tablespoon oil)

Put the tamarind paste in a small bowl.

Add four tablespoons boiling water and stir well.

Put the ginger in a bowl and cover with cold water.

Cut the meat into two-bite sized chunks and, if you use only lean cuts, add 1 tablespoon oil.

Mix the ingredients of the paste in a mortar or in a small food processor (baby food processor is perfect here).

Combine it with the meat.

Put the pork cuts in a heavy cooking pan and, stirring constantly, fry them for about five minutes.

After 5 minutes add the 600 ml water, the turmeric and the soy sauce.

Simmer the meat on low heat for about 40 minutes or more, depending on the sauce consistency you want to obtain (I prefer it very thick).

Add the garlic, the shallots, two tablespoons tamarind juice and the water  after strained from the ginger.

Place the ginger in a mortar and squash it delicately to soften it, but do not pound it.

Add the ginger and cook for a couple of minutes until all is well heated.

Adjust the taste (it shouldn’t be too tangy or too sweet, so add more sugar or more tamarind if required; you can also add some fish sauce if it’s not salty enough).

The author advises putting the pot aside and serving warm after 20 minutes, but I served it straight away.