Category Archives: Thai

Thai Red Curry of Scallops

scallopcurryForget all you have ever heard about scallops having a fragile taste or being easily spoilt by strong and hot seasoning. This fiery dish, bursting with bold flavours - like every Thai curry – proves exactly the opposite. After years of eating my beloved mollusc prepared in various ways, I can say without hesitation this is by far my favourite scallop dish.

I have found this jewel of a recipe in David Thompson’s Thai Food, a beautifully edited, high-quality cookery book I have been reading and testing for the last few months. Until now, I have only posted Squid Salad (a dream treat for squid lovers), but all the other dishes I tried proved also fantastic and highly superior to what I have ever had in any Thai restaurant. These results are not accidental: they are obtained thanks to the use of genuine fresh ingredients and, in the case of curries, a homemade paste is the crucial reason of the stunning difference. This scallop curry is the perfect example of the elegance and sophistication only a homemade paste can yield.

Even though David Thompson has completely changed my way to see the Thai cuisine (for example I will never even consider using a commercial curry paste), I must confess I do not follow all his recommendations… I do not prepare fresh coconut milk, as the author urges everyone to do, and I allow myself to reduce significantly the fat content in coconut milk/cream – based curries. Served in my house as the main course with rice and some vegetables, they are much too rich and, anyway, it’s an old habit of mine to lighten dishes as long as they remain delicious. In this recipe, I have also used more scallops (and in general indicated this recipe, normally for four, as serving two, since I have it only with rice and vegetable side dish, which is less than a typical Thai meal). Even though I’m a coriander fan, I didn’t like it here; sliced kaffir lime leaves and chilli seemed a sufficient “fresh touch” at the end. For the original recipe, check David Thompson’s wonderful book.

TIPS: Since every curry paste I prepared was different from the previous one, every ingredient is of a high importance and cannot be skipped, so if you embark on a curry paste making adventure (though, since it takes me about 5 minutes, I don’t know if “adventure” is the right word), make sure you have ALL the required products. You will be thrilled to recognise them, afterwards, one by one in the finished dish.

I am able to buy all the fresh ingredients necessary for Thai pastes in Asian grocery shops and I know these are available in many European countries, so I hope you can get those in your city too. (Some can be sold frozen, for example kaffir lime leaves).

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 (not coconut milk; see below), which makes it easier to obtain a smoother paste.

This recipe will yield more paste than necessary; the remains can be stored in the fridge for several days and then used once more (I experiment with other ingredients). Do not add coconut milk to the paste before refrigerating because it will spoil quicker.

Do not freeze the remaining curry paste! You will completely spoil its aroma and texture.

I have realised that – purists might criticise me here – certain Thai ingredients freeze quite well (though they lose some of their aroma, so I advise using a bit more of these; I usually use 50% more kaffir lime leaves for example). I have been freezing kafir lime leaves, grachai, galangal (this one loses quite a lot in the process, but is still acceptable), coriander roots and fresh pepper corns. Do not freeze homemade curry paste, Thai basil or coriander leaves. Frozen ingredients are obviously better than no ingredients at all and definitely better than dried ones (do not even try to dry kaffir lime leaves).

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

Curry paste:

5-8 dried long hot red chillies (deseeded, soaked until soft in warm water and drained)

a big pinch of salt

5 thickish slices of galangal

4 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 tablespoons chopped lemongrass (remove the outer tough leaves, the upper 1/3 of the stalk and also the lowest toughest small bit)

3 tablespoons chopped red shallot

1 tablespoon chopped coriander root

10 white peppercorns

1 heaped teaspoon roasted shrimp paste

14-16 scallops (depending on the size and your appetite, of course)

500 ml (about 2 cups) coconut cream (I have used only 250 ml coconut milk instead)

1 tablespoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

250 ml stock (or coconut milk; I have used homemade chicken stock because I prefer a cleaner taste)

4 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced (I always remove the central vein)

1 tablespoon thick coconut cream

1 fresh red chilli, sliced

(coriander leaves, torn; I don’t like their presence here, so I have skipped them the second time I prepared this curry)

Prepare the paste, grinding all the ingredients in a mortar or mixing in a food processor, adding some water in order to obtain a more or less smooth paste (see the tips above).

Heat the coconut cream (or milk, if you opt for a lighter version), add 3 tablespoons of the paste (mine were well heaped) and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.

Add the sugar, the fish sauce, the stock (or coconut milk) and let it simmer until it thickens.

Add the scallops and 2 sliced kaffir lime leaves.

Let the scallops simmer until they become opaque (if they are not completely covered in liquid, you might have to flip them once).

Taste the seasoning and adjust so that the flavours are at the same time salty, hot and fragrant thanks to the kaffir leaves.

Serve the individual portions or on a serving plate, sprinkle with the fresh chilli, the remaining sliced kaffir leaves and coriander, if using.

(Refrigerate the remaining paste for several days and use it with other ingredients.)

 

Chawan Mushi (茶碗蒸し) with Chicken and Thai Basil (Horapha)

basil_chawanpChawan Mushi is together with Okonomiyaki, among my favourite Japanese dishes. Its base, ( light savoury egg custard) is neutral enough to receive even the craziest ingredients, such as Thai basil, which I have been using more often than ever due to my recent Thai cooking frenzy. One day, ready to cut some mitsuba leaves, the chawan mushi herb par excellence, I turned to Thai basil and took it from my balcony instead. I wasn’t taking big risks, but I was glad this first Thai-inspired Chawan Mushi proved fantastic.

For those who hear about Chawan Mushi(茶碗蒸し) for the first time, it’s a delicate savoury egg and stock custard steamed in cups. “Mushi” means (more or less) “steamed” and “chawan”: tea bowl (or cup). My first chawan mushi was made according to Shizuo Tsuji’s instructions in “The Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art”, but already then I omitted some ingredients and created my own version. Apart from being easily modified, chawan mushi is perfect with buttered crusty bread (my favourite way!) and a green salad or other raw vegetables, but also with rice and Asian pickles. It can be served both hot and cold (the latter is particularly appreciated cooling meal on hot summer days). I have served this Thai cuisine-inspired chawan mushi with this chilli jelly:

Chilli Jelly

Chilli Jelly

but I’m certain it would taste perfect with sriracha or with the popular Thai sweet chilli sauce. 

Thai basil (also called Asian basil and Bai Horapha/Horapha in Thai) is not the only basil used in Thai cuisine (usually three basil varieties are cited), but it’s very easy to recognise in Asian grocery shops by its very strong sweet licorice (or anis-seed) scent. Its leaves are usually green, but sometimes slightly coloured with violet hues and its flowers are always dark violet. It is very easy to grow from seeds (I have very good results even on my balcony), so if you cannot find it fresh, try sowing it. From my observations this basil is usually served cooked, added to hot dishes in the last stage of preparation. This use in Thai cuisine gave me the idea to steam horapha in Japanese custards, exactly the way the Japanese treat mitsuba and also the way I did with edible chrysanthemum leaves (shungiku, see below). I have decided to use chicken stock instead of dashi (I do it quite often in chawan mushi anyway) since it seemed to suit this herb better. As I have mentioned above, the experiment was a success and I advise it to all the Thai basil fans.

If you don’t like Thai basil (or cannot find it), you might like one of these:

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)

Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)

Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas

Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas

TIPS:  Even though chawan mushi is easier to prepare in a steamer, Shizuo Tsuji’s suggestion to use a water bath in the oven gives excellent results. Actually this is the way I prepare it because the steamer plate in my rice cooker is too low for my heatproof cups.

If you don’t have a nearby Japanese grocery shop, individual, but high heatproof cups may be difficult to get. I have found very good ones at IKEA (even though without lids), but as soon as I got hold of the beautiful Japanese chawan mushi cups you see above, I stopped using the old ones.

If you want, you can use some vegetables together with chicken (reduce the chicken amounts), but  remember that certain vegetables and mushrooms will release juices. The custards will be watery, but the taste will be good of course. (You might want to precook or quickly fry them).

Special equipment:

individual heatproof cups (at least 6 cm high, mine were 6,5 cm high, with a 7,5 cm diameter)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Ingredients (4 portions):

3 small chicken breasts (or 2 big)

1 tablespoon sake

salt

one handful of Thai basil leaves (+some for decoration)

Custard:

2 eggs

300 ml chicken stock (usually dashi, the Japanese stock, is used here, but I often replace it with chicken stock and here I found it a better choice for Thai basil) 

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sake or mirin (with mirin the custard will be slightly sweetish)

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 220°C (or prepare your steamer).

Cut up the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, combine with sake and sprinkle with a bit of salt.

Put aside.

Boil a lot of water and prepare a big baking dish at least as high as the heatproof cups.

Mix the eggs very delicately in a bowl. In another bowl combine the chicken stock, salt (it depends on how salty your stock is), sake/mirin and soy sauce. Pour the stock mixture over the eggs and stir well, without beating.

Strain the chicken pieces. Divide them and the Thai basil leaves equally into four heatproof cups.

Strain the custard mixture and pour into the garnished cups.

Cover the cups with aluminium foil or the lids if you have special cups with lids.

If you use the oven, place the cups in a big baking dish. Fill the dish with hot water (not boiling). The water should arrive up till 3/4 of the cups’ height.

Put the dish in the oven and let the custards bake for 30 minutes.

If you use a steamer, steam for about 20 minutes.

Serve hot or cold with bread/toast for breakfast, with a salad for a lunch, as a snack or as a starter.

You may serve it with soy sauce, but I found it great with my chilli jelly and, as I have mentioned above, it must be good with sriracha or the Thai sweet chilli sauce.

Even though the eggs’ mixture sets during the cooking process, the mushrooms or other vegetables might release juices, so think about putting a spoon on the table!

Thai Bean Sprout Salad with Coconut (Yam Tua Nork)

thai_sproutspAs a regular coconut milk consumer I would never dream of using it in a salad. Creamy cold desserts, custard cakes, curries are the only ways I would use coconut milk until I saw this recipe in David Thompson’s “Thai Food”. Since I often don’t use the whole can and the contents don’t keep forever after opening, I was thrilled to discover this original and quick salad.

I must say that as much as I love all the ingredients, I was a bit sceptical about the final result, but I needn’t have worried: this quick side-dish proved as fabulous as all the previous recipes I found in David Thompson’s huge collection of Thai recipes. It is crunchy, creamy, slightly smokey and nutty.  Since mung bean sprouts are irritatingly perishable, I was also glad to discover a completely new way to eat them. I would probably get scolded by the very demanding author for using here coconut milk instead of the cream (I have used more of the milk). I have allowed myself also to change slightly the ingredients’ ratios, to adapt the salad to one serving and I have changed the vinegar (see below). To see the original salad, check David Thompson’s book.

Check here some other recipes including coconut milk.

TIPS: The dressing can be prepared in advance, but combine it with the sprouts just before serving to make sure they don’t wilt and don’t get soggy.

You can cut the sprouts in two to make the eating process easier.

Preparation: about 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves one as a side dish):

1 cup (about 250 ml) bean sprouts

3 tablespoons coconut cream (I have used coconut milk)

1 tablespoon vinegar (coconut vinegar is apparently used most often in Thai cuisine and it’s easily available for example in my Thai grocery shop; the author advises white vinegar diluted with water and personally I have used rice vinegar here)

Paste:

2 tablespoons grated coconut

2 tablespoons peanuts (unsalted, shelled)

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1 small Asian shallot or a very small Western one, finely sliced

1 tablespoon chopped or torn coriander leaves

First prepare the paste.

Roast the coconut and the peanuts in a dry pan.

Pound them with salt in a mortar (I have mixed in a baby food mixer).

Combine the paste, the vinegar and the coconut cream with bean sprouts, adjust the flavours (the author says it should taste smoky, rich, sour and salty) and sprinkle with shallots and coriander leaves.

Serve.

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.

Mango, Chicken and Cucumber Salad

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I have always considered the addition of fruits into savoury dishes a delicate matter and approached the new combinations very cautiously. The results can be extraordinary, but I have already had awful experience with certain fruits, such as the pineapple (pineapple on a pizza or in a mayonnaise salad is simply not my thing). As much as I love mango in hot sauces (I preserve dozens of jars of hot mango sauce every year), I had serious reservations to include them raw into savoury dishes. Finally, the numerous tempting mango salads I kept on seeing on my favourite blogs convinced me  (thank you my dear friends!) and last Saturday I prepared my very first savoury salad with mango. I shouldn’t boast, but this salad was sensational and, needless to say, has totally convinced me to keep on experimenting mango’s savoury potential.

I haven’t followed any recipe but simply my cravings. I wanted a refreshing, light salad with chicken (which is a dish I actually crave quite often). I ended up with the ubiquitous cucumber of course, added some mango, stir-fried chicken breast, red onion to counterbalance the mango’s sweetness, some chili to give the salad a hot kick and coriander… because somehow it seemed right. I was surprised that the sweetness of mango wasn’t as overwhelming as I feared and its relative softness added an interesting combination of texture with the crunchy cucumber. I loved this salad so much, I prepared it twice in two days and I already feel it will be my summer staple. If you have never included mango in savoury salads, the summer heat is the best moment to experiment.

TIPS: I suppose this salad would be extraordinary if prepared with green tangy mango, but since I had only yellow sweet mangoes, I used these.

I stir-fried the chicken breasts, but leftover roast chicken would be perfect here too.

Preparation: 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

2 small chicken breasts 

2/3 of a long cucumber

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 big firm mango (it shouldn’t be too ripe or soft)

1 medium red onion

juice from 1 lime

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt, chili in powder or fresh (I used medium hot Korean chili powder)

fresh coriander

Cut up the chicken breasts into small, bite-sized pieces.

Season them with salt and stir fry with garlic on medium heat.

Pour the lime juice and the olive oil into a big bowl.

Add the chili and the salt.

Cut up the mango and the cucumber and put into the bowl.

Add the chicken, the chopped coriander.

Mix everything, check the taste and rectify the seasoning if needed.

Serve with crunchy bread and butter.

 

Mango and Chili Sauce

I am impatiently waiting for the peak preserving season which starts some time next month. In the meantime, since mangoes seem to be already in season in many parts of the world, last weekend I was very glad to be able to fill this year’s first jars with my beloved hot mango sauce. I have posted this recipe a long time ago, when I didn’t know most of my present web friends and I thought it would be such a pity if one of my most often prepared and served sauces remained forgotten or unnoticed. For me it’s such an extraordinary preserve, I think it may even merit to be posted regularly once a year.

Why do I find this sauce so exceptional? First of all, because I love mango and chili combination. Secondly, because of its simplicity. In fact, I haven’t followed any precise instructions and the recipe is the result of my experiments with chili, mango and obligatory preserving agents (vinegar and sugar). Thanks to the short ingredients list, this sauce is an extremely versatile seasoning or dip. You can serve it with roasts, stir fries, sandwiches, noodles, rice bowls,snacks…. Apart from those who hate hot and sweet combination, everyone seems to enjoy this sauce (this is one of my biggest “jar as a present” hits). Last but not least, mango season is quite long and since they are imported from different parts of the world they are available (at least in Europe) all year round, so this sauce can be prepared at practically any time of the year.

If you still hesitate wondering how you will use this sauce, here are some suggestions:

-Stir-fried asparagus, chicken and cashew nuts

-Sesame Coated Tuna Nuggets

-Japanese Chicken and Leek Skewers (Negima)

-Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls

-Okra Teriyaki Pork Rolls

-Sesame Coated Chicken Nuggets

-Chicken Karaage

TIPS: The vinegar and sugar amounts depend on the mango sweetness and the ones below are only an example. Some mangoes require more sugar and some more vinegar. Always put down the exact amounts so that you know what you should modify next time you preserve it.

The hotness of this sauce should be adapted to your own preferences and your resistance. The below chili amounts are only an example and depend also on the chili variety. Several tips for those who are not used to handle hot peppers:

1-Wear gloves while washing or cutting them !

2- Add your peppers gradually. They vary a lot in size, in hotness, and even the same variety can be completely different depending on the season and country of origin.  I always first mix peppers in a food processor and then add them gradually until the sauce acquires the desired taste.

3-Do not throw away the seeds if you want the sauce to be even hotter! (they are the hottest part of the peppers).

4- Keep in mind that the warm sauce is always hotter in taste than the cold one… (Wait for the sauce to cool down, taste it and you can reheat it once more adding more chilies if you want).

Preparation: around 30 minutes + a couple of hours for cooling + 20 minutes for processing

Ingredients: (2 mangoes will yield around 3-4 200ml jars, but it depends on the fruits’ juiciness and ripeness)

2 mangoes

1 T salt

200 g (1 cup) sugar

200 ml (6 3/4 oz) white wine or cider vinegar (mine was 4,5% acid)

preferably fresh, red or green hot peppers (I put 3 flat tablespoons of mixed tiny “bird’s eye” chili peppers and my sauce was really hot)

Cut off the peppers’ stems. Cut in half lengthwise and throw away the seeds (or not! if you want your sauce extra hot).

Mix the peppers in a food processor. Put aside.

Peel the mangoes, cut up the flesh. Mix the mangoes in a food processor.

Place the mixed mangoes, the sugar, the salt and the vinegar in a heavy bottom pan (shouldn’t be aluminium or copper, otherwise the vinegar will react with the metal).
Add the chilies gradually (for example starting with half of the amount). Cook for around 30 minutes. Taste and, optionally, add sugar /vinegar/peppers to adjust the taste.

/At this point you can (after the sauce has cooled down) either freeze it, or keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or process it in the jars, as described below, and store it in your pantry for at least a year!/

Pour the sauce, still hot, into sterilised jars. Cover with lids. Leave the jars to cool.

Place the cool jars into a big pan, bottom lined with an old kitchen towel folded in two (this will prevent the jars from breaking), cover up with hot – but not boiling- water to the level just below the lid. Bring to boil and keep on a very low heat, in simmering water, for around 20 minutes.
Stick on self-adhesive labels, write the name of the sauce and don’t forget to mark the date (do not forget to put down the exact amounts of every ingredient you used).

In a dry place, with a moderate temperature, the jars should keep for at least a year.

Thai Curry Soup with Tofu

I don’t cook many strictly Thai dishes, but red and green curry pastes are among the ingredients I constantly keep in my fridge and use quite often, in very unorthodox ways. Most of the time one of them ends up in a quick, flavoursome, vaguely Thai soups or sauces, usually prepared with my beloved, versatile chicken breasts. This quick fiery soup is my first experiment in pairing tofu with Thai seasonings. It was inspired by Kelly’s Spicy Thai Coconut Soup (on Inspired Edibles blog) which, even though made without red curry, instantly reminded me of this wonderful paste. Her soup looked gorgeous, appetising and the idea of serving tofu Thai way simply wouldn’t get out of my mind.

Too lazy to check Kelly’s exact recipe, I simply proceeded like in my usual vaguely Thai soups. I have substituted meat with tofu and added the vegetables I found in my fridge. The result was light, but filling and smelled divine. Tofu was so flavoursome, I bet it tasted better than the cardboard-like battery chicken breasts so many people buy. It was certainly much healthier too. In short, a recipe I can sincerely recommend even to those who are not very fond of tofu. Thank you so much, Kelly, for this excellent idea!

TIPS : Both lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves freeze very well. Kaffir lime leaves can also be dried. They lose of bit of their aroma, so their amounts should be doubled in this case.

Preparation: 15 – 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

200 ml chicken or vegetable stock

100 g firm tofu cut into cubes

1 tablespoon red curry paste (or less if you don’t like very hot dishes)

1 crushed lemon grass stem or 1 big kaffir lime leaf

50 ml coconut milk

1 tablespoon fish sauce

vegetables of your choice (I took sliced red pepper and snow peas)

Combine all the ingredients in a pan (except for coconut milk and the vegetables you would like to keep crunchy) and let them simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add the soft, quick to cook vegetables (such as peas, snow peas or courgette), the coconut milk and let the soup simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve.