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 makrut 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 makrut 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 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. 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 makrut 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 makrut (also known as kafir) 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 makrut 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 makrut leaves.

Serve the individual portions or on a serving plate, sprinkle with the fresh chilli, the remaining sliced makrut 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 makrut (also known as kafir) 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 makrut 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.