Monday, January 26, 2015

My Thai Table

I consider myself an experienced chef of the Southeastern Asian cuisine now that I have completed Thailand, my fifth country from this region. Thailand is the only nation in Southeast Asia to have not been colonized, and their current monarch is the longest reigning surviving monarch in the world. Bhumibol Adulyadej became king in 1946, and at 87 years old, he is still in power. The Thai people love their king, or at least they say they do. Criticizing the king results in incarceration. I guess freedom of speech is not widely practiced in the "land of freedom". This Thursday a group from my church will be traveling to Thailand to spread the love of Jesus to a country that is so very lost. Almost 95% of the people are Buddhist and practically all of the remaining 5% are Muslim. Thailand could definitely use your prayers. I pray that the truth of Jesus could take hold of these beautiful people and that they may grow to know and love Him.

Recently, Thai food has gained a lot of popularity here in the United States. Thai restaurants are popping up as fast as Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Indian, and Mexican it seems like. (The US has yet to discover that there are hundreds of more cuisines out there to uncover.) The cuisine of Thailand is a mixture of five tastes: spicy, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Every meal is a balance of all five. Most meals include a soup, salad, curry, sauce, and fried dish with no tastes repeated. I tried to recreate this for my Thai table, and I think I did the best I could. Everything is rounded out with a nice healthy serving of Jasmine rice. It helps to cleanse the pallet and cut the heat. Thai food is complex and beautiful.


My first dish is a light bamboo salad from the Northeast. Unlike in the West, there is no soup and salad course in Thailand. All the food is served at once with rice being the center. I found this salad to go well with the rest of the meal. It was slightly salty and a little sour from the canned bamboo, a perfect balance to my spicy nam prik and creamy soup.

Sup No Mai
1 cup thinly sliced bamboo shoots (from a can)
2 green onions, sliced
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp toasted rice
½ tsp ground chili pepper powder

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook the bamboo for a couple of minutes. Drain and allow the bamboo to cool. Toss all the ingredients together to serve.

Tom kha gai is the quintessential Thai soup. If you know anything about Thai food, you know this coconut soup and pad thai (which turns out to be a street food, not something found on the table at your average Thai home). Chicken is the traditional filler, but it can also be supplemented or replaced with mushrooms. The name would change if the chicken is taken out, though, as 'gai' is the Thai word for chicken. This soup is both spicy and sour. I loved the creamy texture and the delicious and complex taste.
Tom Kha Gai
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup chicken broth
2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded or 1 tbsp lime zest
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2” pieces
1/2 cup cubed chicken thighs or breast
1- 2” piece galangal, cut into rings
2 shallots, chopped
½ -1 tbsp fish sauce
juice of one lime
red chili powder, to taste
1 hot chili pepper, seeded and sliced
cilantro leaves

Bring chicken broth, coconut milk, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the chicken and onions. Cook covered for about 20 minutes. Serve topped with sliced chilies, chili powder, lime juice, and cilantro.


Literally "everything mixed together", pad phak ruam mitr is a vegetable stir fry that incorporates a ton of fresh produce. You will feel super healthy eating this along with a side of Jasmine rice. The chili gives it just the right flavor but does not overpower the crispy and fresh taste of the veggies. Simple and delicious!
Pad Phak Ruam Mitr
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
½ cup snow peas
½ cup sliced bell pepper
1 large shallot, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into rounds
½ cup sliced mushrooms
1 bunch spinach
1 red hot chili pepper, julienned with seeds removed
1 green hot chili pepper, julienned with seeds removed
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1 tbsp chili oil
4 tbsp water

Heat a wok over medium high heat with the oil. Add the shallot and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the water and remaining vegetables except for the mung bean sprouts and cook until crisp- tender, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce, lime juice, and bean sprouts. Remove from the heat and serve.

Wow this sauce put my mouth on fire! I love spicy food, and this was right up my alley. I caution you to wear gloves when working with the chilies. I didn't, and my poor hands faced the consequence. And whatever you do, do not touch your face! Not even 3 hours later. It burns! Traditionally you would pound this out with a mortar and pestle, but I found a food processor to be a quicker and still efficient substitute. Some version of a nam prik is always served with a Thai meal to flavor things up a bit. (If you can taste anything once your tongue is burned off.) Proceed with caution.
Nam Prik Kiga
½ cup chopped red chili peppers
½ cup chopped green chili peppers
¼ cup chopped shallot
2 tbsp minced garlic
5-6 sprigs of cilantro, leaves and stem
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
½ tbsp oil

Heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the chili peppers, garlic, and shallot. Cook for about 8 minutes, until the shallot is tender. Allow the pepper to cool. In a food processor, process all the ingredients together until finely chopped. Serve with meats, rice, seafood, and lots of milk to cut back the heat!

This curry is the bomb! The short ingredient list does nothing to demonstrate the complexity of the flavors found in this easily put together curry. I guess I can attribute it to the curry paste, but I have never tasted anything quite like it. I'm already planning on making it again sometime this week. It was that good. The Thai have these awesome little eggplants that they use along with chicken to ad sustenance to the sauce. They look like little peas and are impossible to find in the middle of Tennessee. I read that peas were a good substitute, so I had to use them. Another version uses bamboo shoots, so if you have any leftover from the salad, feel free to throw them in! I chose to do a red curry, but the number of different curries found in Thailand is too long to list. I'd like to eventually explore some more of them after having such success with this one.

Gaeng Phed Gai
2 large chicken thighs, cubed
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp red curry paste
1/3 cup Thai eggplants or green peas
5 kaffir lime leaves, shredded or 1 tbsp lime zest
6 basil leaves
1 tbsp fish sauce
cooked jasmine rice, to serve

Heat the oil over medium heat and add the curry paste. Cook, stirring constantly for a minute before pouring in the coconut milk. Bring it to a simmer, add the chicken and lime leaves, and cook for about 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Add the eggplants and cook for another 5 minutes. Lastly, stir in the fish sauce and basil and serve with rice.

I have hit the Southeastern Asian countries fast and hard. First I cooked Laos, then Vietnam, followed by Myanmar, Cambodia, and now Thailand. I have not been a fan of some of the exotic flavorings nor the excessive use of fish sauce. For this reason and the fact that Thai food seemed quite daunting, I was pretty stressed out about this meal. I would have to say that I definitely spent the longest time researching Thailand. I was excited to do it because it was so complex and new, but at the same time I was really intimidated. My meal had to be perfect. I had to find the correct dishes that correlated with one another to mesh together my Thai table. Nothing could go wrong. This was a very unrealistic expectation, especially considering my lack of experience with Thai cuisine, and the lack of many authentic Thai ingredients at the grocery store. In the end, I had to make a few substitutions, my meal was not perfect by far, and I spent a little too much time researching, but I was quite pleased with the results. Either I am growing to like fish sauce or I am learning how to better blend the flavors of Southeastern Asia together, but I liked (if not loved) all of the dishes I made for Thailand. It was a rough journey, but my trip to the country of enchanting temples and beautiful orchids.

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