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Following recipes and other controversial topics! 5 July 2006

Posted by cath in general info, help, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, Recipes, thai curry, Thai food, thai salad, thai soups, variations.
5 comments

One thing you all should know about cooking is that it’s all about personal taste. As the cook, you get to decide what ingredients to use and what your meal should taste like. For me, recipes are just guides, offering ideas and techniques, which are then adapted to what I have, what I like, who is coming round for the meal etc.

Variety is important. Everyone can have their own special way of making things, and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re new to cooking, you may find it hard to deviate from recipes, so here are some tips on what to think about when reading a recipe.

There has been some controversy about my Laab recipe so lets start with some thoughts about Thai salads and other Thai food…

A recent post included another recipe for Laab. The two recipes are very similar – a couple of different ingredients, including sugar in the alternate recipe, and slightly different cooking techniques.

Cooking can be a controversial topic, and you’ll find many different ingredient lists and techniques for basically the same dish – Thai food is no different. Depending what ingredients you can find, you may have to adapt and look for substitutions. Also consider where you are, what your personal tastes are, and what about your guests? My Thai cookery teacher always asked what a dish needed when we tasted it…his response was always “more chilli!” so my recipes are pretty spicy reflecting this. Having tried both spicy and less spicy (when entertaining guests) I think it’s always worth adding a little more chilli than you think, the heat really works with Thai food.

Here are some other things to think about:

I don’t like adding extra sugar when it’s not required, so I would generally only add sugar to sweet and sour and possibly shop-bought panang paste. Its all about personal taste, but here in the UK we rarely need extra salt or sugar – this is not a tropical climate! So think about who’s going to be eating your meal, and where, before chucking in any sugar…

When you’re learning to cook it’s good if you taste your food before and after adding extra ingredients. Thai food has four main layers of flavour: salt, sugar, sour and spicy. If you taste before adding fish sauce or lime juice to a dish you can see what a difference these ingredients make. In my laab recipe, mint provides sweetness, with fish sauce, chillies and lime providing their usual salt, spice and sourness. If you like extra sour, add more lime juice at the end, as discussed elsewhere, cooking lime juice reduces it’s sourness. Taste and adjust until it’s what you like, or what you think your guests will enjoy.

Kaffir lime leaves are a common enough ingredient in salad, but I am not a big fan – I prefer fresh herbs such as mint and coriander as they are more widely available locally (in the UK). Lime leaves keep well in the freezer and are a good ingredient to have on hand frozen to add to soups and curries for an extra lemony flavour. But frozen leaves don’t work quite so well chopped up in salads. If you want to try lime leaves in salads look out for fresh lime leaves and use them promptly.

Now for the most controversial topic – do we marinate the meat (albeit for just a few minutes) before cooking, or after! My recipe recommends adding flavour including lime juice to the mince before cooking, then cooking it all up. This is the recipe I was taught, but more interestingly, it is a technique I watched many times on stalls and in restaurants. Some Thai (and other regional) dishes are actually not cooked: prawns and other meats are sometimes ‘cooked’ by just marinating in lime juice – the acid in the juice ‘cooks’ the meat or fish so it’s technically no longer raw. In the case of Laab, this was always the first step, you will see the meat take on a less raw appearance as its sits in the lime juice while you prepare the rest of the dish. Cooking in this case just heats up the salad, properly cooking it where appropriate, Thai meat salads are usually served warm. Adding the hot meat to the herbs in the serving dish really brings out their aroma. Remember if you cook the meat for long, the lime juice sourness will dissipate so add some more at the end.

So: cook, taste, add the next flavour, taste again…this is the best way to learn and adapt to your palette and to understand the effect of making substitutions.

Thai Recipes > Soups > Tom Yum 7 May 2006

Posted by cath in freeze-friendly, Recipes, Thai food, thai soups, variations, very spicy.
3 comments

SpicyTom Yum Gungfreeze-friendly
(Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns)

Serves 4 as a lunch with steamed rice, or as a dish in a main meal

Ingredients:
300g whole, large prawns – uncooked, unpeeled
750mls water
2 stalks lemongrass – lower 1/3 only, cut into 3cm/1inch pieces
5 kaffir lime leaves – torn into pieces, discarding stem
3 purple shallots – sliced
3 cloves garlic – crushed
2 tomatoes – cut into 8 segments each
5 thin slices of galangal (ginza) – skin removed
300g small-medium sized mushrooms – cut in half or quarters into small chunks
20 green birds-eye chillies – cut in half lengthways
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
A handful of chopped fresh coriander

Method:

  1. First, prepare the prawns. Wash, peel and de-vein the prawns, keeping the shells and heads.
  2. Put the shells and heads into a pan with the water and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 10-15 minutes, you should notice a smear of oil floating on top. Strain the stock, squeezing out the flavour from the prawn peelings.
  3. Return the stock to the pan and bring back to the boil.
  4. Bruise the lemongrass in a pestle and mortar, then add to the stock with the kaffir lime leaves and mushrooms.
  5. Add the shallots, garlic, tomatoes and galangal and bring to the boil again.
  6. Add the chillies to the stock with the fish sauce.
  7. Cook the stock gently for 2 minutes, then add the prawns. Bring back to the boil and simmer until they have just changed colour.
  8. Turn off the heat.
  9. Remove from the heat, transfer into a serving bowl if required.
  10. Finally, just before serving stir in the lime juice and garnish with coriander.

It's important to stir in the lime juice right before serving, and not whilst it's still on the heat, as this keeps the flavour fresh.

Serve with fresh steamed thai fragrant rice

Cooks Notes:
Tom Yum is usually made very spicy.
You can adjust the levels to your taste, for example to reduce the heat you could use less chillies, consider removing seeds from the chillies if you only like a very mild spice. Leaving them whole also keeps the heat mild, or try bruising whole chillies lightly with a pestle and mortar to release some flavour but allow them to be easily picked out of the finished dish.
On the other hand, slicing the chillies lets out a lot of the flavour and the balance of hot, salty and sour in this dish is unbelievable. You can still avoid eating the half chillies if you like!

Thai cooks use straw mushrooms in tom yum soup and other cooking. Straw mushrooms are available in the UK in tins – watch out though, they are usually stored in brine and will need to be very well drained and rinsed. Remember to cut the mushrooms in half – they have an air pocket inside and this also fills with brine, so rinse them again to ensure the extra salt doesn't ruin your dish!
I've not seen any fresh straw mushrooms here in Edinburgh, but they'd be worth trying if you can get them. The best bet is to buy fresh mushrooms of any kind – I prefer to use brown cap mushrooms, or another closed cup variety because large flat mushrooms make sauces and soups go brown. Other fresh mushrooms such as oyster or shitake also work well.
No fresh mushrooms? Dried mushrooms make a great substitute, especially shitake. Soak in boiling water until soft (about an hour), drain, chop and add to the broth as usual. You can reserve the mushroom liquor for use in risottos or as a mushroom stock. Seal and keep in the fridge or freeze in ice cube trays, store in bags and pop into pasta sauces, gravies, soups etc.

Variations:
You can use any meat – chicken, pork, beef, fish, or for vegetarians mixed mushrooms, baby corn or tofu (and switch fish sauce for soy sauce).
Use a home made chicken stock for the best flavoured broth. Be careful of using bought stock cubes as they will add extra (unnecessary) salt to the dish – diluting twice as much as recommended should help.
Chicken and pork take a bit longer to cook, so add the raw meat after step 5 (before adding the chillies) and simmer until just cooked, then add chillies, fish sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Check the meat, when it's cooked through, remove the pan from the heat and finish the dish with lime juice and coriander.

Thai Recipes > Soups > Tom Kha 24 February 2006

Posted by cath in freeze-friendly, mildly spicy, Recipes, Thai food, thai soups, variations.
6 comments

Mildly SpicyTom Kha Gaifreeze-friendly
(Coconut and Galangal Soup with Chicken)

Serves 4 as a lunch with steamed rice, or as a dish in a main meal

Ingredients:
400g (approx.) Chicken (skinned and boned) – cut into long, thin strips across the grain
Coconut milk – up to 2 tins (depends on how rich or fluid you like your soup)
Chicken or Vegetable Stock – approx. 250mls (half a pint)
3 stalks Lemongrass – lower third only, cut into 1-inch pieces
Galangal (Ginza, Pink Ginger) – peeled, at least 6 slices, approx. 5mm thick
Chillies – green or red, any size, any number (large slices or whole for a mild flavour, finely chopped for more heat)
Mushrooms – cut into segments/slices (oyster mushrooms
3 Snake Beans or a handful of long beans – cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves Garlic – crushed (optional)
1 Spring onion – sliced into diagonal chunks
5 Kaffir lime leaves – remove the stalk and tear roughly
Thai sweet basil – handful of leaves, roughly torn (optional)
Coriander – 1 small bunch, finely chop the root and stalk, roughly chop the leaves
Juice of 1 lime (to taste)
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce

Method:

  1. Shake the tins of coconut milk to mix, add 1 tin to the stock and bring to the boil.
  2. Add the mushrooms, ginza and lemongrass and simmer gently for a few minutes.
  3. Add the chillies, garlic (if using) and spring onion to the broth, this part of the broth can be simmered gently for a few minutes or as long as needed, add more coconut milk and/or stock or water to the broth to achieve the desired fluidity.
  4. Add the chicken, cook for 5 minutes on a fairly high heat, stirring as required until the chicken has turned white.
  5. Add the kaffir lime leaves and fish sauce; simmer gently for 5-10 minutes until the chicken is cooked.
  6. Add the chopped coriander stalk and root, bring back to a high boil to combine. Switch off the heat.
  7. Add the basil (if using) and coriander leaves and stir.
  8. Add lime juice to taste.
  9. Garnish with sliced large chillies, basil and coriander leaves.

Serve with fresh steamed thai fragrant rice and raw beansprouts.

Variations:

The dish can be made for vegetarians: use vegetable stock and varieties of mushroom (i.e oyster and shitake), asparagus, baby corn or other seasonal vegetables in place of chicken stock. Use soy instead of fish sauce.
Add the main vegetables to the finished broth (at stage 5) and simmer gently, before adding herbs and garnishing once the vegetables are cooked.

This dish is traditionally served mildly spicy, but spicier versions work really well too.

Italian-Style Variation: Try Tom Kha Gai as a sauce for pasta (e.g. linguine or tagliatelle). You will need to cut back on the liquid (stock and/or coconut milk) and reduce the sauce down or thicken it with a small spoon of cornflour mixed with a dash of water to achieve a creamy consistency. Stir into the cooked pasta and serve with the garnish.
Particularly good served spicy!