Thai Tag

Virtually fat-free and crazy addictive, Som Tam Thai salad, with Granny Smith Apple

 

SOM TAM COMES IN MANY SHAPES AND STYLES… ALL OF WHICH WILL EVENTUALLY COMPEL THEIR SUBJECTS TO SUCCUMB TO INEVITABLE ADDICTION

The other day as I watched again, sneering, yet another TV documentary made in the frantic, nation-wide hunt for the next revolutionary diet that is going to save America from drowning in its own fat — the Atkins, the keto, the 5:2, the Paleo, the HCG, the Zone, the Jenny fucking Craig, you name it — I reached down to my bag of kettle-cooked Texas BBQ potato chips with a grin before I glanced at the clock in wrenching gasps.  Holy mother of god it’s past 9 o’clock?! the feeding window has closed on my 16:8 intermittent fasting diet!

We all do it.  We all do it.  Twitching and turning in an endless cycle of struggles in order to stay in the balance between emotional sanity and the general shape of a socially acceptable humanoid.  So much deliciousness, so little fat cell allowance.  It’s almost as integral a part of the First World Problems as knowing how not to lose it when asking “What do you mean there’s no wi-fi?” at a beachside cafe on a Caribbean island.  I get it.

Having said that, I have to admit my general confusion at America’s difficulty in meeting such task, the final switch from consuming overly processed foods to fresh produce or simply just freshly prepared foods.  I feel this way because I think deep down, I know the answer to this question.  Deep down, I know how to save us all.

America just has to eat as good as A Third World country.

Look, I think we have grown so privileged, so involved with exhausting the last possible way to pair caviar with fried wagyu steaks or stuffing lobsters into a pig that we have, perhaps irreversibly, forgotten how to make poor foods taste good.  Not poor foods as in fast foods, but cooking with cheaper ingredients such as vegetables that is a major part of the diet in less privileged countries where meats are considered a luxury, where eating vegetables is not a choice, but a necessity, and as a result, where they taste really, really, really good, because they have to.

Take Thailand for example, where they have taken a virtually fat-free salad to the brim of an art form — som tam, or better known as Thai green papaya salad.  Som tam comes in many shapes and styles, depending on the region, ranging from mild and friendly to deeply funky and challenging to the foreign tongue, all of which will eventually compel their subjects to succumb to inevitable addiction.  Consider som tam Thai, the focus of our current interest, as the gateway drug.

Without the use of deeply fermented crabs or fishes like its other peers, som tam Thai is as friendly to the untrained tongues as it is delicious.  A mixture of ruptured chilis and garlics, bruised tomatoes and green beans with thinly shredded green papaya, and an acutely savory, sweet and tangy dressing, all pounded under the gentle urgency of a wooden mallet, ushering them onto the way to becoming something greater than the sum of its parts.  Perhaps its greatest wisdom is standing against the western practice of keeping the vegetables as un-wilted and perky as humanly possible in a salad, knowing that the partial breaching of their exterior defenses allows the exchange and absorbance of flavors to deepen.  Practically fat-free but incredibly robust, a celebration between a spectrum of textures, a push for the limit of human sensory, burning, salty, sweet, crunchy, sour, som tam Thai has boldly gone where no American vegetables have gone before.  The only thing standing in our way is perhaps that its main ingredient, green papaya, is somewhat of a tropical monopoly.  But please rejoice in knowing that it works just as beautifully with Granny Smith apples that are more abundant to us than we know what to do with.

So people, put down your kale salad and eat this one.  Feel alive again.  And maybe once in awhile, go get some fried chicken.  Just not a whole bucket.  You see.  It’s not that complicated.

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KHAO SOI NEUA/BEEF

KHAO SOI HAPPENS TO HAVE THE RIGHT BALANCE OF BOTH EXOTICISM AND SAFETY IN THE EYE OF A CAUTIOUSLY CURIOUS BACKPACKER.

Scad has been said about khao soi on the internet — some well-informed and some, not so much — so I think I will not bother.  It’s possibly the most famous dish from Northern Thailand, a somehow debatable status in my view.  Being back from a quick trip in Chiangmai Thailand, the capital of khao soi, I’m attempted to assume that its popularity among foreigners is contributed to its relatively benign characteristics if compared to the other more “adventurous” yet far more stunning dishes the region has to offer.  Khao soi, being chicken or beef in coconut curry with egg noodles, happens to have the right balance of both exoticism and safety in the eye of a cautiously curious backpacker.  It certainly isn’t, by far, the best thing we’ve tasted on this trip.  But I’ve always wanted to formulate a khao soi recipe after I’ve actually tried it at its source, so here it is.

Pushing it further on its muslim Chinese origin, I’m replacing dried chilis with Sichuan douban chili paste for a more complexed flavor, as well as inviting the mild tinge of numbness and floral quality from Sichuan peppercorns.  Another trick is to dial down on the amount of coconut milk in the broth itself so it can be reintroduced again right before serving, increasing depth and layers of flavors as how it is done in some of the better khao soi restaurants we’ve encountered.  In a bit of a disagreement with the blunt, under-processed pickled mustard greens that are often mindlessly chopped and scattered in the noodle as a failing contrasting agent, I’m replacing it with pan-fried pickled caperberries that provides sharp pops of sourness and complexity.  Then last but not least, a reminder of Sichuan peppercorns in the topical chili paste to bring it all together.

Enjoy.

 

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WORLD PEACE CURRY, AND HAPPENS TO BE GLORIOUSLY DELICIOUS

SOUTHEAST ASIAN AROMATICS, KOREAN CHILI PASTE, INDIAN SPICES, GREEK YOGURT, ITALIAN SUN-DRIED TOMATOES, CHINESE ANISES, AND IN THE END, A LITTLE PUSH OF ALL AMERICAN CHEESE.  AN OTHER-WORLDLY CURRY THAT TASTES LIKE THE PINNACLE OF HUMANITY

I’d like to introduce you to world peace curry.  

Why?  Because curries are better than humans.  Curries know how to coexist in unity.  Even though at a glance it feels like an impossibility, a chaos without logics, a discord of competing self-interests and cultural clashes, but curries always find a way to be the most delicious repeal of our disbelief.    Don’t believe me?  I put it to the test.  An unlikely coalition of southeast Asian aromatics, Korean chili paste, Indian spices, Greek yogurt, Italian sun-dried tomatoes, Chinese anise seeds, and in the end, an intrusion of American cheese?!   It should end in war but instead, it rejoices slowly and bubblingly in a lusciously rich, creamy, intensely aromatic, complex yet beautifully balanced alliance of flavors, savoriness and tang.  It tastes like the pinnacle of humanity, our best hope for world peace even against our cynical judgements.  And also, perhaps most importantly, the best you’ll ever put in your mouth.

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SALMON RED CURRY CEVICHE

CEVICHE… IS A MONICA AND CHANDLER.

My relationship with foods can be summarized into two types of romance: Ross and Rachel, or Monica and Chandler.

Either it has been a life-long marathon of unshakable attractions, torments, break-ups and make-ups, which I’ll admit including a vast array of things going from pearl bubble teas to cans of SPAM.  Or, I spend my whole life staring at it without much urge or lust, but one day, out of no where, it’s like coal on fire.

I was never a fanatic for ceviche, presumably, chalky-pale chunks of seafoods swimming in a cloudy sour pool.  I mean, I’d eat it if it was right in front of me when I’m marinating in a sweltering hot summer day while my butt-cheeks are unnaturally sticking together and the next frappuccino is 1/2-block-away-too-far.  It promises not to give me any culinarily transmitted diseases, and I promise not to call its number unless necessary, but the casual hook-up pretty much stops there.  It just never really gave me the butterflies is what I’m saying.  Then 18 months ago, I went to Lisbon where I stepped into a restaurant called A Cevicheria that pulled a string in my heart, where I started to look at their playful yet genuine takes on this dish with a whole new set of eyes.  Like noticing a small dimple that has always been there, it’s still ceviche, but all of a sudden, kind of cute.  Reasonably I should have dragged it home immediately, pick a church and make babies, but, a good romance is never without suspense.

It took destiny another 18 months to make the move.  This time, it ran into me.  It was a mid-summer night when I was laying in bed under the brisk wind of air-conditioning, holding an imaginary cigarette for dramatic effect, and it called out my name, a shrimp ceviche recipe by Lauren Egdal from Comparti Catering.  Evidently, that recipe isn’t the one you see me engaged to at this very moment, but it’s very much inspired by.  The idea of using coconut milk to form the base of the ceviche, giving it body, deriving it away from being just “cloudy sour pool”, elevating it even, into something tangy and delicious that one can mop up with a piece of bread, is quite frankly going to be our wedding vows.  The cold, creamy and citrusy red curry sauce gives just enough savoriness and aroma to bite-size pieces of semi-cured salmon, which is sufficiently attractive in itself.  But you’ll learn, as I did, that the true sexiness of a ceviche lies in its popping elements of surprises.  In this case, the sauce is perfumed with lime leaves, Thai basils and tarragons, and lightened up by soft dragonfruits and cherry tomatoes.  Tangy, salty, sweet, creamy and fragrant.

And did I mention it takes less than 30 minutes?  Now who’s blushing?

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that spicy, sour Thai street noodle

 

Just came home from an extra long weekend-getaway from Bangkok, my second time visiting this feasting sanctuary and wow, it is even better than I remembered.  I’m not going to play expert and include a traveling guide with this post because when it comes to Bangkok, I’m not, yet.  But I will however, include some links (with or without photos) to some of the memorable moments we experienced on this trip.  It’s not a lot.  After all, it was a 2 1/2 day quickie.  Plus a noodle recipe that brings me back whenever I miss that city, which is to say, always.

JUST STICK WITH

THE DON AND THE HOLY FOURSOME

 

 

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PORK OFFAL SOUP WITH FLAT RICE NOODLE

TOM YUM SOUP WITH RICE VERMICELLI

SIAM PARAGON – shopping mall with an entire floor of food paradise

KITCHEN SUPPLY STORE WITH UNIQUE FINDS

THAT SPICY, SOUR THAI STREET NOODLE:

Before you say anything, you’re right, this isn’t authentically anything.  It isn’t a particular Thai dish, doesn’t even have a real title (the fact of the matter is, I didn’t have a clue what most of the dishes we ate were called), but what it is, is a recollected combination of flavours that brings me back to that plastic stool and folding table on a hustle-and-bustle street-corner in Bangkok, hitting the right notes.  The aromatic broth… the strings of supple and chewy rice vermicelli… the crunch somewhere in between… the zing, what’s that?… but wait there comes the heat, then savouriness, sweetness, one after the other, tangled but distinct at the same time, intriguing but too consuming to investigate.  That memory, to me at least, is not an absolution, but a chest of vibrant paints and crayons that splatters beautifully over a blank canvas, different every time but always a balance in perfection.

I went with a cheated version starting with store-bought chicken stock which I then built flavours on top.  But you can of course, applauded, start with pig bones, beef bones, or any combination of broth-builder that you prefer, keeping in mind that as long as you get a grip on the major aromatics and template of flavours, chances are, your noodle just can’t taste bad if not delicious.  Aromatics like lemongrass, galangal, pandang leaves, star anise, kaffir lime leaves… they are, together, a proven equation for a damn good reason.  But what the hell is the “template of flavours” you ask?  Which brings me to say…

Just stick with The Don and The Holy Foursome.

On every tables of every noodle-stalls in Bangkok, almost always and if not you’re entitled to get angry, are a fixed collection of condiments, the paints and crayons if you will, which ultimately determines the flavour profile of every individual bowl of noodles, different and deeply personal to every patron’s preferences.  I call them, The Don and The Holy Foursome:

The godfather himself, kiss his hand, is a bottle of fish sauce – SAVOURINESS.  Then, toasted and crushed chili flakes – HEAT.  Blended fresh chili in vinegar – ACIDITY.  Toasted and crushed peanuts and fried garlics – AROMAS and CRUNCH.  A jar of sugar – SWEETNESS.

Always.  Always.  Respect them, but be playful.  I always like mine with high pitch in heat and acidity, with a good dose on aromas and crunch, then subtle on sweetness, but I’ve also seen others dousing sugars over their noodles like it’s breakfast cereals.  And, of course, a dash of The Don is always an offer you can’t refuse.

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THAT SPICY, SOUR THAI STREET NOODLE

Serving Size: 6~8 depending

Ingredients

    TOASTED CHILI FLAKES:
  • 3 tbsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • BLENDED CHILI VINEGAR:
  • 5~6 (21 grams) mix of red and green Thai chili
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) white rice vinegar (not Japanese sushi vinegar)
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • FRIED GARLIC AND ROASTED PEANUTS:
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
  • THE BROTH:
  • 7 cups (1750 grams/ml) chicken stock
  • 3 lemongrass, roughly chopped
  • 1" galangal, roughly chopped
  • 2 frozen pandang leaves, roughly cut
  • 2 " cinnamon stick
  • 4~5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • 1 large handful of cilantro stems
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tbsp garlic oil
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 8~10 Asian pork or beef meatballs
  • MINCED LEMONGRASS CHICKEN:
  • 2 (340 grams) skinless boneless chicken legs
  • 1 (30 grams) lemongrass, white parts only
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2~3 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • TO ASSEMBLE:
  • rice vermicelli, variety depends on your preference
  • Thai basils and bean sprouts
  • sugar and fish sauce to season
  • MSG

Instructions

  1. MAKE TOASTED CHILI FLAKES: Mix chili flakes and vegetable oil together in a skillet until it resembles wet sand. Set over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they turn darker in color and smells fragrant. Transfer immediately into a bowl to cool (it will burn quickly and become bitter).
  2. MAKE BLENDED CHILI VINEGAR: Over stove-flames or with a torch, char the skins of the chilis until completely blackened, then scrap away the black skins and seeds with a small knife and discard. Blend the chilis with vinegar and sugar in a blender until coarsely pureed. Set aside until needed.
  3. FRIED GARLIC AND TOASTED PEANUTS: Combine finely minced garlic and vegetable oil in a small pot over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the garlics start to turn light brown in color (this will take a few minute)(*don't let them turn dark brown or they'll be bitter*). Drain immediately through a fine sieve and let cool. Reserve the oil. Once the garlics are cooled, pound them together with roasted peanuts in a mortar until coarsely ground.
  4. MAKE THE BROTH: Blend a couple cups of chicken stock with lemongrass, galangal and pandang leaves until coarsely blended. Transfer into a large pot with the rest of the chicken stock, along with cinnamon stick, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro stems, star anise, reserved garlic oil, dark soy sauce, ground white pepper, light brown sugar and ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 min, then add the fish sauce and meat balls, and cook for another 10 min.
  5. Meanwhile, make the minced lemongrass chicken: Cut the chicken into small pieces then set aside. In a food-processor, blend lemongrass and ginger until finely chopped. Add the chicken, fish sauce, ground white and black pepper, and pulse until the mixture is finely ground (like sausage consistency). Add 2 tbsp of the reserved garlic oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kaffir lime leaves and cook until fragrant, then add the chicken-mixture, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until slightly browned on all edges. Set aside until needed.
  6. TO ASSEMBLE: On the table, arrange a bottle of fish sauce, a small jar of light brown sugar, toasted chili flakes, blended chili vinegar, fried garlic/roasted peanuts, and a couple bunch of fresh Thai basils.
  7. Cook the rice vermicelli according to instructions and divide into bowls, with a small handful of bean sprouts and a good pinch of MSG (that's how it's done, ok? that's how it's done). Pour the broth into the bowl through a fine sieve, then add a couple of meatballs and a good large spoonful of minced lemongrass chicken into each bowls. Adjust your own season with the condiments then slurp.

Notes

This broth can be built on store-bought chicken stock, or from scratch with pork bones and water.

http://ladyandpups.com/2016/06/15/that-spicy-sour-thai-street-noodle/
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THAI SPICY TOM-YUM-GOONG TOMATO GAZPACHO

I FELT LIKE MY MOUTH HAS TAKEN A BEACH VACATION DOWN IN  THE SOUTHEAST, THAT I COULD HEAR THE SOUND OF TURQUOISE WATER MASSAGING MY TASTE-BUDS

Something is happening here, and if you had any loved ones residing in Beijing, you may have felt this.  Perhaps from the shaken jitters that come through their voices, perhaps even traceable within their text messages… the emotions, raw and rampant, running uncontainably even from the choices of their emojis on Instagram.  Because over here, since about 3 days ago, something big is happening.  The most freakishunfathomable… borderline-scary natural phenomenon is rioting through the very air we breath, and the very reality we see, and frankly, it’s freaking everybody out here.  Emerging from the darkness, the elderly are moving cautiously and slowly out of the shadows of their dwellings, looking up, teary in disbelief.  The children, curious and enthusiastic, holding their hands out into the rare glistens and ask, Mommy, what is this?

What it is, is that for the past 3 consecutive days, the historically soupy and oppressively smoggy sky of Beijing, has been, impossibly blue.

I’m not talking about the-government-patting-themselves-on-the-back or the this-should-be-harmless-enough-to-leave-my-house-without-my-gas-mask kind of greyish relative blue.  I’m talking about… the Swissland-kind of blue, the 3D clouds-kind of blue, the mystical, unicorn-kind of blue that the Chinese has only seen or heard in movies or from the tales of strange, faraway travellers.  And maybe, it’s no big deal to you, but in Beijing, it’s nothing short of a miracle, like Moses parting the Red Sea and finding a 20 dollar-bill on the sea-floor while crossing.  Which is, literally, impossible.  As pathetic and outrageously sad this may sound, in a day like this, we almost owe it to ourselves to go outside and do something as mundanely rare as… having a fucking picnic.

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THAI SPICY BRINY COCKLE SALAD

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AS HAPPY AS A CLAM

It’s veterinarian-day for me again, how about you?  Whatever your day’s like, appetize it with this spicy, herby, briny and juicy cockle salad (you heard right), from one of Fatty Crab’s and Fatty Cue’s Zak Pelaccio.  It tastes like the ocean with an attitude, certainly one of my favourite, and most interesting and delicious treatment of shellfish yet.  And I promise it will kick-open your palette, get you ready for whatever that’s on your plate.  Wish you a day as happy as a clam.

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Serves:  4 as appetizer

Adapted from Zak Pelaccio’s Eat With Your Hands

I like to use an assortment of cockles and clams for this dish.  In this case, tiny cockles for their meats plus larger/prettier clams for their shells.  You can choose whatever variety you like.  The original recipe does not include the kaffir lime leaf, but I added it because I think it gave the dish a sharper edge.  Use if you have it available (they freeze really well in the freezer).


THAI SPICY BRINY COCKLE SALAD

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs assortment of cockles and clams
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup rice wine or white wine
  • 2 ~ 3 small red Thai chili
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 lime leaf (if available), with the stem removed
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 4 small Asian shallots, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp chopped mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro

Instructions

  1. Bring 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 cup of rice wine (or white wine if you prefer) to a boil. Add the clams and cover the lid. Cook for 2 min, then remove the lid and start picking out clams as they open (clams open at different speed so this way, you can avoid over-cooking them). Once all the clams have opened, continue to simmer the liquid until it's reduced to 1/4 cup.
  2. Meanwhile, remove the clams from the shells (you should have about 1 cup of clam-meats). Keeping a few shells that are bigger and prettier.
  3. In a stone-mortar, mash the red chili, the garlics and lime leaf until paste-like. Add the lime juice, fish sauce, light brown sugar, finely sliced Asian shallots, chopped mint leaves, chopped cilantro and the clam-meats. Mix to combine.
  4. Scatter the preserved shells over the serving platter, then spoon the clams to fill the shells. Pour the reduced clam-juice over. Serve with extra lime.
http://ladyandpups.com/2014/10/26/thai-spicy-briny-cockle-salad/
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DIRTY THAI FRIED RICE

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IF YOU DON’T DO IT, SOMEBODY WILL

EVEN though, for quite a while now, you and I have been sort of sitting inside a semi-private room, staring at each other and talking about what I ate yesterday… when it comes to predicting what you would actually like to eat, sadly, I’ve got very little clues.  As a matter of fact, for the sake of honesty and sanity, I spent a great deal of obsessive and compulsive effort not to think too much about that.  Instead I try to say, or at least most of the times, that hey look, if it hasn’t already, this is the kind of stuff that will make your world a much more exciting and tastier place.

I can’t say I’ve been completely frank… I was too afraid that this rom would look like a swimming pool inside a Pig’s soft parts, but on the other hand, striking the balance has proven to be tricky.  After all, convincing people to watch someone downing a tripe stew on TV, vs to make it themselves at home, is two completely different things.

But lately, I came across a recipe that, I believe, could be the great missing link.

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