Anyone else love Asian cooking like I do? Its fast, it’s fresh, and come Winter, Spring or Summer, there are dishes to satiate my hunger.
When in Thailand a few years back, I swear to you I did not eat a Western thing. While that in itself may not sound like some great feat, most travelers (my husband included) usually succumb to some sort of Western fare from time to time. I have to say that breakfast was the meal when my husband found it hardest to stomach the Thai equivalent, especially the morning after a big night out, but I loved seeking out a little hole-in-the-wall establishment to grab a quick Pad Thai or soup to start my day.
Thai cuisine is influenced by its neighbouring nations, and therefore there are intricate differences within Thai cuisine depending on whether you are eating in the north or the south of the country. There are certainly some similarities in the freshness of Vietnamese cooking, and between some Chinese, Cambodian, Laotian and Burmese dishes also.
Thai food has distinct flavours and it is a complex integration of taste senses; sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy. Thai cooking is generally prepared quickly with the emphasis on freshness, strong aromatics and a spicy edge. The most common Thai flavours include; garlic, galangal, coriander/cilantro, lemon grass, coriander, holy basil, shallots, young peppercorns, tumeric, pandanus, kaffir lime leaves , shrimp paste, fish sauce, and chilies (Thai cooking uses 5 varieties of chili). Palm sugar is often used to sweeten dishes and contribute to the complexity in balancing the flavours, whereas lime or tamarind is utilised for sour notes.
Certainly there are some fundamental flavours and herbs that are essential to creating an authentic dish, and if you are a fan like I am, perhaps a Asian inspired kitchen garden will prove a thrifty decision given the costs of buying these individual ingredients at the supermarket. Here are our favourites and what we believe are Thai cooking essentials;
Lemongrass is a tropical island plant within the grass family. It is widely used in Asian cuisine as a culinary herb in soups and curries, in tea concoctions and as a medicinal herb in India. It can be used dried or powdered, or simply chopped fresh. It is a grass plant, so if it is chopped coarsely it is best to remove from the dish as it is not pleasant texture.
Basil– Three types of basil are regularly used in Thai cuisine; Thai Basil, Holy Basil and Lemon basil. Thai basil is native to Southeast Asia and has been cultivated for specific, distinguishing traits. It has small, narrow leaves, with a purplish stem and flowers. It has an anise/licorice like flavour and seems to withstand high temperatures more than sweet basil. Basil is commonly used to flavour green curries, but is also used in stir-fries, and soups. Thai basil is most widely used cultivar in Western kitchens for Asian cooking, and also plays a prominent role in Vietnamese cooking. Holy Basil is the basil Thai people love most due to its spicy, peppery taste.
Coriander is also known as cilantro (USA), Chinese parsley or dhania. It is an annual herb, with all parts of the plant considered edible. The fresh leaves are utilised most regularly along with the dried seeds which can be used whole or ground into a fine powder. Coriander is widely used in Asian cooking as well, as Tex-Mex, Brazillian, Afican, Prtuguese. Mediterranean, Middle Easter and even Scandinavian dishes.
Kaffir Lime Leaves The characteristic flavour of kaffir lime leaves (bai makrut) appears in many Thai soups (Tom Yam) or curry from the southern and central areas of Thailand. Kaffir lime leaves or rind is frequently combined with galangal and lemon grass, either kept whole, or alternatively pulsedin a blender along with chilies and other aromatics to make curry pastes.
Who could forget Chilies?
Chilies are the spicy fruit that grows on the plant from the genus Capsicum. They are also called Chili pepper, chilli pepper, or chile pepper, although in most cases the word ‘pepper’ is usually omitted. The substances that makes chili intense in its application or when ingested are capsaicin. India is the largest consumer of Chili, as well as being the largest producer and exporter. Chilis orginate in Americas, and were brought to Asia by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
Chili is used fresh and dried to create curries; with fish sauce, lime juice and herbs to create Nam phril (Thai chili paste); or pounded in a mortar and served with green Papaya to create Som tam, a traditional Thai/Lao salad.
Get to your nursery and get planting and soon you will be in the kitchen creating dishes that are as varied as athey are exotic.
Did you know? Thai people generally use just a fork and spoon to eat, no knives, and certainly no chopsticks.
Sawasdee (Thai ‘farewell’)