Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Thai Food Tuesdays! An introduction to Thai food
I love Thai food. It's a love affair that started in college when my then-boyfriend, now husband took me to this little restaurant in town. The flavors and the textures of Thai cuisine are amazing. They roll of off your tongue in waves. Curry has to be my favorite, but I'm really in love with all things Thai.
A few years back, I received a great Thai cookbook for Christmas. It has an amazing section on Thai food traditions, ingredients, and general how-to. Because this book makes Thai food easy to prepare, I can now cook it at home for my family.
I will be posting my first Thai recipe tomorrow, but then I will schedule a Thai recipe regularly every Tuesday until I run out! Today, I want to focus on some of the uncommon ingredients. (Most information taken from the book referenced above)
If you are in a hurry to cook tonight, see my older Thai recipes. Chicken Satay with Coconut Rice, or Thai Fried Rice with Beef.
Where do I find the ingredients? Most large cities have Asian marketplaces that sell Thai food ingredients. Most of the time, the products are cheaper there as well. If you are in Salt Lake City, there is a great market on 800 S. and 200 E. It is in the same building as an Asian restaurant. Also, many ingredients are found in a common supermarket.
Unlike in America, where we have Appetizers, Main dishes, Sides, and Desert, Thai meals are generally an informal affair. Food is separated into a savory course and a sweet course, but within these categories all dishes are served at the same time. Everyone just helps themselves to what is on the table.
The main meal is usually a variety of dishes, served in no particular order. Desert is usually based on fruit or coconut and rice or flour, and are often very sweet with a delicate, scented flavor.
So, although I might label the recipes I post as "Main dish", or "side dish", they are really all served at once.
Rice is the most important Thai ingredient. The most common is Jasmine Rice. I go into more detail on how to cook Jasmine Rice here.
Jasmine rice is found in grocery stores, and specialty stores. If I use a recipe that calls for a different kind of rice or noodle, then I will give instructions on how to cook them in that post.
Shallots from Thailand are pink/purple in color, sweeter, and not so juicy as onions. They can be found in Asian markets, or get the "american" version at the supermarket.
Scallions are Green Onions.
Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream comes in cans and is found in a supermarket by the Ethnic foods.
Lemongrass is a long tubular herb essential in Thai cooking. They are available in Asian markets. Like an onion, lemongrass has outer layers that need to be peeled off to get to the juicy core. Only the bottom 6 inches or so is used in recipes. Sliced lemon grass can be frozen and used straight from the freezer. Dry and jarred lemongrass is available, but it is not as potent.
Ginger I've had success using both fresh and marinated ginger. Both are available in your local supermarket.
Curry pastes and powders are essential in Thai cooking. I highly recommend the brand "Mae Ploy". These are larger containers, and are generally around $2.00. These can be found in Asian markets. I found a little tiny bottle of Red Curry in the supermarket for $6.00. Asian supermarkets can charge less because the products are not "specialty" there.
Don't let Fish Sauce scare you away. It is one of the most important ingredients in Thai cuisine. The strong flavor becomes less pronounced when cooked. Fish Sauce in Thai food is like Salt in American food. Use it! (unless you're allergic of course!) Readily available at the supermarket or cheaper at Asian stores.
You will also want a good bottle of Soy Sauce.
If any other "strange" ingredients come up doing our cooking together, I will be sure to describe them!
Tomorrow's recipe is for classic Mussaman. All you will need "special" for this meal is Mussamun Curry (Mae Ploy brand) and two cans of Coconut Milk. The other ingredients are found in your grocery store.