And this little figgy piggy screamed “kiwi, kiwi, kiwi” all the way home!
This semi-exotic fruit lends a clean, tart flavor to savory dishes.
On a rain and blustery night last week, I decided to take a dish from my childhood memories in Bangkok, Tom Yum Kung, a pungent soup with shrimp and mushrooms swimming in lime-flavored broth, and give it a Pacific Northwest flair by adding salmon to it.
Tacos have become such a part of mainstream American cuisine that on the West Coast other ethnic groups have begun topping the ubiquitous corn tortilla with their cultural culinary specialties. Forget the fish taco, ground beef taco, or shredded beef taco. Their time has come and gone. In Los Angeles and Seattle you can find Vietnamese and Korean food-truck chefs who are creating the latest taco sensations: Korean barbecue and Kimchi tacos, Bulgogi tacos, Vietnamese lemongrass chicken tacos. I mean, when you see a dozen kinds of tacos available in the neighborhood supermarket, and Taco Bells show up in China, what would you expect, right? The taco is ripe for a cultural hijacking. And so this native Thai decided that the time was ripe for….ta da…a Thai taco.
I’m not sure about the origin of the name pad kee mao, which literally translates as stir-fried drunken noodles. Mom says maybe because it’s good to wash down with beer. Or maybe it’s a good cure for a hangover. I think it’s one of those quick and cheap street foods that’s widely available around Bangkok to satisfy an appetite after a night of disco. Who knows for sure? Charles and I do agree, though, that the perfect thing to serve with this dish is a bottle of Chang beer (from Ayutthaya, Thailand). We’re lucky that we can find it here in Salem at Capitol Market. This version of drunken noodles takes very little time to prepare.
The secret ingredient to our version of steak salad is marinating the meat in some dried galangal root powder (available at any Asian grocery store) and a touch of oil an hour or two before cooking. The galangal will enhance the flavor of the steak and take away some of that “beefy smell” that turns some people off. Plus, while you’re searing the steak, it will add an other-worldy aroma to the beef.
As I was growing up in Thailand, kaffir limes were a common sight. Not so much here in the U.S. So imagine my surprise when I get a call from Charles, the excitement in his voice palpable, extolling that our little organic food store in Salem, Lifesource Foods, had kaffir limes and did I want any? Are you kidding? Yes! My family has gone to great lengths to make sure that wherever we’ve lived — Texas, Maryland, Oregon — we’ve always had a kaffir lime plant. Usually, Mom has to scour her friends in Houston and bring a live plant back on the plane after one of her annual visits there. Sometimes, we beg to have plants sent to us via FedEx. The fruit doesn’t contain much juice, but in Thai cooking, the rind and the entire fruit are used to impart their bright, clean, citrus flavor and aroma. The most common dishes that use kaffir lime rind or leaves are Tom Yum soup and Tom Kha soup.
Aunt Noi pulls out a bag and says she brought a snack for us. Next we notice her setting out several small covered bowls, a couple of spoons and a larger container of a stack a bright green leaves. She explains, as she’s opening the containers, that she’s brought a surprise that I’ve probably never had before. As I look over the contents of the bowls — crushed peanuts, dried shrimp, small lime pieces, garlic, chiles, toasted coconut, shallots and a thick sauce — I ask, “Is this Miang Kham?”
Mussels are one of those seafood dishes that you have to be careful about when serving company. Many people object to their strong flavor and aroma. Charles and I love them, however, and we were once talking about our favorite ways to cook mussels when my mother, Pranee, told me about a dish she cooked at a now-defunct restaurant in Houston called Renu’s. It was simply mussles that had been steamed in water infused with lemongrass and it was served with a dipping sauce that Thais commonly use for seafood: a mixture of fish sauce, lime and chopped chilis.
Phuket Pork — Bathed in Coconut Milk and Curry, Wrapped with Banana Leaves and Slow-roasted Over Coals
If a kalua piggy went to Phuket for a vacation, I figure he’d end up soaked in coconut milk, curry, and then surrounded by chunks of onion and pineapple before being wrapped in banana leaves and taken for a walk over hot coals. Forget digging a hole in your back yard to do this. No need to ruin the landscape. I’ve figured out how to do this in a Weber kettle charcoal grill. The lawn and roses get to live another day! Serve with a Thai satay-style peanut sauce to top it off.
A few weeks ago, during a warm spell and a flash of inspiration, as well as a flashback to my childhood in Bangkok, I was inspired to make lemongrass soda. This weekend, with my 46th birthday party looming, I made some more of the lemongrass simple syrup to serve, but instead of just splashing it into soda over ice, I decided to shake things up a little and experiment with adding the lemongrass syrup to gin, shaking it in a cocktail shaker and serving it in a martini glass garnished with a kaffir lime leaf. YUMMY!
Why had I not thought of this before?
Nam prik pao, a thick sauce made of ground-up roasted chilis, soybean oil, palm sugar, fish sauce, ground-up dried shrimp and shallots, has one of those unmistakable flavors. Literally translated, the name means roasted chili water. It’s a sauce that I grew up loving — believe it or not — on toast. Mom’s version of chicken and cashew nuts uses this delicious sauce, giving this Chinese dish a uniquely Thai twist.
I was thinking of how well pork and mushrooms go together the other day, while musing on a novel way to use black trumpet mushrooms we received from Marx Foods, a purveyor of bulk fine foods. I remembered a favorite Thai dish that Mom occasionally makes that is a salad made from stir-fried ground pork and mung bean noodles in a lime and fish sauce dressing, topped with lots of cilantro and shallots. Collaborating, Mom and I decided to make this dish with the addition of black trumpet mushrooms.
Thai porridge brings back fond memories from my childhood in Thailand, where I spent many weekends at my cousin’s house. It’s a dish that my favorite uncle would serve for breakfast. The bland taste of the rice porridge would be punctuated by the side dishes that were each full of their own flavors: salty, savory, sweet, sour and pungent. To this day, it’s a comfort food that we enjoy at our home and it brings back warm memories of my cousin who is now half a world away, and my favorite uncle who is no longer alive.
Living in Oregon now, I often ache for my homeland. It seems so far away. The last time I went home to Thailand was in 2007, and it brought back to life so many memories from my distant childhood that had begun to grow dim and fade with time. One of my fondest memories grew out […]
One of my favorite memories of Bangkok prompts me to ask my mother to often make Larb for us for dinner. Larb is a Thai dish that can be made from ground beef, ground pork, or if you have to be healthy — ground chicken or turkey. It is quickly cooked and then seasoned with fish sauce and lime juice and dressed with roasted ground rice and ground red chillis, chopped cilantro and chopped scallions.
One of the things that I love about living in Oregon is the bountiful and fresh seafood available. Another is that the state embraces Pacific Rim cultures. As an Asian-American who has lived lots of places in the U.S., I’ve found it one of the most welcoming places to be. With our love of the […]
Oregon is one of those states where lots of people forage for interesting food. Some forage the forests for wild mushrooms in the fall. Others forage for truffles buried beneath the forest floor, with their truffle-sniffing dogs in tow. Still others forage the many tidal pools at the coast…for what? you might ask. Read on and you’ll discover some tasty edibles.
In the wintertime most of the U.S. is gripped by snow, freezing weather, or some combination of the two. In Oregon, we have the winter monsoons. It rains almost daily from November until April. Most of the time it’s a civilized, spritzing kind of rain, where you don’t need head gear. Sometimes it’s a heavier […]
When we have dinner parties and cook Thai food for company, our guests usually ask the names of the dishes they’re enjoying. Sometimes things just don’t translate well into English! Sometimes you need a censor at our dinner table. Most of the time you just need a sense of humor. Charles usually will sit there […]
Besides Thailand, I’ve lived in Singapore, Houston, Fort Worth, Austin, Baltimore, and now Salem, to name a few, and in each place there has been an abundance of Thai restaurants. How do I tell the good ones from the not-so-good ones? There is one dish I order at every new Thai restaurant I encounter so […]
Thai Black Sticky Rice Pudding Our family likes to entertain, and one of the parties we throw is a Lunar New Year Party. We decided to start doing it a few years ago because in Oregon, January and February are pretty gloomy and wet, and everyone’s looking for a pick-me-up after the holidays. Charles, Mom […]
I remember as a child growing up in Bangkok, our family cook would often enlist me to help in the kitchen. I think it was because she knew I liked to pound on things. One of the essential tools in Thai cooking is a mortar and pestle. Oh, forget the convenience of a blender or […]
As a child growing up in Bangkok, I remember going to the markets with my mother and seeing tanks teeming with live fish, eels, crabs, snails and clams, and tubs filled with live mudfish, frogs and other sea creatures. We could select our dinner live, and take it home so that it was as fresh […]