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I selflessly have put aside my minute to minute honeymoon blog for you to write about the most inspiring dishes Jamie and I experienced in Thailand.
Any trip I take, I make food the centerpiece.
With many unexpected detours at food stands, groceries, markets, and anything else that’s shiny, food is the ruling factor in my life. Once when I visited Austin, Texas with The Wandering Women I got left (totally my fault!) downtown in a desperate run for an eggroll at midnight.
Thailand is littered with street vendors and food buggies and markets with every turn you take. It was amazing to watch these vendors pull their cart to the same spot, plug into the electric pole, hang lights, and do a complete kitchen setup and breakdown every day.
You can certainly opt to dine in nice restaurants and I’m sure you wont be dissapointed. Jamie and I had one nice dinner on Koh Samui, so worth it. The real heart of Thai food isn’t a place you can read about on tripadvisor. It’s the grilled fish man who cooks the best seafood and chicken on Soi Sukhumvit 16 in Bangkok, he doesn’t even have a shop name.
Before we even returned home I was already thinking of the dishes I wanted to make for my friends and where to shop for specific ingredients. It took me 4 trips to Von Son’s and one trip to Kassars before I got all of the ingredients. (I kept inviting more people to keep the feast feel)
For these dishes I relied on my taste memory and some kick ass, totally authentic Thai recipes written by Mark Wiens. I’m going to say it again, look no further for a reliable Thai recipe index.
I did my research (in Thai, thanks Wiki) and compared dozens of recipes and found Mark’s were consistently true to taste, and that’s all I was asking for. 🙂
I chose 5 dishes that were quintessentially Thai, or were a favorite of mine and Jamie’s on our honeymoon adventure.
The honorably selected were Green Papaya Salad, Grilled Stuffed Tilapia, Peppered Beef (Nam Tok), Green Curry with Chicken, and Mango Sticky Rice. I also made three Thai chili pepper sauces: Chilies in Fish Sauce, Nam Prick Dang, and Chilies in Sweet Soy Sauce.
I was pleased to find that everything used pretty much the same few ingredients and no recipe took a long time to produce. Any one of these recipes could be perfect for a dinner for two. I made the mistake of using one-dish-dinner sized portions when I multiplied the meal rather than assuming not everyone will have a full portion…. We certainly had a feast that night.
What I appreciate about Thai cooking is that it’s not very complicated, like my Sicilian cooking. A few powerful and fresh ingredients and in no time you have an amazing meal.
When you go to source your own ingredients check out your local Asian market, most towns have a small one. Yes, Asian stores are incredibly overwhelming so don’t be shy and ask for what you need. Keep in mind your Asian mart helper may not be thai and may not understand what you need. I interacted with my Mart-Man and even though he is totally Asian-American, I had to describe the taste and textures of the Kecap Manis (along with a google photo) to make sure I grabbed the right sweet soy sauce.
Be sure to keep these dishes fun and add the spicy chilis slowly. You can always add more later, but my poor dinner guests realized you can’t take the spice out once it’s in. I follow the same rule for fish sauce, even though I love, I tweaked recipes for a milder taste.
Hope you enjoy! Welcome belly to Thailand!
Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
Time: 15 minutes
- 1 Handful Green Papaya
- 2 Garlic Cloves
- 1-2 Red Thai Chilies
- ⅛ cup Roasted Peanuts
- 1 Tbsp Fish Sauce
- ½ Tbsp Palm Sugar
- 2 Limes juice, less if you don’t love sour
- ½ Tbsp Dried Shrimp, optional
- 1 small Tomato, chunked (Roma is okay, I used a handful of cherry tomatoes)
Remember, this recipe would be for one person, when you start to multiply for more people go easy on the chilis as they can get spicy fast. I think 1 whole papaya would be enough for 10 people, depending on serving size. I made 2 and had way too much.
- This whole recipe is “mash-massaged” in a special clay mortar called a “khrok”, but I used my big marble mortar and pestle and it was just fine. I made the dressing and then just massaged the dressing and papaya in a big bowl, be creative 🙂
- Start by mashing your garlic and chilies until they are almost a paste.
- Next mash in your dried shrimp, tomatoes, peanuts and palm sugar.
- Next add fish sauce and lime juice. I broke tradition and used a spatula here to mix. I also transferred everything to a large bowl since my mortar was at full capacity.
- Begin to chop, grate, or use the Thai way to hack your papaya to small slivers. The green papaya is served in small julianed-looking chopstick pieces, which is achieved by holding the papaya in one hand like a small baby. Next, using a large chef’s knife begin to hack at the papaya, not your hand. I find that a squinty face helps here as well, or watching Mark’s video here. It’s a simple concept that doesn’t have to be perfect and is rather fun to try.
- Last, mix-mash all your dressing and papay shreds together and taste. Here you can add more spice, lime, fish sauce, or palm sugar to make it more your style.
- Eat right away or keep in fridge for up to 5 days.
Waterfall Beef Salad (Nam Tok)
Prep: 4+ hours
Cook Time: 15 minutes
- ¼ Cup Fish Sauce
- Pinch Palm Sugar
- 1-2 Red Thai Chilies
- 3 Tbsp Limes juice
- Salad Mix
- 3 Shallots, sliced thin
- 2 Green Onion Stems, chopped
- Handful Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- Handful Mint Leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 Tbsp Toasted Rice, I forgot this and it was fine
- Not typical Thai, but we wanted to, a handful of Thai Basil, roughly chopped
- Start ahead and marinate your beef and black pepper. Allow the love to come together.
- If you want you can get it all started now, or wait until your ready to eat.
- Begin by making your dressing, mixing fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and chilies in a small bowl and set aside.
- Next pick your cilantro, mint and basil leaves off the stem to avoid bitterness and unwanted fibers. Roughly chop your greens so they are still chucky.
- Next slice your shallots thinly and set your salad mixings in a bowl and set aside.
- When you are ready to eat grill your beef on a medium high flame so that the cut is still a bit bloody or medium rare/ medium cooked. The waterfall in this dish means the juice from the resting meat. Immediately slice the beef in thin strips and allow the juices to fall out of the beef.
- Mix beef juices, dressing, and greens and shallots all in one big bowl and enjoy! Leftovers of this is a sin.
Thai Grilled Fish (Pla Pao)
Cook Time: 30 – 40 minutes
- 1 Whole Tilapia Fish, about 2lbs, with scales on and gutted
- 10 Kaffir Lime Leaves
- 2-3 Lemongrass Stalks
- Not Thai, but we put in 2 stalks of Thai Basil. We are pretty sure the street man did.
- Salt Rub:
- 4-8 cups salt, I used a new box of Kosher
- 2 Tbsp flour
- Begin by rinsing your fish under cold water, being careful not to split the belly more.
- If you can, stuff the fish via the mouth. I could not deep thorat the lemongrass down, so I stuffed the lemongrass, basil, and kaffir in the belly of the fish.
- Next heavily salt the fish, once the salt soaks in, salt it again.
- Over a medium-low heat on a grill, charcoal preferred, put your salted fish on the grill and put the lid on and leave to cook for about 10-12 minutes before flipping.
- If the fish does not want to flip, let it cook for a little while longer. You don’t want to spill the stuffing. Cook another 10-15 minutes until the fish is just done.
- Let the heat come up higher on the fish for some nice black color on both sides, plate and serve.
- Be sure to eat the cheek meat… it’s my favorite.
Cook Time: 30 minutes
- 1 ½ Cups Thai Sticky Rice
- Enough water to steam
The fun thing about sticky rice is that the rice never touches the water. Read on young duck…
- Soak your rice at least 8 hours, but 24 hours preferred. To do so, rinse your rice over and over until your water becomes clear, then fill a bowl of your rice with water and let soak.
- If you have a steamer set-up awesome! The rice can’t be cooked in the water, I fashioned a funny looking net with cheesecloth over my biggest pot. If you have a colander that fits well over a pot and some cheese cloth, I recommend this. Let my rials be your success. The Thai have a special steamer pot they use.
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Mango Sticky Rice (Khao Neeo Mamuang)
- 2-3 Cups Sticky Rice (See recipe above)
- 2 Cup Coconut Cream, not milk, cream
- 4 Tbsp Palm Sugar
- ¼ Tsp Salt
- 2 Ripe Mangos
- In a small pot add your coconut cream, sugar, and salt. Over medium heat, and only stirring in one direction, dissolve your sugar.
- As soon as your sugar is dissolved remove from heat.
- Set aside 1 ½ Cups of the milk and mix in the remaining to your warm sticky rice.
- Fashion cute half-circles with an ice cream scoop and serve with cut mango on top.
- Drizzle (or drown) your remaining Coconut milk over the rice and mango and let your dreams come true.