Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thai Cooking Rampage!

I'm not sure what got into me this past Saturday.  Whatever it was, it was a great day.  A friend of mine offered to hang out with my son.  They went to the symphony, the museum, and then to his music class. I was free for several hours!!  The weather was pretty decent -- sunny and not too cold.  I could have (and probably should have) spent my free time enjoying the warmth of the early spring sun.  What did I do?  I went to two supermarkets (including one that specializes in Asian ingredients), stocked up and went to my kitchen and cooked until the late afternoon.  I had a blast!

For the previous several days, I had become engrossed by a cookbook that I had bought a few months before:  Fresh Thai written by Oi Cheepchaiissara. I found it in the bargain section at my local Border's before it closed (I'm still very upset about the closing). What drew me in was the photography -- really more like food porn!

I highly recommend the cookbook, as it is a delight to read. The introduction is about the author's experience of family and food while growing up and he does a great job of painting a vivid picture of Thai food culture.  I could also relate to it personally because of my own family experiences with food.  My family, with strong roots in the US South, was very much like this.  Food organized our family events, our time after school, during holidays, etc.   And both my parents were excellent cooks!

The first section of the cookbook gives an overview of Thai cuisine and clearly explains the ingredients commonly used. It's a great introduction for those who are new to Thai cooking.  The recipes are divided by courses:  soups and appetizers; salads; fish and seafood; meat and poultry; vegetables; rice and noodles; and desserts.  The recipes are clearly written and easy to follow. In  a nod to concerns about cholesterol, the recipes combine coconut milk with stock, which maintains the cultural integrity of the recipes, while keeping your arteries open. 

I've made several recipes from the book and am determined to work my way through all of them!!!  I know it's ambitious, but your mouth waters at every recipe.  So why not?

I made a good dent in my plan Saturday, as I made four dishes, including a dessert (lime/lemongrass sorbet).  The first dish was Thai barbecued ribs.  The supermarket had a special running and I picked up a package of ribs for about $3.00!!!  The second dish was a yellow chicken/pineapple curry made with a homemade curry paste.  Then I found a quick and easy stir-fried vegetable dish.  I was happy about this, as I had a crisper full of fresh vegetables that really needed to be used.  Finally, I tackled the surprisingly easy lime/lemongrass sorbet, which is sublime.

What I love about Thai food is the fact that the seasonings enhance, but don't mask, the ingredients. The marinade for the barbecued ribs was easy, and very, very flavorful!!  I used boneless ribs, by the way. I marinated the ribs overnight to enhance the flavor.  And I used cilantro roots instead of the ground coriander.  It was all I could do to keep from eating all the ribs by myself -- they were that good.  The chicken/pineapple curry was warm, with just enough bite.  While my child likes spicy food, I was careful about the number of dried red chilies I added.  According to my son, Brooks, it had just enough kick.  The veggies were the perfect side dish; and you can pretty much use whatever veggies you have on hand and the dish will work.  Finally, the sorbet was absolutely delightful.  I used palm sugar in place of brown sugar, as it is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine.  I will definitely make the sorbet again.


Barbecued pork spare ribs with honey

2 lbs. pork spare ribs, cut into 4-5 inch lenghts
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 cilantro roots, cleaned and finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon coriander
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)

To serve: 1 red chili, finely sliced
1 green onion, finely sliced

1.  In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients with your fingers or a spoon.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave for a t least 3 hours or, if time allows, overnight in the refrigerator. 
2.  Place the ribs with all the marinatde in a baking dish and cook in a preheated overn, 350 degrees F, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, basting several times during cooking.  Broil for another 5 minutes on each side until well browned and slightly charred.
3. Alternatively, preheat a grill or broiler to medium heat.  Grill the pork, turning several times and brushing frequently with the remaining sauce until the meat is cooked through and slightly charred, which should take 10-12 minutes on each side.  Serve garnished with chili and green onion slices.

Yellow curry chicken with pineapple

1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 recipe Yellow Curry Paste (see below)
10 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
3/4 cup canned coconut milk, shaken well
3/4 cup chicken stock (I didn't have any fresh stock on hand, so I used low sodium, 99% fat free stock)
10 oz pineapple, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 long red chili, stemmed, seeded, and finely sliced, to garnish

1.  Heat the oil in a nonstick wok or skillet and stir-fry the hyello curry paste over medium heat for 2 minutes or until fragrant.
2. Add the chicken and stri-fry for 4-5 minutes. 
3.  Add the coconut milk, stock, pineapple, and fish sauce.  Spoon into a serving bowl, garnish with chili and serve immediately.

Yellow Curry Paste
2-3 dried, long red chilies, each about 5 inches long, or 5 dried, small red chilies, each about 2 inches long
2 lemongrass stalks (white part only), each about 5 inches long, finely slied
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 shallots, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon yellow curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin

1.  Remove the stems and slit the chilies lengthwise with a sharp knife.  Discard all the seeds and roughly chopt he flesh.  Soak the chilies in hot water for 2 minutes or until soft, then drain.
2. Use a mortar and pestle or blender to grind the chilies adn lemongras into a smooth paste.
3.  Add the garlic and shallows and then the remaining ingredients.  Pound together until the mixture becomes a smooth paste.

Stir-fried mixed vegetables

10 thin asparagus spears
10 baby corn
4 oz green beans
4 oz red and yellow bell peppers
4 oz small zucchini
4 oz snow peas, trimmed
1 small carrot or 4-5 baby carrots
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
4 oz small broccoli florets
4 oz bean spreots
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and finely sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
cilantro leaves, to garnish

1.  Prepare the vegetables.  Cut off the tips of the asaparagus and cut each stalk into 2 inch lengths.  Cut the baby corn adn green geans in half lengthwise at an angle.  Halve and seed the bell peppers adn cut the flesh into bite-sized pieces.  Slice the zucchin thinly.  Leave the snow peas whole, although tif they are rather large cut them in half an trim.  Peel and cut the carrot into matchsticks or scrub them if you are using whole baby carrots.
2.  Dry-fry the sesame seeds in a small pan for 1-2 minutes or until lightly brown; set aside.
3.  Blanch the asparagus stalks (not the tips) baby corn, green beans, zucchini, snow peas, carrots, and broccoli florets in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Plunge into a bowl of iced water to ensure a crispy texture, drain and transfer to a mixing bowl with  the asparagus tips, bell peppers, bean sprouts, and ginger.
4.  Heat the oil in a nonstick wok or skillet and stir-fry the garlic over medium heat until lightly browned.  Add the mixed vegetables and the remaining ingredients and stir-fry over high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Transfer to a serving plate, garnish with a few cilantro leaves and toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Lemongrass and lime sorbet

2 1/2 cups water
3 lemongrass stalks, each 7-8 inches long, cut into 4-5 pieces and bruised
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind
2/3 cup lime juice

1.  Boil the water, lemongrass, and sugar in a saucepn over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved
2. Strain the syrup and discard the lemongrass solids.  Add the lime rind and juice.  Set aside until cool.
3.  Pour the mixture into a freezer box or other container and freeze for 1 1/2 hours or until half-frozen.  Take the mixture out of the freezer and blend in a food processor.  Return to the container.  Whisk at least twice during freezing time.. There should be plenty of air whipped into it or it will be too ice and hard.  Cover and freeze completely.


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