I thought about posting this type of curry all the way at the end of the series, but I changed my mind, because Thanksgiving is coming up. Last year I gave you a red curry with roasted duck recipe that you can use leftover roasted turkey to make. This year I want to give you another recipe before Thanksgiving to cook your birds with.
You can use this recipe to cook your turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, or use it with the leftover turkey as well. Massaman curry is actually very well known, because it was listed on CNN Travel as the #1 most delicious food in the world in 2011. If you remember, Massaman curry is the king of curries, or perhaps the king of all foods! (As CNN Travel said.)
Massaman curry is a hybrid curry. It probably has Persian or may be even Indian influence, since it came into Thailand during the Ayuthaya Era around the mid-1600’s. I believe the origin probably to be Persian more than Indian because Thailand, or Siam at that time, was a hub for all the traders from all around. The Persians were the better sailors compared to the Indians, and we have documents stating we did trade with them.
This is the most use of “spices” in a Thai curry paste. This curry maintains the strong influence of the East Asian spices in it, different than the rest of the curries that you already known from my blog. Which curry was the original curry? How and who blended them together with the Thai curry remains a mystery.
Some would say that the other possibility for the origin of Massaman curry was from Thai Moslems, who called the curry “Salaman”. If that is true, it’s quite possible that the spice wasn’t Persian-influenced but rather would be Indonesian-influenced. The reason that this is also possible theory is because there is no Massaman curry with pork as a choice of meat.
Islamics in Thailand are clustered in the south, where my parents’ families resided, so I know a lot about their cuisine, and they cook their curry differently than the northern/Buddhist Thais. Eventually I will show you how my grandmother made her Massaman curry, but this time it will be the recipe that is believed to be the one belonging to the Royal cuisine.
Massaman was served among the Thai curries as a part of the set menu in the Thai Royal cuisine, as we, the Thais, saw proof of in some older literature dated back in the early 19th century. But from the mid-17th century, the Authaya era, to the late 18th century, the Rattanakosin era, where Bangkok is the capital city (Bangkok was established in 1782), we really don’t have documents to show the development of the Massaman curry.
The taste of Massaman curry is combination of three flavors: salty, sour and sweet, all blended perfectly with the “spices”. The saltiness is from the shrimp paste, salt and fish sauce. The sweetness is from palm sugar. The sour taste source is the one variant, depending on if the curry is made according to the “Royal cuisine” or the “commoner cuisine”. That’s how I’ve been taught.
What’s the difference? The typical sourness would come from tamarind pulp. So the “commoner” Massaman would have the taste of only tamarind. Sadly, some of the Massaman served in Thailand these days doesn’t even have the sour taste anymore, let alone the Massaman at the Thai restaurants all over the world, yet it still the most delicious food in the world!
The Royal cuisine would add fruit to the curry. Most of the time the fruit would be pineapple, which is abundant in the region. Pineapple doesn’t only give the curry its sour taste but also helps break down the tough proteins of the meat as well. The enzymes in pineapple will make the meat more tender.
There is another sour factor. This is from a citrus juice called Som-Sah ส้มซ่า, the Seville orange or bitter orange. Can you guess that the Royal cuisine version has more complex flavors than the one that uses only tamarind? Also, sometimes you will see cashew nuts in the curry instead of peanuts.
First, I want to tell you that there are three important things to remember when you make authentic Massaman curry:
#1 There are no green parts of leaves in this curry. If you see many bowls of Massaman curry and you want to pick the authentic one out, rule out the one that contains green pieces of vegetables. No cilantro, no kaffir lime leaves, no green onion, no Thai basil…NO GREEN IN MASSAMAN.
#2 There will be red oil floating on top of the curry. Why? Because Massaman curry contains many dried spices, and remember what I told you about how to cook the curry paste in the episode How to make a pot of Thai curry. You need to cook the curry with some oil in order to draw the flavor out from the dried spices.
The oil can be the coconut oil that was released from the coconut milk (the best), or by just using coconut oil if you don’t have coconut milk that can “break”. The oil is the key flavor of Massaman.
I normally don’t like a curry with thick layer of oil floating on top, but Massaman is the exception. In order to make the meat in the curry tender, the meat also needs to be simmered in the curry for quite a while. We normally don’t simmer them together with the coconut cream. We do it in the “watery” part of the coconut milk, or what we call “the tail” of the coconut milk, to prevent the coconut cream from breaking into too much oil.
#3 There is ABSOLUTELY NO GINGER OR CURRY POWDER IN THE MASSAMAN CURRY OR CURRY PASTE.
If you want to use pre-made Massaman curry, please skip this section and go to the cooking Massaman curry section
Massaman is the most complicated curry paste to make, due to many its ingredients and the fact that the spices need to be roasted. Some households even roast the shallots and garlic too.
Massaman Curry Paste Ingredients: (This yields about 1 – 1-1/4 cups of finished curry paste)
Shallots, sliced 2/3 cup
Garlic, sliced 1/2 cup
Red California Chili, soaked, de-seeded, and cut into small pieces 1 cup
Lemongrass, sliced 1/3 cup (If you can use only the purple part, use only 1/4 cup. I used my backyard lemongrass and I didn’t have enough, so I added the green part to it and used a little more)
Galangal 2 tablespoons
Cilantro root (Coriander root) 1 1/2 tablespoon
Shrimp paste 1 1/2 tablespoons
Salt 1 teaspoon
Coriander seeds 3 tablespoons
Cumin seeds 1 1/2 teaspoons
White peppercorn 1 teaspoon
Nutmeg (ground) 1-1/2 teaspoons
Mace 1-1/2 pieces
White cardamom (whole) 7 pieces
Cinnamon (ground) 1-1/2 teaspoons or 1 inch long stick
Clove (whole) 7 pieces
1) Roast all the spices with medium-low heat until they are fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.
2) Put all of the roasted spices and herbs together in a blender and puree them.
If this is the first time you’re making Thai curry paste, you probably won’t recognize the different result. But if you’ve made fresh Thai curry paste (following my recipes) before, you’ll notice that when you open the blender’s lid the aroma that comes out is different than most other curry pastes. It has a much stronger spice fragrance. So aromatic! Even though it isn’t going to smell like Indian curry, it much stronger than Kaeng Kua, for sure.
Once you have the curry paste, then you are ready to roast your bird. I used a game hen because two of us can’t eat a whole turkey, and chicken is quite scary right now with the outbreak of salmonella that hasn’t been resolved yet (even with organic chicken).
One cornish game hen (Mary’s organic) about 2lb
Massaman Curry paste 3-4 tablespoons
Coconut milk 2-3 cups
Potatoes (I used russet potatoes, but this is your choice) quartered or cubed 1 – 1 1/2 cups
Onions, 2-3 small to medium size, cut in 8 pieces (The best really would be the tiny onions that you can just cut in half and every layer remains attached, even after two hours of abuse.)
Roasted peanuts or cashew nuts 2/3 cups
Salt 1 teaspoon
Palm sugar (or brown sugar) 1/4 cup
Tamarind pulp 2 – 3 tablespoons (This depends on how concentrated your tamarind pulp is)
Fish sauce 1/4 cup
Lemon juice 1-2 tablespoons
Sour fruit of your choice (optional) cubed 1 – 2 cups (see note #2)
White cardamom (optional) 4 pieces
White cardamom leaf (optional) 4 leaves (It usually comes in the same bag of the white cardamom pod)
1) If you plan to make Massaman with turkey, just re-calculate the above portions based on the weight of your turkey. The listed amounts are the ingredients for a 2lb. bird. (Note that the curry paste ingredients up above will be sufficient for a good size turkey, 8-10 lb.)
2) Choice of fruits, all should be sour and firm
- Kiwi (do not cut them up–they will disappear in the curry; use whole)
- Sour Mango; I’ve used the Mexican mango that already turned yellow before, but I don’t recommend the green mango.
- Tomato (Can be halved or whole, but only add to the curry at the end or they disintegrate)
- Grapes (Same rule as tomato)
- Peach (Sour and firm yellow peach only. Do not use white peach)
- Hibiscus flower
I never use any citrus or berry in Massaman curry because they can’t stand the heat. The stone fruits will get soft or even mushy by the end of the process, so pick carefully or add them at the very end.
1) Clean and prep the bird. I de-boned the Cornish game hen that I used because my husbanditor doesn’t like to pick tiny little bones out of his food. (I have to keep him happy, you know, or you guys will have to figure out my Thainglish!)
2) Stuff the fruit, potatoes and some onions inside the bird. I used apples and potatoes, and only added the pineapple to the broth for no good reason. I should have stuffed the cavity with pineapple chunks so the bird would have some pineapple flavor, and put the apples in the broth. But…but…but I just though the whole pineapple ring would look pretty on the plate…only if anyone can see it!
3) Truss the bird.
4) Cook the curry paste. Do you remember how to cook the curry paste? With Massaman curry you need to cook it longer, with slightly lower heat.
I used medium heat and once it bubbled, continued to cook it for at least 5 minutes.
If your coconut cream doesn’t break after 5 minutes of cooking, just add coconut oil to the mix.
The longer you cook it, the more the spices release their flavor in the oil. If the coconut milk or coconut cream gets dry, add more.
5) Once the curry paste is cooked, add the bones and more water (or broth), add the extra spices, then season the curry. I don’t use the extra spices with the bird but I do if I cook beef Massaman.
WARNING: For a bigger bird, cook a very, very thin curry with less coconut cream. You shouldn’t put ALL of the curry in the roasting pan because the coconut milk will start to break, and the longer you roast the more it will break. You don’t want to end up with a gallon of oil in the pan, so the proportion of water to coconut cream is different, but use the right amount of curry paste for flavor. Once you take the bird out of the oven you will add more coconut cream or coconut milk to the dried-up curry and adjust the taste again.
6) Pour some curry INSIDE the bird so the stuffing has some flavor and put the bird in a roasting pan, breast side up.
Add more onions, potatoes and fruit all around.
Pour more curry over the bird. The right amount is the curry covers about half to 3/4 of the bird. The longer you roast, the more liquid you add. You can also add more liquid as you see fit.
7) Cover the roasting pan with foil, then put the pan in the oven and roast for 1.5 hours at 350 F convection for a Cornish game hen. For the last half hour take the foil off. (I forgot to take the foil off, so I had to roast it for two hours.)
Chicken (3-5 lb.) should be roasted for at least 2.5 hours. If you roast a full turkey, I recommend preparing the bird and the curry the day before and roasting it at least 8 hour for an 8-15 lb. turkey, then place the bird inside the oven (covered with foil) at 300F for another two hours on Thanksgiving day.
For the bigger birds, you can start with the breast-side down and half way through flip the breast-side up. Make sure to add the water or broth to keep the curry from drying.
Seriously, I’ve never roasted a turkey bigger than 15 pounds, so I really don’t know the exact time, but adding another 40% to the normal time should be good. The longer cooking time is to ensure that the meat not only reaches the cooked point, but is tender and falls off the bones. You have to make sure that the bird stays simmering in the curry so it won’t get dry.
8) At the last half hour or an hour that you try to brown the bird’s skin, unless you have more curry sauce left in a separate pot, you can add the nuts in this pot too. I did. I like to have extra sauce, and you will need to re-season the curry anyway after the bird is cooked.
8) Once the bird is cooked until tender, take it out of the oven. Put just the bird in a deep plate that can hold a decent amount of liquid, so you can put the curry in there too.
Re-season the Massaman curry again with the curry from the pan, which has already mixed with the juice form the bird. Add the peanuts or cashew nuts to the curry at this time. You might want to add coconut milk, water, or broth. Then adjust the final taste of the curry to your preference. Heat, let the curry bubble, then pour the curry over the bird.
10) It’s done! You can serve it with cucumber salad, A-jad. I added chopped pineapple to my a-jad too. Serve with steamed rice, bread, naan, puff paratha, scones, biscuits or couscous.
This is not the traditional way of making Massaman curry at all. I just wanted to give you this recipe as a choice for your Thanksgiving feast. Back in the day, when I didn’t know that turkey took at least 5 hours to cook, I invited a friend of mine to a Thanksgiving dinner and put the turkey in the oven at 3pm when the dinner time was 5pm…Yikes! We ended up eating dinner at 9pm. I was glad my friend, Melissa still loved me after that!
The next time I cooked turkey, of course I was nervous, so I made Massaman turkey. I already calculated the amount of cooking time and the time I needed to prepare all the other side dishes, and then decided to cook the bird the night before, just in case, you know. If I failed, I’d still have time to fix the situation. It was also the first time cooking Thanksgiving feast for my boyfriend’s (at the time) family.
Everything came out so perfect! I was surprised myself. Well, Massaman curry is better the next day anyway. Everyone LOVED my Massaman turkey. Even though, behind the scenes, my ex-bf had to beg his cleaning lady to come and clean his 300 sq.ft. kitchen and arrange the dining room on Thanksgiving morning! Yes, as you might expect, my second time cooking turkey and cooking for twelve people, I made the kitchen condition look just like a hurricane had just swept through. In fact, a hurricane attacked seem gentle by comparison.
How is authentic Massman curry made?
1) You simply cook the meat of your choice, cut into a big chunks, with thin coconut milk until the meat is tender and falls off the bones. (I have only used beef, chicken, lamb, duck, and game hen so far. Never used pork or seafood with Massaman yet.) Chicken and game hen take about 1.5 hours, duck about 2 hours, beef and lamb about 2-3 hours. Add your potatoes to the pot in the last hour.
Remember how to make fresh coconut milk from shredded coconut that I explained it earlier. The skimmed coconut milk, or the “tail” part, is probably come from the third or fourth round of adding warm water to the shredded coconut and squeezing the milk out or the coconut milk that was left after the coconut cream was skimmed out. The milk will be very very thin near the consistency of water.
If you are not making your own coconut milk, you can mix the coconut milk from the can with water in a ratio of coconut milk : water of 1:8.
2) Cook the curry paste as I described above and add it to the meat pot.
3) Add onions, fruit and season the curry to your preference.
4) Wait until the curry is back to boiling again, add the nuts, either peanuts or cashew nuts. Once the curry is back to a boil, it’s ready to be served.
Well, talking about oysters, I was so lucky to be in NOLA during oyster season. (Please, see my last post “Off the Beaten Path Part I” for the best oysters from Pascal’s Manale for the completion.) I LOVE oysters, especially really fresh ones. In New Orleans oysters don’t have pearls in them like the rest of the country so, they are cheaper. (I hope you know that I’m BSing) No, it’s not THAT, but oysters there are so inexpensive.
I have to make sure that they charged me right because when I ordered oysters someplace else, it would be $2-3/ each. In New Orleans it is $5-7/ half dozen! If that is still too much for you, how about $9-14/dozen. I was in oyster heaven (maybe the oyster thought it was hell, but I haven’t heard that directly from them, though).
So, which oyster bar Chef Markvs told me to visit
The first one is the old school oyster bar on Magazine St. You probably know which one I’m about to tell you. Casamento’s is the first one. By the way they said “Our Fried Seafood is Gluten Free!” and also served “Gluten Free Beer”. I seriously don’t need anything gluten free but I think it is pretty in trend right now to let you know about THAT.
WHERE: Casamento’s Restaurant
4330 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA 70115
Tuesday – Saturday 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
Thursday – Saturday 5:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Closed June, July and August and all Major Holidays
(Sometimes they close in April-August. If they can’t get good oysters, they won’t open their doors)
Walk in or you can try calling.
Also this place is CASH ONLY
WHAT: Oysters, baby!
And don’t miss the oyster stew.
I didn’t get a chance to eat their grilled oysters this trip because they don’t’ serve that for lunch.
Another one is near by the airport. Chef Markvs told me to “Go there as soon as you arrive and leave the airport.” I didn’t have a chance to do so immediately upon my arrival, but I got there on my way to visit the Plantations and—the best thing—I stopped there to get food for my flight home.
The place is called “Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar” a little restaurant next to a market called “Fisherman’s Cove” on Williams Blvd., minutes away from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
This place is so inexpensive I though they calculated my check wrong. I ordered several items and the bill came, $20. I though ‘How is this possible?’.
So, I told the waitress.
“I had half a dozen of fresh oysters too.”
She looked at the check and pointed to the $5 item on the check and said,
“Here” Then she looked at me like, and you don’t know about this!
What do you think about fresh raw oysters at $5/half dozen?
WHERE: Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar
3201 Williams Boulevard
Kenner, Louisiana 70065.
WHEN: Daily from 11am – 10:30pm.
HOW: Just walk in. I don’t even know if they take any reservations.
WHAT: All kind of seafood. I love their fresh oysters and turtle soup.
Talking all about seafood / soul food here, what about beignets, you may ask. Of course I ate beignets, but not at the Cafe du Monde this time. They reminded me of the Thai style “Pa-Tong-goh” ปาท่องโก๋, the Thai/Chinese fried dough and “O-Youa” โอยัวะ, hot coffee (of course with roasted tamarind seed mixed in with the coffee beans).
Chef Markvs told me about another coffee place out of town called “The Morning Call Coffee Stand”, another coffee house that has a long history and used to be in French Quarter competing with the famous Cafe du Monde for over hundred years, until 1974. They moved to this new location.
WHERE: The Morning Call Coffee Stand
Directly behind Lakeside Mall
3325 Severn Avenue
WHEN: Open 24 Hours – 7 days per week
Closed only on Christmas Day
HOW: OpenTable or call but not necessary
I’ve found that I liked the beignets there way more than Cafe du Monde. They make them lighter, meaning more open crumb (as shown) and the taste of it is better. I will have to try to make them one of these days when I’m not on the road as much.
What is more interesting than beignets is they served savory dishes as well.
I am debating about what to post! I’ve been to many great places lately: Toronto, New Orleans and next I will be in Las Vegas, Dallas, Rhode Island and New York City. So I don’t have a lot of time in my kitchen but I’m still enjoying good food. If you are following me on Instagram or my Facebook page (link), you probably already know about a few places
The Toronto trip was in early October, but I just came back from New Orleans, so I think I”d rather let New Orleans cut in line this time when my memory is still fresh.
I’ve been to New Orleans many times and never miss the chance to go there when the opportunity presents itself. I can easily say that NOLA is officially my second favorite city in the US. Oh oh…do not trying to guess which city is my most favorite. I’m afraid that you would easily guess it right. I will visit that city right after Thanksgiving and you will know for certain then. (Shoot, I already revealed that it’s not my home base, Manhattan Beach or Los Angeles!)
Since I’d already been to NOLA many times before and did all the French Quarter, Jackson Square, Cafe du Monde and the whole nine yards, this time I wanted to do it differently. I wanted to explore all the local favorites instead of staying in town.
With the help of my hero, Chef Markvs, who was born and raised there in the city of New Orleans and not only that, he’s worked as a chef at many of the restaurants there. He gave me a comprehensive list of restaurants to visit on my five-day trip.
Wait…I can only eat two meals a day, or three meals max! What will I do in between meals is another interesting question. If I don’t want to walk around the French Quarter, NOLA has many other things to offer, but I’d already done most of them. There was one thing I did a long time ago, nearly 14 years ago, which was a tour of the plantations along the Mississippi River. That was so interesting. I set out to do it again on this trip, since I had to rent a car to go to places around town to eat anyway. I can kill two birds (or more) with one stone.
Wait…did I leave out the important part of this trip? Halloween! I am going to be in New Orleans for Halloween! Yikes, this city is spooky year round, do they really need Halloween? I guess there should be a way for the kids there to get their whole year supply of candies, of course, and beyond that, the citizens LOVE a party (No, we really can’t tell that about you guys at all…)
The winner restaurant this trip is called Jacques-Imo’s. The restaurant has this tag line advertising their restaurant, right underneath their name:
Yet, they do not take reservations for parties under 5 people, and people are willing to wait hours for a table! The first night we went at 9pm and got a table within ten minutes. We went there again with a group because we loved it so much. We strolled in after 8:30pm with our group of five and they told us it would be 90 minutes, but we got a table in about half that.
8324 Oak Street, New Orleans, LA (Up Town)
Monday – Thursday: 5pm to 10pm
Friday and Saturday: 5pm to 10:30pm
HOW: Walk-in only unless you have party of five of more then you can call to make a reservation (weeks in advance, please)
WHO: Jacques Leonardi and his wife Amelia
WHAT: They will bring the best corn bread to you. This is how they look like. Do not let this go to waste. They are so good. The outside was so crispy. My husband thought they were fried.
Shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake is a must. This is a savory appetizer that you shouldn’t miss. It’s like shrimp bisque married an andouille sausage quiche and had shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake as their first-born…LOL…It just tasted like the bisque in a denser form. You have to try it for yourself.
Deep-fried roast beef Po-boy with gravy. This is another very interesting dish. It’s like a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich on ecstasy!
Fried grits with white corn and tasso. Another delicious dish that I never tasted anywhere else.
Shrimp Étouffée with rice
Blackened Lamb Sirloin
Rack of lamb with creole mustard sauce and red flannel hash
Along with the “Lousy Food” that I could eat again for the second, third or forth round, the decoration is spectacular.
Paintings on the wall, murals and interesting choice of chairs and tables.
They are not afraid to put customers on a pickup truck bed. I guess if you wouldn’t mind getting your picture taken just like these two cuties that I asked to take theirs.
Do you know the “New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp”? The one that has no ketchup or horseradish but is soaked in flavorful, buttery but spicy sauce, comes with the head and shell still on and is served with a baguette. That’s what I’m talking about. The white Gulf shrimp from Louisiana are so sweet and smooth with the unique sauce that I love to dip the baguette in.
Have you ever wondered who originally thought of these? And Where do NOLA residents go to eat BBQ shrimp when they don’t cook them at home? The answer is Pascal’s Manale, the New Orleans legacy.
WHERE: Pascal’s Manale Restaurant
1838 Napoleon Ave., New Orleans, LA (Milan)
Monday – Friday 11:30am – 9:00pm
Saturday 5:00pm – 10:00pm ISH
HOW: Reservation on the website which is through OpenTable or Call
Fresh oysters (I’ve heard that the Oyster Rockefeller and Oysters Bienville are good but I don’t want my oysters cooked)
Crabmeat & Scallops over pasta
I’m not showing the fresh oyster on this post
The next post already up “Off the Beaten Path Part II: Oyster Bars and Beignet” you will get to see PLENTY of them!
Sorry for being a disappearing blogger last week. I just came back from Toronto and am trying to catch up. This month and next month I’m hitting a heavy traveling period, but maybe I will have more culinary adventures at restaurants to share with you.
In the meantime, let’s make stir-fried clams with Nam Prik Pao.
Even though I like to eat clams, I hate cleaning them, so I normally didn’t cook them very often until I found these treasures: “previously cooked, wild caught” clams frozen in the frozen section at the Asian market. I don’t get how I could have missed them for this long.
Just to make up for all the time that I never cooked them, I went clams crazy. Spaghetti a la vongole, stir-fried clams with fermented soy beans, clams with white wine sauce, etc. The favorite one at my house is this one: spicy stir-fried clams with Nam Prik Pao.
I already introduced you to Nam Prik Pao before in the pork floss shortbread and Tom Yum Goong. The ingredients of my homemade Nam Prik Pao are: fried dried red chili, fried shallots, fried garlic, tamarind paste, shrimp paste, palm sugar, and the last ingredient that makes my Nam Prik Pao different than the store-bought one is dried shrimp. All of the ingredients, regardless of how they were cooked or fried before, are to be mushed with a mortar and stir-fried in vegetable oil.
Thai people use Nam Prik Pao as a condiment in many dishes and also as a sandwich spread, believe it or not. I make my own Nam Prik Pao so I can get the chili heat level just the way I like it, extremely mild…haha, and make sure that no MSG “accidentally” falls into the jar. (The recipe is still on a “procastinatable recipe list” but I will get around to it maybe after I post the sixth recipe using it…)
Clams stir-fried in Nam Prik Pao is surprising popular at my house. Why am I so surprised?
Because it contains many “stink” factors. Dried shrimp sure don’t smell like flowers, shrimp paste…ahem…errr…really smells like fermented rotten seafood (of which you can drop the word “fermented” and the leftover words are still not that far off from describing the paste smell). Also fried garlic and fried shallots don’t really smell like melted cheese either.
I don’t know if you ever came across this funny news story (funny to us, the Thais) about “Burning Chilli Sparks Terror Fear”, in which a Thai restaurant in Soho caused a terror alert in London because they were just making their own Nam Prik Pao. The police thought they were under chemical attack!
Nam Phrik Pao is probably the most difficult paste to find. If you don’t spot it at your local Asian grocery, I would recommend going online. The Temple of Thai carries about 3 different brands Mae Anong, the brand used by many Thai restaurants, Pantainorasingh, this is a milder one and Mae Pranom, the old brand, quite spicy. Amazon also carries the Mae Pranom brand, too.
Before you even start, you need to clean the clams. Even the frozen ones need to be soaked in a lot of cold water until they’ve all opened again. Discard all the closed ones. Toss them around in the water to make sure that the excess grains of sand all fall out of the shells. Your teeth don’t need to be sanded down in the process of dining.
Ingredients (for 1)
Clams, still inside the shells but already cleaned, 2 cups (1 lb.)
Nam Prik Pao 1-2 tablespoons
Chopped garlic 2 teaspoons (2 large cloves)
Sliced red jalapeño chili 1-2 pods (I am being brave and didn’t de-seed them.)
Water 2 tablespoons
Fish sauce or soy sauce 1- 2 teaspoons
Oyster sauce 1 teaspoon
Sugar (brown) 1- 2 teaspoons
Oil 1-2 tablespoons
Fresh Thai basil leaves, a handful or approximately 1/2 cup
1) Heat oil in a wok over medium high heat until it’s hot with faint smoke.
2) Add chopped garlic in the hot oil, toss and turn until it releases its fragrance. The garlic should look nearly golden.
3) Add sliced chili and stir until the chilis are cooked.
oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon of water, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar and use a spatula to break the paste and mix them together until there are no lumps left. Taste it to see if you like the flavor, adjust the taste with more fish sauce, sugar and Nam Prik Pao if necessary. I actually didn’t measure the exact amounts. I just estimate them.
If the sauce gets dry, add more water. This is your final seasoning.
5) Add the clams and increase the heat to the highest.
Toss around really quickly. If you are using the fresh clams, close the lid over the wok and shake, or toss until all the clams are cooked. If you are using frozen clams, toss them really fast until they’re all coated with the sauce.
6) Turn off the heat and add the basil leaves. Toss a few times until the basil leaves wilt a little, then put everything in a bowl. You can serve it with a bowl of steamed rice or a slice of toast. I even made a bread bowl for it because the left over sauce usually causes a fight if I don’t have enough bread to mop up the sauce!
But if you like pasta, boil the pasta while you are making the clams, and toss the cooked pasta in once you finish cooking the clams.
I was just in San Francisco last week and tried this restaurant for the first time, believe it or not. I normally do not like to blog about restaurants who has already received a Michelin star or stars because most people already know about them. Just buy the Michelin guide or search on the net, you will find those restaurants that are already approved by so many professional people in the food industry. I can’t say that it’s my “discovery”.
There are many more reasons for not wanting to blog about Michelin star restaurants. One of the minor reasons is I don’t want to have a “snob blog” that I taste and praise only the well-approved, pricy or even over-priced restaurants that you really have to break the piggy bank to go to on a “special occasion”.
La Folie has been well known for a long time–the restaurant opened its doors in 1988! I have to admit that I wasn’t that excited to go. I though it was probably another one of those “stiff manners” French restaurants. Can you tell it wasn’t my idea to go to this restaurant in the first place?
My husband’s friend Ali, who is a regular customer at La Folie, recommended this place and even made sure to slip us in to the reservation book on short notice. Thanks to Ali, I don’t know how long in advance you need to make a reservation.
Right after we were seated, our waiter approached, and his manner was so smooth without being stiff, I decided that I would take pictures of every course, just in case, still not believing I’d have anything much to write about the place.
Even though I like all kind of foods and French food is also one of my favorites, but I don’t write about it that often. There are so many courses until, toward the end, I’m normally beyond full and I don’t even want to look at the pictures of the dishes I took during the meal. Let alone going back to the restaurant again in the next few months, or even years.
I just want to tell you that La Folie is quite different. The atmosphere is so cozy even in the formal set up. I didn’t feel like I was being “watched”, and we didn’t have to wait too long for the next course. The waitstaff were walking around doing their thing and when we needed something, they showed up, just like magic.
Our waiter, Trey, was excellent. He expertly explained about the foods, gave us some idea about what to expect and left us to decide. The portion of each course was “traditional”, he warned us early. They don’t do “tiny decor on the big plates”, and they only serve five courses or less. Not the twenty-five-course-one-bite-each style.
Our waiter told us that we may only need four courses, but we wanted to have the full experience so we decided to go for the full five courses. We finished most of each course, and still want to go back there to try something else! Everything was excellent. You can see the pictures as a proof, but I took pictures under the dim lights with my little compact camera so they didn’t come out as great, but as I was looking at the pictures I wanted to go eat there again.
Pricing at this restaurant is totally reasonable. OK, in the month of September, 2013. The price for five courses is only $100 per person. I think the four course was $90 and there is a three course choice as well. Also, the tasting menu, which is a five course fixed choice, chosen by the chef, is only $110! This is really, really reasonable for the kind of food they served! I spent more than this at a sushi joint, easily. I was really surprised.
At the end of the night the chef, Roland, who was just finishing in the kitchen (I guess) showed up in the dining room, and he didn’t mind taking picture with us too. I almost whispered to him “Your foods are so amazing, you don’t even need to make the rounds to greet us. You can stay in the comfort of your kitchen and we will still be coming back for more of your food.”
Haha…it’s just my personal theory, that the chef doesn’t really need to greet the diners unless he knows them in person OR he wasn’t so sure about the food he served. Then he should come out to see what the diners thought. I’ve dine at a place where the chef/owner was considered a “celebrity”. He came out to make his greeting round at 8pm. I was wondering, “Who’s cooking then?”.
WHERE: La Folie
2316 Polk St., San Francisco 94109 (between Green & Union St. in Russian Hill)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (OMG aol.com still exists? Now you know how long they’ve been there!)
Web site is www.lafolie.com
WHEN: Monday – Saturday 5:30pm – 10:30pm
HOW: Online reservations are available at OpenTable.com
WHO: Roland Passot and his wife Jamie
Amuse bouche roasted fig Gorgonzola spiced walnuts. (on my instagram)
Second one. Coddled egg yolk with cream, leek and potato crisp and brioche stick (that is the photo at the top of this blog)
Third: smoked salmon lollipop with marscapone cheese and caviar and pickled carrots.
Cauliflower and lobster soup
Vanilla roe over oyster,
kafir lime roe over scallops
and brandy roe over kampachi sashimi
You might have thought that this is bone marrow…but that’s not correct.
Rabbit rib rack (pretty tiny)…
with the liver,fried and placed over leeks
Shaved Italian black truffles over both the quail and rabbit
Kaeng Panang is another gravy-like kaeng—the Thai description of the consistency would be Khloog-khlig ขลุกขลิก. This curry normally only contains meat and no vegetables, except for the chiffonaded kaffir lime leaves and thinly-sliced red peppers on top. Kaeng Panang is one of the Thai curries that has strong influence from Indian curry, even down to the ground roasted peanuts to make the curry thicker.
My Indian friend told me that the Northern Indian curry uses ground nuts to make the curry thick, but there is no shrimp paste, lemongrass or galangal in Indian curry. Those are purely Thai from the beginning. We just added the “spices”, (remember what we consider as spice from my earlier blog) after we adapted the Indian curry to our cuisine.
The origin of Panang is quite funny. I’m referring to an article written by the former Thai Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj who’s quite knowledgeable in Thai history by his family of origin (Royal descent) and from his vast study of Thai history. He’s not only a great writer but also a great cook. This article was written in Siam Rath newspaper dated September 1st, 1972.
The word “Panang” is derived from the ancient Khmer language that was adopted by the Thai, meaning “cross” mostly referring to leg position, like sitting cross-legged (on the floor). In the old time there was a way of cooking grilled chicken by crossing the chicken’s legs and setting the chicken upright instead of halving the chicken open and cooking it on the grill. The chicken that sat cross-legs up on the grill would be bathed with a curry paste that contained ground roasted peanuts in the paste then mixed with coconut cream. It would be brushed with the same mixture over the whole cooking time on the grill. This is a dish called “Gai Panang” or chicken Panang, due to the position of the chicken on the grill.
Later on, the method had been simplified by cutting the chicken into big pieces and cooking them in the curry in the pot over the stove instead of over the grill. This is the origin of Panang curry.
If you look it up on Wikipedia, the information there about Panang curry is WRONG. Someone has claimed that Panang curry originated from Penang Island in Malaysia, the way it appears on the site right now. I keep correcting it, but the dude who desperately wants the Panang curry to originate from Penang Island is quite relentless. He or she has the same level of desperation as another person who wants PadThai, which had clearly originated in Thailand by a Thai former Prime Minister, to originate from Vietnam!..Stop stealing other nation’s famous dishes, guys. Your countries already have many interesting and delicious dishes as it is.
First of all, to people who think because Panang curry and Penang island have similar pronunciation there should be some relation between the two: this is completely FALLACIOUS THINKING. Panang is pronounced “Pa-Naing”. “Pa” is pronounced with the “ah” like in the word “pathetic”, a very short “a” sound that almost ends before it even fully comes out of your mouth. The “a” in Nang is pronounced like “ai” in the word “air”. That’s the correct pronunciation of the curry by the Thais.
Let’s see how the Thai pronounce the Island’s name, Pe-Nang. “Pe” is pronounced just like “pee”, yes, that yellow pee, long “e” sound. Nang is pronounced more like “ung” than “ang”, like in the word “hung”. So “Pee-Nung” is the pronunciation of Penang island in Malaysia to the Thais, and that is way far from the pronunciation of Pa-Naing the curry.
Often you will see Panang spell, Panaeng, Phanang or even Phanaeng too.
On top of that, someone else is dragging the Peranakan tribe, who live in the south of Thailand , into the mix. Peranakan people associate themselves with the Chinese. Peranakan cooking is derived from Chinese cuisine, mixed with just a hint of Indian spice through the Malaysian or Indonesian influence, but Panang curry is not part of Peranakan cooking. Panang curry also isn’t typical southern Thai food of which the closest area to the Peranakan group, but is more from the central part of the country.
Back to the curry itself. When I was living back at home in Bangkok, I only had Panang curry made with three types of meat: beef, chicken, and the special one that I loved, roasted duck Panang. That’s it. Panang curry paste is the type of curry with spices, coriander seed and cumin seeds. The reason for the spices is to cover up the “meat smell” or game smell of the meat.
Thai people always have a way to cover up the trace of meat; lemongrass, galangal, garlic, and shallots not only enhance the flavors of the dish, but also cover the fishy smell of the seafood, but Thai couldn’t cover the game smell of the meat until the Indians (who really came from India) showed them how.
The modern day Panang has expanded to many different types of meat, and also includes seafood! Yes, I’m surprised. Personally I think the curry paste itself with spices is a little too much to put on seafood. The spices cover up the seafood flavor. I prefer my seafood with ChooChee curry more than Panang curry.
Back in the day, when I was still a personal chef, cooking for special occasions, my clients often requested Panang curry to be served with either salmon, shrimp, tuna or, quite often, scallops. During the taste test, I would present the requested seafood with both Panang and Choo Chee curries and more than half of them would pick the Panang curry over the Choo Chee curry.
Some of my clients who had quite a fine palette would detect the difference in the curry right away without my explanation, but they still picked Panang over the Choo Chee, which I found out was because they liked the roasted peanuts more than roasted coconut. That made so much sense to me. Some of them even asked if I can remove the spices but keep the roasted peanuts. So I would make the Panang curry paste without spices (no coriander and cumin), but put in roasted peanuts instead of coconut if I want to make seafood Panang.
There are two different ways of cooking Panang curry.
1) Traditional Panang curry with meat or poultry: You will cook the meat WITH the curry. Slow cook, simmer, stew or whatever you prefer to call it. You add water or the water part of the coconut milk to cook with the meat until it’s tender.
2) Modern Panang curry with seafood: You will make the curry paste WITHOUT coriander and cumin, but keep the roasted peanuts. You then cook the seafood the way you want: poached, boiled, fried, sautéed or grilled. Then cook the curry separately and pour it over the seafood, just like the Choo Chee curry.
Also, there is another “Easy Recipe” or cheating recipe, all the way at the bottom, too.
Ingredients (for 2)
Meat of your choice about 12-16 oz. Sliced or cubed to a bite-size.
Panang curry paste about 1/4 −1/3 cup (see Note #1)
Coconut cream 1-1 1/2 cup (see Note #2)
Water or the water part of the coconut milk 1 cup or more (Note #2)
Fish sauce (or just salt, if you don’t like it) 2-4 tablespoons (depend on how salty is your curry paste)
Palm sugar (or brown sugar for substitute) 1-2 tablespoons
Chiffonaded Kaffir lime leaves for garnish
Julienned red chili for garnish
1) You can buy Panang curry paste of use the recipe from the Advance Red Curry Paste here. Or you can buy red curry paste and mush the roasted peanuts to the mix.
2) Do not shake the can of coconut milk before you open it. The hard white part at the top is the coconut cream. If the coconut milk you bought has been shaken or isn’t separated, put the whole can of coconut milk in the refrigerator for an hour. You should have the coconut cream floating up on the top and clearer liquid at the bottom. Scoop the cream off to cook the curry paste with and reserve the water.
If you squeeze your own coconut milk then reserve all of the water part.
If the cream doesn’t float, I recommend changing the brand of coconut milk next time. It contains either too much starch or binding agent.
For those of you who want to use SEAFOOD–shrimp, fish, scallop, crab, anything that swim or crawl in water–please refer to the method of cooking Choo Chee curry paste here.
If your choice is meat–beef, chicken, duck, goose, pork, lamb, goat, anything that lives on dry land–follow this method.
1) Cook the coconut cream in the wok or pot over medium-high heat until the coconut cream breaks and gives you coconut oil.
For those of you who can’t separate the coconut cream out of coconut milk and have to use coconut milk, your coconut milk will not break and give you oil because the manufacturer added starch to stabilize the coconut milk. In that case add coconut oil in your coconut milk. (If you are wondering why we have to do this, go back to my earlier blog. I already explained why.)
2) Add Panaeng curry paste into the coconut cream,
reduce the heat down to medium and stir continuously for at least two-three minutes until the curry paste releases its aroma.
If the contents get dry, add more coconut cream or coconut milk.
I stir-fried mine for 4 minutes. Because of the roasted peanuts in the curry paste, it will burn much easier, so do not stop stirring.
3) Add meat to the wok
and stir until the curry paste coats all the meat.
4) Add the water part that you separated from the coconut milk to get the liquid level until it covers the meat and heat until it boils, then turn the heat to low and simmer until the meat is tender.
If you are using chicken or duck, half an hour to forty five minutes should do it.
If you are using beef or lamb, one to one-and-a-half hours for thinly sliced meat, two hours or longer for cubed, and over three hours for the shank.
If you are using pork, one hour should be enough.
The water will reduce over time, so make sure to add a little bit more. I only add 1/4 cup if it gets too dry. The water doesn’t need to cover the meat at all times. You can stir and churn the pieces of meat around for them to get cooked evenly. Do not add too much water. We want the curry to be thick, not watery.
5) Once the meat is tender you can season it with fish sauce and palm sugar.Taste it to see if you like the taste, adjust it to your preference. Remember that the curry paste has salty shrimp paste and salt, so do not put ALL of the fish sauce in at once. Add it a little at a time. Do not add sugar in the beginning because it will take longer for the meat to be tender, because sugar will make the meat tougher.
If you don’t like the smell of fish sauce, only use salt.
6) Turn off the heat, plate it and garnish with chiffonaded kaffir lime leaves and julienned red chilis.
You can eat it with steamed rice, roti, toast, bread or vegetables.
Or stuff popovers with it!
Meat of your choice, sliced or cubed, or your seafood choice about 12 oz- 1lb.
Peanut butter 2-3 tablespoons
Coconut milk 1 1/2 – 2 cups
Fish sauce 2-4 tablespoons OR salt (only 1 teaspoon)
Palm Sugar or Brown Sugar 1-2 tablespoons
Coconut Oil 1-2 tablespoons
If you still want to bother with the garnish, please see the choices of garnish from the full recipe above.
1) Add coconut oil to the coconut milk and start cooking the curry paste for at least 2-4 minutes in the pot or wok over medium high heat. Add more coconut milk if it gets dry.
2) If you are using MEAT or POULTRY, add it
and stir to coat the meat with cooked curry paste, and heat until the meat is cooked on the outside (seared, essentially, to lock in the juices). Then add more water to the wok until liquid covers the meat,
heat until the contents boil, then lower the heat to simmer and cook until the meat is tender. (Look for the approximate cooking time and how to add more liquid in the Method#4 above).
If you are using SEAFOOD, cook your seafood separately (fry, boil, grill, microwave, etc…) in another pan or pot.
3) MEAT: Once the meat is tender,
season with fish sauce or salt, and sugar. Adjust the taste to your preference, then add the peanut butter. In this step you would lose the oil that floats on top of the curry, but it still tastes great.
SEAFOOD: In the curry pot, add more coconut milk and start seasoning the curry with fish sauce (or salt) and sugar, then add the peanut butter. Adjust the taste to your preference. Pour the sauce over cooked seafood.
You are done, and the Panang is ready to be serve. You can garnish it with chiffonaded kaffir lime leave and jullienned red chili.
Before we start with the recipe, I would like to give you a little piece of information about Thai Kaeng. There are two types of soups in Thai cuisine. One is “Tom” and one is “Kaeng” . Tom, as in “Tom Yum” or “Tom Kha” , is a type of soup that doesn’t need “Krueang” (เครื่อง), the paste made from herbs and spices, created either as a curry paste or just a simpler “Thai Trio”, which consists of garlic, pepper and cilantro root.
The character of “Tom” (Tom=boil) is soup-like, either using coconut milk as a base or water (or soup stock), with chunks of herbs such as lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, shallots, etc… It could be just one of them or many. You can see these recipes for Tom Yum Goong , Tom Kha Lobster for a better understanding. Tom Yum is the soup, i.e, water, base, and Tom Kha has the coconut milk base.
There are more Tom, such as Tom Khlong ต้มโคล้ง, Tom Jued ต้มจืด, Tom Som ต้มส้ม, Tom Sab ต้มแซ่บ, and I’m sure there are more that I forgot. I will get around to these sometime later.
Now back to the other soup, Kaeng. “Kaeng” is also a soup with either a water (stock) or coconut milk base, but most Kaeng needs a paste to kickstart the flavor. That’s why we’re making the curry paste, or “Krueng Kaeng = the blend of herbs and spices as a base of a soup” (เครื่องแกง) here.
This distinction I’m making may not exactly be a rule. I am not sure, because this is what I have been told from my aunts (many of them) from whom I learned the basics of Thai cooking by observing them cook. But I’ve already seen a lot of exceptions already. Kaeng Choo Chee and Kaeng Panaeng are the first two exceptions, because both have a gravy-like curry when most Kaeng are the soup-like curry, as I explained in the previous blog.
Choo Chee curry is always paired with seafood, (even though I think it would be more accurate to call them swimming foods!) The seafood is cooked separately however you like—poached, grilled, steamed, fried or batter-fried—then the Choo Chee curry is poured on top.
I’ve never seen Choo Chee curry served with land animal meat. I guess it’s because the curry paste doesn’t contain any spice that Thai people like to add to cover the “game” smell of land animals. A good Choo Chee curry will have a very prominent coconut smell with some red coconut oil on top.
Ingredients for 2
Kaeng Choo Chee curry paste 1/4 cup (Note #1)
Coconut cream 1 cup (Note #2)
Coconut oil (or other vegetable oil if you can’t find it) 1-2 tablespoons; THIS IS OPTIONAL, in case you can’t get coconut cream. Please read Note #2 for a better understanding.
Seafood–your choice; just enough for two people. I used 2 pieces of wahoo fish, about 12 oz. total.
Palm sugar 1-2 tablespoons
Fish sauce 2-4 tablespoons
Chiffonaded Kaffir lime leaves 1 tablespoon (about 2 -3 leaves)
1) You can either use the Choo Chee curry paste made with the instruction from my earlier blog “Advanced Red Curry Paste” or you can buy the ready-made one. If you buy the ready-made curry paste, check if it contains roasted coconut. If it doesn’t, you should add it to the paste. Instruction for this is also in my last blog.
2) Do not shake the can of coconut milk before you open it. The hard white part at the top is the coconut cream. If the coconut milk you bought has been shaken or isn’t separated, you can try putting the coconut milk in the refrigerator for an hour. You should have the coconut cream floating up on the top. If the cream doesn’t float, I recommend changing the brand of coconut milk next time. It contains either too much flour or binding agent.
The reason that I use only the coconut cream is because I don’t want to spend my evening boiling down the water from the coconut milk. If you have no way to separate them, you can use the coconut milk as is, but know that your curry is either not going to “break”, giving you coconut oil, or you might have to boil it for a while longer to get the proper consistency. No big deal.
1) Clean and prepare the seafood of your choice. I fried my wahoo fish.
2) Put coconut cream in a pot or a wok, set it over medium high heat and wait until the coconut cream is bubbling and, if your coconut cream can “break” and give oil, wait until that happens.
If you’re using coconut milk that has a stabilizer such as xanthan gum, gour gum or some type of flour added, the coconut milk will never break. In that case, I suggest you add about 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil in your coconut milk.
If you want to know why I am so insistent on the coconut milk breaking, please visit the “Thai Curry Paste Episode III: Making a Pot of curry” to see why.
3) Add the curry paste to the wok and lower the heat to medium.
You don’t want to burn the roasted coconut flakes in the curry paste. Fry the curry paste until it’s back to bubbling again and continue to stir for the next two minutes.
Add more coconut cream if the contents get too thick.
4) Add the fish sauce and palm sugar, mix until they’re well blended and taste the sauce. Adjust the taste to your preference.
5) Pour the sauce over your prepared seafood.
6) Add the chiffonaded kaffir lime leaves and sliced red chili on top.
Choo Chee can be served with steamed rice, bread, or roti, and cooked vegetables. Delicious!!
The next I’ll tell you how to make Panaeng curry–don’t miss it!
Thai Curry Episode VII: Advance Authentic Thai Red Curry Paste, Kaeng Panang, Kaeng ChuChee, Kaeng Phed and Jungle Curry PastePosted: September 15, 2013
I’m starting to feel like I have been neglecting Thai curry as a subject, but it’s summertime and I want to eat light food and all the fresh produce available around here in California more than eating curry. Anyhow, I got a request to make Choo Chee curry, so I think I’ll use this as an appropriate re-entry. After all, it’s after Labor Day, despite the fact that in Manhattan Beach the summer has just begun, if you are talking about temperature.
To make a proper Thai curry, the first thing you need is curry paste. I already gave you the recipe for Kaeng Kua curry paste which is the basis for most red curries. I told you then that I would explain later how to transform the Kaeng Kua to other curry pastes.
Also, I just want to tell you that, to Thai household right before the curry paste revolution (when people start using pre-made or store bought curry paste), curry paste is a signature of the house. If you know the Thai language and can look up recipes of curry pastes on the internet, you would discover that curry paste recipes are almost like bread recipes in their variation.
The way I do this is obviously not traditional, but it works for me because I can’t always go pull lemongrass out the ground (even though I can do it right now) or dig up the galangal root to make fresh curry paste every time I make a curry. I can’t even go to the corner grocery store and ask to buy lemongrass the way I would do in Thailand either.
My simple solution is to make the most basic curry paste, containing the least ingredients, which is Kaeng Kua, then I can add other ingredients to it to transform it into other curry pastes.
So, how to do it?
Kaeng Kua is the curry paste without “spices”. You might want to laugh; what about all the garlic, shallots, lemongrass, galangal, coriander root, Kaffir lime zest, etc…? Well, we do not consider them spices. The ingredients that the Thais would consider as “spice” are cumin, coriander seed, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves and star anise.
Kaeng Kua has none of these spices.
Kaeng Choo Chee also has none of these, but it has roasted coconut and white peppercorn mixed in with the Kaeng Kua base.
Kaeng Phed and Kaeng Pa (Jungle curry) have coriander seeds and cumin and white peppercorn mixed in with the Kaeng Kua base, but Kaeng Pa has more fresh chili add on to the curry paste.
Kaeng Panang not only has coriander seeds, cumin and white peppercorn mixed in with the Kaeng Kua base but also has roasted peanuts .
Do you see now why I make a big batch of Kaeng Kua?
You probably still want to know exactly how to do it?
You just mush the extra ingredients in mortar first, and add Kaeng Kua curry paste into it. How simple, isn’t it? Oh…oh…not so fast.
You have to roast all of the spices before you add them in the mortar.
Couldn’t you just make the curry paste all at once from scratch?
Sure you can. I do that sometimes too. These days I don’t use a mortar and pestle to make my curry paste as much. It takes longer and I normally have to sit on the floor with my mortar because I can get more power to pound on the ingredients, but I have a very curious cat and dog. Can you picture them sitting around my mortar to watch me, with all their hairs and drools?
I can’t use my Vitamix to make a small batch of curry paste either. I only need about 1/4 cup of curry paste to make a pot of curry for two, but with Vitamix I would have to make at least a cup to cover the blades and ensure the flow. In that case I like to make a batch of Kaeng Kua curry paste and convert it to other curry pastes later.
I also like to have Kaeng Kua curry paste in the fridge just in case I need curry paste in a heartbeat but don’t have time to run to the market to buy ingredients. Plus Kaeng Kua is the curry paste that is widely used in many recipes, but Chu Chee or Panaeng are quite specific.
Let’s introduce you to Kaeng Panang and Kaeng Choo Chee.
First, their similarity. Both are “gravy-like” rather than “soup-like” curries, meaning they don’t have a lot of liquid in the curry but have very thick gravy around the meat. They’re both appear to be in red color due to the red chili used in the curry paste. They both use coconut milk as a base.
Second, their differences. In Kaeng Panang, there would be meat and poultry such as chicken, beef, pork, lamb, or duck. So it makes sense that Kaeng Panang contains spices, because Thai people do not like the smell of cooked land animal and try to cover it up with spice. They will cook Panang by boiling the curry with the meat and simmer it until the meat is tender and the curry is reduced to gravy thickness, then dress it with chiffonaded kaffir lime leaves.
Kaeng Choo Chee, on the other hand, is usually found with fish, shrimp or other seafood. The seafood would be poached, wok-fried, steam or dipped in batter and deep-fried like tempura, before Choo Chee curry gravy would be poured over at the end. So, the Choo Chee curry would be cooked separately, seasoned until ready before pairing it with the already cooked seafood, just like a dressing or sauce. Also Kaeng Choo Chee will be finished with chiffonaded kaffir lime leaves as well.
At a certain Thai restaurants both in Thailand and outside, you might see Panang and Choo Chee with Thai basil wilted in the gravy, but traditional Thai cooks will not put Thai basil (Ho-ra-pa) inside the curry, but instead serve fresh basil on the side or at the closest is put on top as decorative (still fresh and obviously not cooked with the curry) so you can chew on it to get the fresh taste.
Please, do not ask me why Thai basil isn’t suppose to be put in the Choo Chee or Panang gravy. I don’t have the answer. I’ve been asking for at least three and a half decades! Have you ever though why don’t people cut baloney (balogna sausage) into about half-inch thickness and put it in a burger bun then call it a hotdog? Or why don’t they shape ground beef into a stick instead of a patty, grill it, put it in a hotdog bun then call it a burger? I guess the only answer is “Tradition”, putting all these types of questions in the same pile!
Now you might be interested to know more about Kaeng Phed and Kaeng Pa. I use almost the same curry paste to make both curries, even though I might add more white peppercorn to the Kaeng Pa, but that doesn’t amount to much. My family’s recipe is slightly different than mine. They will add more fresh red chilies to the Kaeng Pa curry paste, together with the white peppercorn. (NOW you know why my recipe is different than my family.) They’re both using the same curry paste but they appear to be totally different because they use the different base.
Kaeng Phed is the coconut-based curry soup with a milder taste and aroma. Of course it’s milder than Kaeng Pa—it’s cooked in coconut milk! Coconut milk already masks some of the pungent smell of the curry paste. It has meat and vegetables in the curry and is finished with Thai basil (wilted in the curry.)
Kaeng Pa, or Jungle curry (Pa=jungle) is the water-based curry soup, or you might want to call it a soup base, but I never use soup stock to make it. It also has many more fresh herbs and vegetables too. Fingerroot, young peppercorn or green peppercorn are normally in the ingredients of the Kaeng Pa, and this curry isn’t finished with Thai basil like Kaeng Phed, but uses hot and spicy Holy basil instead, together with other pungent vegetables. You will know more about the “options” when I dedicate a whole blog to the Kaeng Pa recipe. We’re merely scratching the surface with just the curry paste right now.
Don’t worry, you will get plenty of examples and recipes in subsequent posts.
Now that you understand that Kaeng Panaeng and Kaeng Choo Chee are gravy-like curries, and Kaeng Pa is the water base curry soup, then we can talk about Kaeng Kua and Kaeng Phed, which appear to be similar in color and both are coconut based. From the different names, you can safely guess that they’re not exactly the same, but how?
Kaeng Phed (Phed=spicy or hot) curry paste contains “spices”–cumin and coriander seeds—and in some other household recipes might contain even more than these two, such as clove, mace or nutmeg)—but Kaeng Kua doesn’t contain them. (Also, some households wouldn’t even put coriander root in their Kaeng Kua curry paste). That’s would be the first differentiation. Then there are more. Kaeng Kua normally would contain dried fish or dried shrimp in the curry paste, but that is still optional.
Also, ingredients in Kaeng Phed dishes in general would have more meat than vegetables, but Kaeng Kua ingredients normally would be more vegetables than meat. Another difference is Kaeng Phed will be salty with a hint of coconut milk, sweet and never sour, but Kaeng Kua might be salty with sourness sometimes, depending on the vegetables added to the curry. The sourness usually comes from the vegetables, fruits or tamarind paste.
Don’t get discouraged yet. You will learn them one by one and, at the end, you will understand Thai curries thoroughly, almost like you were born eating them every day at home
Okay, since you understand the principle of each curry, let’s make a curry paste. The first one of course will be the Choo Chee curry.
These ingredients are enough to make a bowl of curry for one or two servings:
Kaeng Kua curry paste 1/4 cup
White pepper 1 teaspoon
Roasted coconut flake 2 tablespoons
Method for Kaeng Choo Chee curry paste
Mush the pepper until finely ground
then add roasted coconut flakes
and pound on them until they break down, but not as finely as the pepper.
Add Kaeng Kua curry paste to the mortar and mix them. The Choo Chee curry paste is ready.
Kaeng Kua curry paste 1/4 cup
White pepper 1/2 teaspoon
Shallots sliced 1 tablespoon
Roasted peanuts 2 tablespoon (roasted Mung bean is another substitute)
Roasted cumin 1/2 teaspoon
Roasted coriander seed 1 teaspoon
Method for Kaeng Panang curry paste
Mush all the spices first until they are finely ground, including the pepper.
Then add the shallots
and pound until they’re all mushed with no chunks left to be seen.
Add the roasted peanuts
and crack them until they’re ground, but we’re not making peanut butter here so don’t pound them too hard.
Add the Kaeng Kua curry paste to the mortar and mix all of them well. This is your Panang curry paste.
Kaeng Kua curry paste 1/4 cup
White pepper 1 teaspoon
Roasted cumin 1/2 teaspoon
Roasted coriander seed 1 teaspoon
Method for Kaeng Phed curry paste
Same as the above; mush all the spices and pepper until they are finely ground and add the Kaeng Kua curry paste to the mortar and mix. That’s it!
Ingredients for Kaeng Pa curry paste
Kaeng Kua curry paste 1/4 cup
White pepper 2 teaspoons
Roasted cumin 1/2 teaspoon
Roasted coriander seed 1 teaspoon
Fresh red pepper; I used 1 whole jalapeño red pepper (This is optional. If you like it very spicy then, add more or add the spicier pepper like Thai chili or bird’s- eye chili. I even de-seeded the baby jalapeño chili for my own curry!
Same method; mush all the spices and pepper until they are finely ground,
then add the fresh chili
and mush them coarsely. The jungle curry doesn’t need the fine curry paste like most other curry. Then add the Kaeng Kua curry paste and just mix them.
Now you have all four curry pastes as easy as that. Please keep in mind that all the Thai curry paste ingredients are not carved in stone. You can start from here and you can adjust later on. Each family has a different approach. This is my own take on it. I like it this way. Some other family might add or subtract some minor ingredients, because their balance preference is different, but before you add ingredients that I didn’t list here, it would be best to go back to my first curry paste episode about what is not supposed to be in Thai curry paste, just to make sure.
In the restaurants in Bangkok these days, I hardly ever found Panang with roasted peanuts or roasted mung beans, or Choo Chee with roasted coconut flakes in their curry pastes. I think the pre-made curry pastes and the Thai-style fast food restaurant, “Rhan Khao Kaeng”, that is all over the country, is responsible. Well, if you really want to point the finger, the lack of interest to create their own or even carry on the family recipe by the Baby Boomers and Gen Xs is the core of the cause.
As I remember, my mother rarely spent time in the kitchen. She was working. My nanny is the one who cooked for the whole family. She was from Issan, the northeastern part of Thailand, so she knew almost nothing about cooking non-Issan dishes. My grandmother, together with my dad, taught her how to cook anything beyond making Som Tam (link), Larb (link) and other Issan dishes. Since my grandmother taught her, she learned the traditional way of cooking curries and all the other Bangkok and Southern dishes.
My mother would buy pre-made curry paste from the market (of course full potentcy heat from chilies, Thai style). But because I couldn’t eat spicy food but wanted to enjoy “adult” food, my nanny was forced to make curry paste the traditional way, minus the chilies, so her “Khun Noo” (little brat) can eat curry.
Later on, when I expressed interest in cooking Thai food, mostly because I came to school overseas and I needed to learn survival skills, my nanny was a good source of information, along with my dad. This is not the same path that most of my Gen X friends took.
Most of my friends, the Gen X, rarely paid attention to Thai cooking. Why? Because restaurants and street vendors are all over Bangkok. They didn’t growing up eating home-cooked meals anyway, because their parents, the baby boomers, were so busy working. If they ever tasted a home-cooked meal, it would have been from their grandma or the hired cooks, the helpers at home that made the meals. The majority of them know and had eaten curry all their lives, but if you ask them to make curry paste from scratch, they probably can’t do it. They rely heavily on the pre-made curry pastes.
With regard to the pre-made curry paste, certain ingredients like roasted coconut or roasted peanuts shorten the shelf life of the pastes, so the merchants wouldn’t want to put them in their curry paste. When I was young and the pre-made curry pastes were just a new thing in Thailand, the merchant didn’t even put shrimp paste in the pre-made! This was before they learned to sterilize the paste. The protein in the shrimp paste could have spoiled the curry paste and reduced the shelf life considerably.
Back in the day, the housewife who was advanced enough to use pre-made curry paste knew to mush shrimp paste into the paste before cooking with it. These days, when the pre-made curry paste already include shrimp paste, they’re quite complete. Some of them are ready to be used right away, such as the most popular Kaeng Phed (Red curry), Kaeng Khiao Wan (Green curry), and Kaeng Masaman, which is the most complicated curry. So the cooks in the “Khao Kaeng” restaurant probably don’t know to “re-work” the paste by putting roasted coconut in Choo Chee curry paste or putting roasted peanuts in Panang curry paste. That’s my assumption.
Another assumption is the roasted coconut or roasted peanuts are “optional ingredients” for some households. The Choo Chee curry paste at my house, normally didn’t have galangal and cilantro root in the curry paste, but at my uncle’s house his wife put galangal, cilantro and fingerroot but didn’t put roasted coconut in it.
The Panang curry paste recipe I gave you is my own invention. My grandmother would cut the amount of garlic in the curry paste if she made Panaeng. She would not only put roasted mung beans in the curry paste (because it was something readily available in her kitchen at all times, unlike peanuts that she had to specifically buy), but she also put turmeric in it, too.
Are you confused enough now? Each household has their own balance, but the ingredients wouldn’t differ from the handful of the ingredients I already gave you, even though the amount of each ingredient might vary.
Eventually, you will develop your own or relax about “HOW MUCH” you should put of each ingredient into your curry paste. As long as you stop clicking on the “ABOUT something I don’t know well but want to share.com” site, then you will be fine.
Please, remember that “Ketchup” is NOT an ingredient in Thai curry paste, no matter how many non-Thai who pretend to know Thai food or have written a cookbook or two about foods that look like Thai foods (but they’re actually not) try to tell you. You won’t get Thai people to appreciate your curry if you add even a dash of it in. I mean only the polite Thai people will just “not appreciate” your added ketchup, but li’l ol’ me…hell yeah…I would barf it out right in front of you!
Next week I will show you how to apply the Choo Chee curry paste to a seafood dish.
I just came back from a trip where I was eating like I had just returned from boot camp. Of course, I’m not a young chick anymore, so a common thing happened. I gained weight. So now I’m on a diet.
I have my simple trick to help me maintain my weight. Wait, why would little me have to maintain my weight, you might ask? Well, I’m a woman who owns quite a bit of clothing, just like most other women my age, except that my clothes are a special size. For a woman who needs alterations done to fit in size petite zero, and still wants to look fashionable, then clothing items are treasures you cannot lose to the excess fat on your body.
So, my simple trick is weigh myself daily at the same time (in the morning right after, errrr…the classic elimination of yesterday’s foods in my body). This way I know right away if my weight is over the limit where I can fit in my clothes. If so, what do I do? Eat less and exercise more. Simple, right? I am someone who can’t do weird diet programs such as low-carb, no-carb, low-fat, sugar-free, Paleo, South Beach, etc… I love to eat too much. I can’t sacrifice, because I want full flavors. I only live once, you know. I have to live like I really mean it, especially with food.
If I gain 2 or 3 pounds, it might sound like too little to care about, but it’s equal to about 5 or 6 pounds in regular size 2 to size 6 women or 10 pounds or more in most men (who normally claim that they can poop that out the next day! Sorry I never had a 2 lb. poop in my life.) After this trip, I will just eat more vegetables, smaller portions, increase the number of meals, and a eat very, very light dinner, and exercise more for a week or two. Then I should be back to my normal weight and get to eat whatever I want again (with regular exercise, of course).
I also do not sacrifice the taste for anything. If the food doesn’t taste good, I don’t eat it. People around me usually don’t see me munching on just a stick of celery or carrots. I am not in any way, shape or form a rabbit in disguise. I also don’t cut down on the number of meals. I actually increase it but lessen the portion and lower the amount of calories in each meal by adding more fiber.
During my “diet” time, Som Tam, or spicy raw green papaya salad, finds its way onto my dinner table quite often. It’s really light, vegetables with some protein and very little fat, but full of flavor. Also, Som Tam, the Thai variation, was listed at number 46 on “World’s 50 best foods” compiled by CNN Travel in 2011.
Am I raising your curiosity yet? What’s Som Tam? It’s a North Eastern (Issan) Thai dish made with raw green papaya, garlic, tomatoes, yardlong beans or Chinese long beans , fish sauce, lime juice, coconut palm sugar, peanuts and bird’s eye chilies. There is some type of protein in the Som Tam too, which we will discuss later.
Som Tam is claimed to have originated in Laos, of where it was called Tam Som or Tam Mak Hoong. It’s still a discussion among Laotian, Vietnamese (called Goi Du Du) and Cambodian (called Bok I’hong) about who made Som Tam first. The Thais won’t even try to stake a claim with them, as we would rather spend time eating Som Tam and perfecting it and expanding it to many variations.
I’ve seen some recipes on the internet. Several famous and not so famous chefs have attempted to make this dish. Oh my gosh, I was rolling on the floor laughing when I saw their recipes. They managed to get the dish to LOOK like Som Tam all right, but the taste…muahhahahaha…far from it, dude! Ok let’s trash their recipes for fun. It will also serve as an OH NO NO NO, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DO THIS!! warning.
A famous food magazine not only “halved crosswise” the Chinese long beans but also COOKED them…poor beans…got abused along with the garlic cloves that were supposed to be “minced”…hahaha…NO, I’m not done yet because they also put “CILANTRO” and “GREEN ONION” in the Som Tam. Well, I would kindly suggest that the editor should send the writer to a nearby Thai restaurant and ask them to make the dish for her to see. So, she doesn’t have to guess and make herself a laughing stock and also drag the editor into the pool. If the editor can’t find any native Southeast Asian writer to create the recipe for this dish, research more, dear. This is really discrediting to the magazine.
Next, a famous chef “julienned” the green papaya, mixed lemon juice with the lime juice (What’s for?…Hello, we don’t grow lemons in the region, dude!) This ignorant master chef not only added “RED PEPPER FLAKES” and “ROUGHLY CHOPPED CILANTRO LEAVES” to his Som Tam, but he also “COOKED THE STRING BEANS” too…Adding cilantro doesn’t make the dish any “Thai-er”, you know (but he obviously doesn’t). He probably visited Thailand but never paid attention to HOW this dish was made. Go back to your restaurant empire–the steak, the grill, whatever your flaying, or even your TV show, slap your “universal sauce” on any meat, and continue to over-charge for the meal–and leave the Som Tam alone, would be my recommendation!
The grossest of them all–made me almost barf just reading the recipe–is a famous “know-it-all” site that I can conclude knows almost nothing about cooking except how to get listed high on search engines. The recipe contained BEAN SPROUTS, SPRING ONIONS (cut in long matchstick-like strips…hahaha), BASIL LEAVES, CORIANDER, SHRIMP PASTE, and HONEY. Holy f***ing s***! They even put green beans as an optional ingredient. I lost my words, busy barfing. I would suggest taking down the whole site. The writer of this recipe claimed to “fall in love” with Thai food while traveling throughout Thailand ten years ago. She might have to go back and REALLY LEARN THAI COOKING because her guesswork is very far off, soooooo far, waaaaaay out in the ocean, not even on land…
These are the examples of ignorant people trying to show off the sawdust in between their ears, but the readers of my blog won’t be deceived. First of all, let’s look at what the Thai name means. Som=sour taste, and Tam=mush, something usually done by using a mortar and pestle. Can you start to guess how the REAL Som Tam is made?
I learned how to make Som Tam from my nanny who came from Mahasarakham, a Thai province in Northeastern Thailand. It’s probably one of the very first dishes I made by myself because it doesn’t involve any fire to cook any of the ingredients. I’m sure I made my first “krog”, (which literally means “mortar”, that’s how Thai people call a unit or serving of Som Tam in Thailand) before I even turned ten.
There are several different types of Som Tam in Thailand these days. There used to be only Tam Thai, (or Som Tam Thai), which is sweeter, less spicy and contains a lot of optional stuff, and Tam Pu, (or Som Tam Pu Khem), which contains only the basic ingredients. These days Som Tam has many more variations. Let me give you the basic one first and we will discuss the varieties later.
Raw green papaya (If you see a hint of yellow or orange, don’t buy it)
Chinese long beans
Garlic (Some people leave this as optional but I think it’s required. You can leave your date as an option, but not the garlic in Som Tam)
Chilies (This could be a required ingredient to most, but I have to make it optional for the well-being of my stomach!)
Cooked fresh shrimp
Brined crabs (This is not the marine crab. It’s rice field black crab.)
There are so many other optional ingredients these days I can’t keep up with all of them, but I’m sure scallions and cilantro are not on the list.
1) You need to cut the papaya into small strands. You can try to “julienne” it…haha—it’s not only hard but also slippery…so I do it this way:
1.1) Peel off the green skin and wash.
1.2) Hold the papaya in your hand. If you are a righty, hold it with your left and hold the knife in your right. Do the opposite for a lefty.
1.3) Chop the papaya lengthwise. Don’t go too deep. This is a reverse julienne. You cut lengthwise first and slice later. Chop repeatedly in an area about 2” wide.
1.4) Slice right underneath the lengthwise cuts you just made about 1/4” thick. The papaya should comes out in strands, just like you julienned it, but shouldn’t be all perfectly equal. I will tell you why later. Keep reading!
1.5) Chop some more and slice some more until you get enough green papaya shredded. I approximate about full one cup for each person.
This is my favorite prep method. The papaya strands come out uneven and that creates the texture of Som Tam that I like. We will mush these papaya later with a mortar and pestle so the thin strands will get soft while the thicker strands stay crunchy because the pestle can’t soften them as much.
There are other methods. You could use a cheese shredder (with bigger holes, at least 1/4”-3/8” wide, not the tiny ones) or a julienne peeler, to shred the papaya. Another way is to buy pre-shredded papaya from the Asian market. I don’t like this as much, since the strands are usually all cut equal in size and not as crunchy, but I use this method when I don’t have a lot of time.
2) Cut the long beans to 1” – 2” length, discarding the ends. You need about a handful in each “krog”.
3) Slice the tomatoes in half, or quarter them if you use a big tomatoes.
Variations of Som Tam
Here they come! These vary based on the ingredients and also the order in which they go into the mortar. We have very many varieties, but foreigners (fa-rang) only know a few due to the intensity of the ingredients involved in the others. I have to admit that I probably don’t know all of them myself, blaming the lack of knowledge on my town of origin, Bangkok. I only know the fancy ones they serve in Bangkok. I am missing out on the local favorites (containing weird stuff, of course, which I always like!)
Som Tam Thai: This has the basic ingredients + roasted peanuts + palm sugar + dried shrimp. The super fancy Som Tam Thai these days also has fresh shrimp, too. This one won the popular vote among the fa-rang and the city people both, and also is the one mentioned in CNN World’s 50 best foods.
Som Tam Pu: This is the basic + brined black crabs and sometimes palm sugar. Pu=crab, so if you see “pu” or “poo” in any Thai dish’s name, or Thai people’s nickname, don’t be alarmed. No scatology is involved.
Som Tam Thai sai Pu: Som Tam Thai + brined crabs. (sai=put)
Som Tam Pu Pla Ra: The basic + brined crabs (pu)+ pickled fermented fish (pla ra). This was considered Issan fancy Som Tam by my nanny. She said in her home town she could only put one thing or the other, not both. She also thought Bangkok Som Tam (Som Tam Thai) was too elaborate.
Som Tam Lao: It’s the basic, minus tomatoes, + the fermented fish (Pla Ra). This is the original one that my nanny taught me, but these days it is the basic + Makok and maybe + Thai eggplant, quite fancy!
Tam Sua: Som Tam Lao + Kanom Jeen (rice noodles)
Som Tam Khai Khem: Som Tam Thai + salted eggs. Khai=egg, Khem=salty
Som Tam Mooh Grob: Som Tam Thai + Crispy pork. Mooh=pork, Grob=crispy
Som Tam Pu Ma: It’s Som Tam Thai + Blue crab. Pu=crab, Ma=horse, but Pu Ma=Blue Crab (just to confuse those of you who think you already know Thai from my blog…LOL)
I’m exhausted–so many varieties! When did this simple dish turn so fancy? Oh…and I hope you know that there are fresh bird’s eye chilies or Thai chilies (lots of them) in EVERY Som Tam, right?
Before we start, you need to have a mortar and pestle. Which kind? The clay or terracotta mortar with wooden pestle is the best, but if you already have a stone mortar, you can use that. Just remember, if you are going to use a stone mortar, do not pound so hard on your green papaya or it will be too soft.
Method for Som Tam Thai
4) Put peeled garlic cloves in the mortar and mush them with the pestle. (That’s minced garlic, people, so squish them well…ROFLMAO) If you want it really spicy, add the chili now and pound it really hard.
5) Add dried shrimp and pound on them until they break into smaller pieces.
6) Add a handful of long beans and of course pound on them like they’re a thief who’s trying to rob you. This is how we get the long beans to split in the middle and look bruised, just like you carefully “halved them crosswise” and even “cooked” them…muahhahahaha…
7) Tomatoes are going to get the abuse this time, but don’t pound on them too hard…oops…too late! They already splattered in your face, didn’t they? I used about 1/4 cup of cut tomatoes, but you may adjust it to your liking.
8) Squeeze the limes (no lemons), add the palm sugar and use your pestle to mix the palm sugar into the juice from the tomatoes and limes. I used the whole lime, but my lime was small. I approximate about 2 tablespoons of juice and one teaspoon of palm sugar.
9) Add a handful of shredded papaya (may be 3/4 cup, saving 1/4 cup to add later) and fish sauce. I can’t tell you how much fish sauce; you have to taste it. Approximately 2 tablespoons, I think.
Look at the picture. I use a spoon to dig the stuff out of the bottom of the mortar and flip it to the top, pound on it a bit and dig again. I continue to do the dig and pound, dig and pound until everything is mixed well.
10) TASTE IT! (This is by far the most important step)
11) Adjust the taste to your preference. Then you add the rest of the papaya (the 1/4 cup that you saved). Pound on it and mix it a little more. Why don’t I add all the papaya at first? I like texture. I want my variety of crunchiness in the papaya, some soft and some crunchy.
If you want some chili flavor but don’t want your Som Tam too hot, this is the time you add the chili pod and crack it lightly.
12) Add roasted peanuts. I shouldn’t have to tell you to pound on them, right? To get them to crack a little. (Or you could also “roughly chop” them…haha…just like how the famous chef would do!)
Don’t let any cilantro or green onion get near the mortar or I will throw the pestle at you.
Method for Som Tam Pu
Add the salted crab to the mortar after you add papaya. Crack the crab so the salted juice comes out and mixes with all other ingredients.
Method for Som Tam Khai Khem
Add the salted eggs last and taste it again to see if you need to add more lime juice or sugar.
I’ve been living in the US a long time, since way back when farang were still calling this spicy green papaya salad they ate in Thailand “Papaya Pok Pok”. So, in the bad old days, I had a hard time getting ingredients here. What did I do?
Green beans or haricot vert were substituted for Chinese long beans.
Green papaya was replaced with green beans, cucumber, carrots, spaghetti squash, jicama, chayote or broccoli stems.
Indian jaggery sugar or brown sugar was substituted for palm sugar.
And for vegetarians, soy sauce can substitute for fish sauce.
What if you don’t own a mortar and pestle? Then you’ll have to shred the papaya thinner and soak half of it with salt or fish sauce ahead of the time, so that the papaya gets softer. You might have to chop the dried shrimp and mince the garlic before you toss them together like a salad. (I don’t like the result anywhere near as much, as you might expect.)
BTW, you can buy a mortar and pestle online or at Asian grocery stores. They’re inexpensive. templeofthai.com has them in 3 different sizes. The small ones cost less than $20. culinarysupplies.org also carries them in many sizes.
Room for Creativity
Now you know the basics, so if you want to be creative with your Som Tam, go right ahead, as long as you don’t add cilantro and green or regular onion, you should be able to call it Som Tam. If it doesn’t fit the catagory, just change the name to Yum or salad and you won’t piss the Thais off so much!
I got creative with my “Som Tam Khao Pode” here. I replaced the green papaya with corn kernels. I added avocado, and my “pu” is Alaskan king crab! I called it “Horadee California Som Tam” (Horadee=South West).
Many of our friends in Vancouver are Indian and of course they all LOVE this restaurant and not just one family said so, EVERYONE said so. So one night after a cocktail party, we decided to go to Vij’s.
I have to excuse myself about the names of the dishes and the quality of the pictures. Like I said, we went after a cocktail party, hence some alcohol influenced my ability to remember, and the inside of the restaurant was as dim as my memory.
Vij’s is an extremely well-known restaurant in Vancouver. It is small, and doesn’t take reservations, and has been “first-come, first-served” since their opening in 1994. Our friends told us this: “You get there, get your name on the list and order a glass of wine. You wait an hour or hour an a half, and they keep bringing round after round of appetizers out. You sit there by the fire drinking and have a good time.”
Hmmm…everything is fine except that hour to hour and a half wait! Well, we arrived at 9 pm there. We told them we were a party of 8. The hostess said it might be, yes, an hour to an hour and a half wait. Yikes! I was already really hungry. Next to the restaurant is another restaurant with the same owner and the same chef, called “Rangoli”. We thought about going there, since they had open tables, but decided to wait. They have their own take on the food style. From Vij’s website:
“Our Vij’s menu is based on the premise that we are having a fancy dinner party and we’ve cooked all day for it, whereas at Rangoli, it’s more like we’re cooking dinner for our family, and you happen to drop by.”
We ordered wines and beverages, and while we were waiting our party grew from 8 to 13 people and we thought, “If a party of 8 would take them an hour to an hour and a half to seat us, how long would it take to get a table for thirteen?” Some of our party hadn’t even arrived yet, but within 30 minutes everyone was there. Amazingly, at that moment the hostess told us that they’ve got the table ready for us!
By the time I sat down on my chair, I was sort of tipsy. You shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach, you know. One of our Indian friends who is a regular customer there did the ordering and the dishes quickly started to arrive.
I was drunk, but that wasn’t going to prevent me from eating. Here are the pictures from a drunk High Heel Gourmet! I can take pictures drunk as well as I can walk on my 6” heels drunk, but I can’t remember the name of each dish! And don’t bother shooting drunk people (me). You know why? You will miss the target. They can’t stand still, can’t sit still, can’t walk straight, and they move unpredictably!
1480 W 11th Ave
BC V6H 1L1
Phone: +1 604-736-6664
HOW: Walk in only no reservation taken
WHO: Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala
The next day we went back to the area we had driven through on our way from the airport into town. The freeway 99, which has it all: a traffic light at every intersection, sidewalks and stores. It’s still a freeway, you know. On the way into town I saw a store posting a sign that they have all-butter croissants. I remember from last time I was in Quebec and had the best butter also the best croissant, so I want to try it.
We went to the croissant place. It’s alright but not worth mentioning the name. I walked around that area and found a cool supermarket called Meinhardt. I brought a bucket of cherries where each cherry was as big as a crabapple! (Picture on my instagram)
Next, I was going to go back to Vij’s hoping to get a cookbook. So we did what people in 21st century would do, looked up the place on our iPhone map and guess what, we were only two blocks from the restaurant. We walked over and ended up at Rangoli, the sister restaurant of Vij’s, and had lunch. (Vij’s was closed.)
The place is quite lovely in the sunlight. We had Lentil, Paneer and Chickpea Samosas, Spicy Pulled Pork on Sauteed Greens with sour cream chutney and naan, Lamb, Chickpeas and Potatoes in Yoogurt-Date Curry. All the links go to my instagram where I posted the pictures.