Once in a while, I want to post a recipe of a favorite food of mine that most people outside Thailand never see, eat, or have even heard about. This is one of those.
If you have been following my blog for a while, you might guess that even though I was born and raised in Bangkok, the great capital city of Thailand and went to a high school in Chiang Mai, that my family is of Southern descent, not only on one side but both my parents are from Songkhla province in the far south. So my culinary heritage is quite heavy on southern Thai cuisine.
It’s not that difficult to figure out which dishes are southern food. There are a few clues. The first one doesn’t apply to food that comes from my kitchen because I tamed that down. You know, the level of chili heat. The southern people are the ones who eat the most spicy food. I don’t know if you ever experienced food so spicy that it gives you temporary deafness; that’s Southern food, but we eat it with a lot of vegetables just to help diminish the heat.
There are a few ingredients that are different than other regions: the first obvious one is turmeric root. The Southern foods are quite yellow because of this spice. You will see grilled fish that’s yellow, bright yellow soup, soft yellow curry and even the green curry in the south looks more yellow than the rest of the country. They couldn’t help themselves, slipping turmeric in the green curry too! The Southern cuisine makes fish curry WITHOUT Krachai or fingerroot, which would normally be used in the fish curry in the central and northern regions to cover up the fishy smell. I don’t know if most Southern people are the same as my dad and his family, who even hated the smell of fingerroot!
The other difference is the major souring agent used in the Southern foods isn’t lime or tamarind, but Som Khag, or Garcinia Atroviridis, or you might know it by the name Garcinia Cambogia. Yes, the one that was advertised as a weight-loss plant, but please don’t use those capsules in the curry. If you want to buy it, you can find it online by this name: Kudampuli, (go to the “shopping” section on Google and type this name to search) more easily than searching for Garninia Cambogia. Or, worst comes to worst, just use tamarind.
So, in the future if you encounter yellow curry with kudampuli floating in it and it’s spicy beyond belief, you can safely guess that it is Southern Thai curry.
The recipe I’m giving you this time is with the full yellow curry paste for coconut milk-based curry, not just the simple curry paste recipe I gave you last time. This is dish is called Kanom Jeen Nam Ya Tai. The word Tai signifies that it is Southern style. I will give you the recipe for Kanom Jeen Nam Ya that sells on the side streets of Bangkok later, when I feel like making it.
Let’s focus on the “Kanom Jeen” first. Kanom Jeen or Khanom Chin is a type of rice noodles that are usually eaten with a lot of vegetables. I consider them in the category of salad more than soup noodles. However, there will be some types of Kanom Jeen in soups, too, but very few. This is the opposite of the other Southeast Asian countries surrounding Thailand. They tend to eat this type of rice noodles in soup. The Burmese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Singaporean all eat these noodles in broth or curry soup.
Kanom Jeen is a soft rice noodle. The origin of it is from the Mon people who occupied the area since 500 AD. It is made totally differently than other types of rice noodles. There are two different ways Kanom Jeen is made, one uses fermented rice and the other uses freshly soaked rice. Then the rice would be ground into a batter paste.
Both type of batters would then be poured in a cylinder that has holes at the bottom and the batter would be pressed into boiling water to be cooked. Luckily you don’t have to make these rice noodles yourself because you can easily buy the dried rice noodles from the Asian market.
Kanom Jeen used to be a festival food, I guess because making the noodles requires a lot of labor, so not something you would do every day. Not only that the soaked rice ferments for one to four days, but using the old style grinder to grind the rice grains needed two people to work it. Then, to make batter paste also required kneading, then pressing the batter into boiling water requires another person to constantly stir the noodles in the boiling water so they won’t stick together. And once the noodles are cooked, they have to be washed several times in clean water.
Just the thought of making my own fresh Kanom Jeen makes me cringe—it’s just too much. I did it only once and the result wasn’t that much better than the dried store-bought one. When you buy dried Kanom Jeen, look for the Vietnamese name “Bun Giang Tay”; you won’t go wrong. At least that’s what’s on every bag of Kanom Jeen I’ve ever bought. (I don’t really know what the name means. I only know “Bun” means rice vermicelli.)
Bun Giang Tay comes in different sizes too, S, M or L. I like the fine noodles, but this is all up to you.
Vegetables eaten with the Kanom Jeen are usually raw, and you are free to add any kind of vegetables you like. You can also use fruits just like in the recipe I wrote a while back, Kanom Jeen Sao Nam. It’s made with pineapple and ginger. The choice of vegetables is based mostly on the type of sauce you will be serving the Kanom Jeen with. In this Southern curry, I can’t do without putting mung bean spouts, cucumber, long bean, Thai basil and cabbage. However, It is truly your choice.
Normally the protein choice in Kanom Jeen Nam Ya is fish. You can use tuna fish from the can or the fresh fish of your choice. I shouldn’t have to tell you no fish skin and fish bones, right? If you are vegan or vegetarian, tofu can be used, and if you substitute the shrimp paste with Vegemite or Marmite, then you will have a truly vegan Kanom Jeen Nam Ya.
When my uncle came to visit, I told him my husband doesn’t really like to eat fish as much. He suggested that with this type of sauce, I can use crab meat instead of fish. So, this is the first time I’m using crab meat in Nam Ya…Oh, so delicious!
This is a curry paste that uses fresh chili in the paste, unlike most of the other curry pastes I’ve given you the recipes for (except the green curry paste, of course). Southern curry paste uses a lot of fresh chili so I really appreciate my Vitamix who rescues me from the splash of the fresh chili.
My choice of chili is quite baby-like in terms of heat level. You can choose to add the seeds and membranes, or you can totally switch from red jalapeño chili to a more serious one, if you want the extreme spice. Try the bird’s eye chili, but take it easy at first or you might have to throw away the whole pot of sauce.
Ingredients for the curry paste (You would get about 1 – 1 1/2 cup of the curry paste but we will need only half a cup at the most. I just need this much to cover the blades in my Vitamix, but I can save the rest for another pot of curry later)
Dried red chili (Puya kind, soaked in water and all seeds and membranes removed ) 8 pods
Fresh red chili (Jalapeño, all seeds and membranes removed) 8 pods
Lemongrass, sliced, only the bottom part that has the purple ring 1/2 cup
Galangal, peeled and sliced 2 tablespoons
Turmeric, peeled and sliced 2 tablespoons
Garlic 1/3 cup
Shallots 1/3 cup
Salt 1 teaspoon
Shrimp paste 1 teaspoon
(Optional) Kaffir lime zest 2 teaspoons
Method for the curry paste
1) Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and grind them to a fine paste.
If you don’t want to bother making your own curry paste, there is a pre-made curry paste available online and in some Asian grocery stores. This is the Maesri brand, which is my go-to brand of curry paste when I’m not making my own, because it comes in a small container and it’s not so spicy compared to the other brands such as Mae Ploy.
Ingredients for the Nam Ya sauce (for 4)
Coconut milk 4 cups
Cooked crab meat or fish meat 4 cups
Souther yellow curry paste, either store bought pre-made or use the recipe above 1/2 – 1/3 cup
Water 4 – 6 cups
Salt 2 teaspoons
Palm sugar or brown sugar as needed; I used 2 tablespoons in mine (Be very careful and add a little at a time. All palm sugars come at different strengths and mine is quite light)
Som Khag (Kudampuli) 1/4 – 1/2 cup or more depending of the level of the sourness of the fruit.
Fish sauce 2 tablespoons
Kaffir lime leaves 2-3 leaves
Method for the Nam Ya sauce
1) Heat about half a cup of coconut milk in a pot or pan and add the curry paste. You need to cook the curry paste, but there’s no need to crack or break the coconut cream as I described in the Episode III How to cook a pot of curry. Most southern Thai curries don’t really need to have thick layer of oil floating on top like the curries in the central or the north.
You need to cook the curry paste for 2 -3 minutes just to make sure that all the spices are cooked and not bitter and also release their aromas.
2) Add 3 cups of coconut milk and 3 cups of water together with Kudampuli, wait until it boils, then add the crab meat, salt and torn kaffir lime leaves.
Note: If you are using fish meat, boil the fish in water with shallots, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and turmeric. Then remove the skin and bones. Save the boiling water to be used in the curry too. Break all the fish meat in small chunks–as small as possible–but no need to puree it.
The other easy way to cook is if you already bought the fillet (frozen is ok), put on in a plate, cover the plate and heat it in the microwave until cooked.
For vegetarian: Use your favorite tofu, soft or hard, but break it in small pieces. I like to use soft tofu, but this is your choice.
3) Wait until it boils again and add the fish sauce and sugar. At this point, the kudampuli, or Som Khag, should have released some sourness into the soup already. Taste the piece of the Som Khag to see if it is still sour. If it is, lower the heat and let it simmer for a while longer. If the sauce gets thick add more water.
You can prep the vegetables and boil the Kanom Jeen noodles while you wait.
4) Taste again to see if the Som Khag has released all its sourness into the soup. Adjust the taste to your preference. It should be a blend of salty, sour and a hint of sweetness. Three flavors that are balanced.
5) Remember the other 1/2 cup of coconut milk we saved? Pour that in the sauce at the end and stir it in, Once it bubbles again turn off the heat. The sauce is ready.
Ingredients for the assembly of Kanom Jeen
Dried Kanom Jeen Rice noodles, approximately 2 oz. dried weight per person (I used less but this is your preference. I only give the approximate amount.)
Hard boiled eggs with soft yolks (from the refrigerator, meaning cold eggs into water onto the stove. I boiled them for 8.5 – 9 minutes, then chilled them right away with cold water) one per person.
Vegetables of your choice, as much or as little as you like. I used these (for 4 servings).
Shredded cabbage 4 cups
Mung bean sprouts 4 cups
Cucumber, quartered lengthwise and then sliced thinly, 2 cups
Sliced long bean crosswise, thinly, 2 cups
Thai basil, pick only the leaves 2 cups
1) Cook the rice noodles. Boil according to the package. The thick (L) one takes more time to boil than the thin (S) or fine ones, of course. We don’t need al dente noodles here so boil them until they are cooked through. Take out and rinse them with cold water until they’re all cooled down. You should grab a handful of them and roll them together in a bunch. This makes it easy to separate them later.
I bundled them in a roll here and they can also simply be clumped like this too.
2) I shouldn’t have to tell you the next step, right? Just put everything together and pour the sauce over,
mix well and eat!
I sometime eat this like salad without noodles. Good for a low-carb meal!