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Archive for the ‘Q & A Thai Cooking’ Category

For Richer or For Poorer

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In Thailand, fish sauce is called nam pla. It is made of anchovies and salt which are fermented for 6 to 12 months under the tropical sun. The process of fermentation leaves behind an elixir laden with flavor and concentrated glutamic acid. This elixir creates a mouthful of flavor when added to salads, soups, curries, stir-fries, dipping sauces, rice and noodle dishes, or served simply as an everyday condiment – Nam Pla Prik. It is is a medium-brown liquid  that is available in bottles of various sizes ready to use for seasoning and cooking.

When it comes to Thai cuisine and culture, one can’t live without fish sauce. It is important to get the best quality fish sauce, so I have some recommendations for buying it outside of Thailand.  My favorite fish sauce brands, which I use interchangeably, are Thai KitchenTiparos and Three Crabs. Once the bottle has been opened, you can leave it out at room temperature if you cook with fish sauce often, otherwise you can keep it in the fridge for up to 6 months. When it gets too salty or stale, replace it with a new bottle.

Nam Pla Prik as a condiment

Thai people from all walks of life always have fish sauce in their kitchens and typically use it every day, either in their cooking or as a condiment. Thais value its significant flavor and Nam pla is part of Thai people’s lives, regardless of whether they are from rural villages, big towns or the capital city of Bangkok. In fact, it is a Thai’s best friend in all life situations, but especially in economic down times, or for newly married couples starting their lives together. When Thais face financial struggles, one often says “a fish sauce and warm rice is simply enough” (in Thai: มีข้าวกับน้ำปลาเพียงพอแล้ว).  When we go through a tough time and have just  enough money to buy rice and fish sauce, life is still good, still filled with hopes and dreams, and we still have each other, for richer or for poorer.

Nam Pla Prik

 

Spicy Fish Sauce

Nam Pla Prik 

น้ำปลาพริก  

Yield: 1/4 cup

Nam pla prik is no secret to Thai dining;  Thais use  it the way Americans use salt and pepper. This liquid of chili and garlic-infused fish sauce is delicious over warm steamed jasmine rice or just about any Thai food you are about to savor. The fresh layer of fish sauce enhances the food and adds another dimension to each mouthful, heightening the experience on your palate. My favorite way to use it is over a fried egg and steamed hot jasmine rice, with fresh sliced cucumber and tomatoes alongside. Any time you are dining at a Thai restaurant, you may ask for nam pla prik the same way that you would ask for salt and pepper.

¼ cup fish sauce
2 Thai chiles or a jalapeno pepper, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon lime juice, optional

Stir fish sauce, Thai chiles, garlic, sugar and lime juice together in a small bowl. Use this spicy fish sauce for seasoning. You may keep it in an airtight jar up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

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Thai Condiment Set – with Nam Pla Prik

© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com .
 
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From Jade, to Mantis, to Celadon Green

Pandan Sweet Sticky Rice – ข้าวเหนียวแก้วใบเตย – Kao Neow Kaew Bai Toey

Kao Neow Kaew Bai Toey – Sweet sticky rice, coconut milk and sugar with pandan green color and flavor

Many Southeast Asian cultures have their own stories and culinary love affair with the liquid green of jade, the alluring fragrance of a wild flower, and the sweet, nutty and vanilla taste that comes from pandan leaf or Bai Toey, a member of the screwpine family of plants. I have stories of my own about helping my mom and three aunts prepare dessert each morning in order to supply the villagers’ demands for Thai desserts for breakfast at the local coffee shop. That was a long while ago, but today in Seattle I still practice my culinary heritage by adding this jade green water extract to many foods that I cook. No matter how far people are from their homeland, or how long they have been gone, the Thai culinary tradition of using Bai Toey – ใบเตย – is staying alive among those native to the cuisine. Pandan leaf, or Bai Toey, is known in Vietnam as La Due, and in Malaysia as Kaitha, to mention a few.

Pandan leaves give our kitchens a sweet, alluring fragrance, and the lingering of a sensational taste. Don’t be surprised by its deep green grass aroma when it is in its fresh state. When combined with palm sugar and coconut milk, or when cooked, it leaves behind an amazing taste that can surprise you with the excitement of a new culinary discovery. Fortunately, green pandan leaves are available at a reasonable price, either fresh or frozen, at Asian markets, so there is no need to miss out on this culinary tradition.

Adding green pandan extract to tapioca pearl – coconut pudding

Before you go any further, I hope you have a chance to first read my blog post on  Pandanus leaf – Bai Toey from years ago. It includes a Pandan-Jasmine Tea recipe and will give you an insight into Bai Toey and the ways it imparts its taste, aroma and color into Thai desserts and beyond. For my Thai Street Food series of classes, I prepared enough pandan custard with brioche for myself and the class, and indulged myself for breakfast. But it is not yet time for me to share the pandan custard recipe, nor other uses for the leaves. Today’s post will simply focus on the crucial step of making of green pandan water -น้ำใบเตย – Nam Bai Toey, an essential ingredient in many Thai desserts.

Exotic Green from Southeast Asia

The food photos above and below are from my own collection over the years, mostly from my visits to Thailand. The foods came from street foods venders, coffee shops, or my village market. The green color in all of them is from pandan water. When cooked, the jade green color can change to celadon or mantis green—how deep a green depends on the amount of leaves used.

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Steamed layer rice cake – ขนมชั้น – Khanom Chan

Khanom Chan – Layered steamed rice cake. Its ingredients are rice flour, coconut milk, sugar and green pandan water

pandan custard -สังขยาใบเตย- Sangkaya Bai Toey

Pandan custard -สังขยาใบเตย- Sangkaya Bai Toey

Pandan custard -สังขยาใบเตย- Sangkaya Bai Toey is a traditional custard that is used like a spread or dip.

ปาท่องโก๋ สังขยา

ปาท่องโก๋ สังขยาใบเตย – Chinese Doughnut with Pandan Custard

Pandan custard served for dipping with Chinese doughnuts – pla Tong go – ปาท่องโก๋ – or with cut soft white bread

Pandan Tapioca Pearl Cake - Khanom Saku

Pandan Tapioca Pearl Cake – Khanom Yok Manee – ขนมหยกมณี- Jade Gemstone

Another ancient Thai dessert, Pandan Tapioca Pearl Cake, it’s name is  Jade Gemstone – ขนมหยกมณี  – Khanom Yok Manee

Step by Step: How to Make Pandan Water, น้ำใบเตย – Pandan Extract Recipe

In Seattle, pandan leaf – bai toey – is available fresh or frozen at Asian Markets and comes in a package of six leaves. For green food coloring, I recommend that you use all six leaves and freeze any extra juice—the greener the better. I have been making many Thai desserts the last few months and have been using a lot of pandan leaves. For some desserts, the complete flavor profile is very dependent on the pandan flavor. One of these is sungkaya – Thai custard; I have added my favorite pandan custard – Sungkaya Bai Toey – to my Thai Street Food class.

Clean, dry and trim four pandan leaves. Cut each leaf into three pieces, then layer them in a pile.

pandan leaf

Layer all leaves together and cut into thin shreds

Then thinly slice pandan leaves.

IMG_1603

Place in mortar and pound with pestle

Place shredded pandan leaves into a mortar.

pound until it for a paste

Pound until it form a paste

Pound the pandan leaves for about two minutes, until they form a paste.

green pandan water

Stir in water

Stir in 5 tablespoons water.

pandan water

Green pandan water – น้ำใบเตย – Nam Bai Toey

Yields 1/4 cup green pandan water

The pandan water is ready for any recipe that calls for green pandan extract.

Alternative method: Place shredded pandan leaves and 1/4 cup water into a blender and blend for 30 seconds; strain, then discard the pulp.

Tips & Techniques. For a green pandan water concentrate, let the pandan water sit for 15 minutes. About two tablespoons of green concentrate will sit on the bottom. You may use just this portion.

The best way to make pandan water ahead of time or to preserve pandan leaves is to preserve the shredded pandan leaf in water and freeze the water and leaves together; the second best method is to make the green pandan extract and freeze it. When the whole leaves are frozen by themselves, it is easy for them to get a freezer burn or to dry out too quickly and lose their green color. When that happens I use the leaves for tea instead. Please see link below for my Pandan-Jasmine Tea Recipe.

I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com 

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Incredible Me

Banana Tender Stems

Banana Tender Stems

Banana Stemsหยวกกล้วย – are considered a vegetable in Thai cuisine.  They are available everyday at wet markets and open-air-markets if you don’t have your own banana tree growing in your backyard or can’t get them from the nearby forest. Actually, the banana tree is not a tree at all. It is a giant herbaceous plant, with large leaves that closely roll up one over the other. Together they look like a trunk, but they are leaves from underground stems and they form only an “apparent trunk. Villagers in Thailand and many countries in South and Southeast Asia consider the tender core of the banana stems, the apparent trunk,  a valuable nutritious vegetable. In Thai we call them, หยวกกล้วย – Yuak Kluey – Banana Stems. Each leaf can be peeled off. As you get closed to the center, you will find the most tender leave.

Banana stem cut crosswise

Banana stem cut crosswise

Banana leaves closely rolled up one over the other. This is a cut from a five-month-old banana apparent trunk. Banana trees usually have about 15 to 20 leaves.

Just like corn is used in the United States for both human and animal food, all parts of the banana plant—leaves, banana, banana skin, and roots—have minerals, vitamins, and fat. Thai farmers feed all parts of the banana to their pigs and farm animals. When I was in high school I had a pair of piglets. On the weekends I chopped down banana stems, cooked them with broken rice, and let them stew into a porridge before feeding them to the pigs. Farmers also mix chopped banana stems with other grasses during dry season for cows, goats and cattle—there are plenty of bananas in Southeast Asia. Banana stems are one-third edible vegetation and two-thirds water, but have a good amount of protein and fat plus minerals and vitamins. They are a good source of fiber, potassium, phosphorus, B6 and calcium, as good as the banana fruit itself. The stems are considered food in everyday cooking in Asia and Southeast Asia.

Banana Tree Trunks

Banana Tree Trunks

On Phuket Island, there are two varieties of bananas that have stems considered excellent for cooking. They are Kluey Nam Wah – กล้วยน้ำว้า – which are similar to apple bananas, and  gluey pa – กล้วยป่า – wild bananas that are best for their delicious stems. In Phuket, it is typical for mountain- and hill-sides to be covered with wild bananas. The best time to harvest quality banana stems for cooking is when they are about 3 to 4 months old, before the tree begins to flower and the core is still tender.

Phuket Tom Som - Phuket Sour Soup with Wild Vegetable

Phuket Tom Som – Phuket Sour Soup with Wild Vegetable

After banana stems are cooked, the texture is juicy, crunchy, and squishy, and the taste is sweet, tart, and bitter, plus their air pockets absorb the flavors of the other ingredients in the dish. I can’t compare the flavor of banana stems with anything else, but I can say that the texture and taste give me the same satisfaction as when I bite into Belgian endive. I would like to encourage you to try banana stems when you have a chance. If I were a banana stem, I would say that I am incredible, and that my taste, texture and nutritional value make me stand out with great personality. The dish that presents me is always memorable because of the incredible me!

Banana Stems

Add sliced banana stems to sweet and sour vegetable soup

One morning last month I found my mom, sister, and sister in-law prepping and cooking together in the kitchen. I immediately grasped my camera and, trying not to interrupt everyone in the middle of the process, I took a snapshot of a real life in my Thai family kitchen. This is a typical vegetable soup of Phuket; it has been part of my mom’s new low fat, low sodium diet since she returned from the hospital. For this post, I will just highlight the banana stems themselves without adding a recipe in order to demystify the ingredients and cutting techniques, and help you to understand the amazing beauty of banana stems in Southern Thai cooking. I was lucky that my family prepared banana stems two ways while I was there, one for soup and another for sour curry. I hope you enjoy a real cooking show from my mom’s kitchen.

Step-by-Step How to Prepare Banana Stems for Soup

discard the tough outer layer of banana stem

Discard the tough outer layer of the banana stem

After purchasing the banana stems from the market, my mom removed the tough outer layer to get to the tender part.

Preparing banana stems for making the soup

Preparing banana stems for making soup

Preparing banana stems for making the soup

Preparing banana stems for making soup

Use your  index finger to remove the soft fiber strand or stringing.

soak sliced banana stem in cold salted water or lime water

Soak sliced banana stems in cold salted water or in lime water

Soak sliced banana stem in a cold salted water or lime water for a short or long period of time, then it is ready to incorporate into a soup or stew.

Step-by-Step How to Prepare Banana Stems for Curry

Cut into one a half inch pieces

Cut into one and a half-inch pieces

Cut into pieces about one and a half-inches in length.

Cut Banana Stem in four pieces

Cut banana stem in four pieces

Then cut each piece lengthwise into four pieces as shown in the photo above.

banana stems

Soak cut banana stems in cold salted water or lime water

Keep the stems fresh and prevent browning by putting them in cold water with salt or lime juice, about 1 teaspoon salt or the juice of 1/2 lime for 4 cups water.

Sour Curry with Fish and Banana Stem

Gaeng Som Pla Yuak Kleuy – Sour Curry with Fish and Banana Stems

My sister cooked  Gaeng Som Pla Yuak Kluey, Sour Curry with Fish and Banana Stems.

Tips and Techniques for Cooking with Banana Stems

After you learn how to prepare the banana stems step-by-step, now you need to encourage yourself to incorporate banana stems into these incredible dishes. Here are my favorites: Phuket Tom Som (Phuket Sweet and Sour Vegetable Soup Recipe), Gaeng Som Moo Sam Chan (Surathani Pork Belly Sour Curry), Gaeng Yuak (Northern Thai Curry with Chicken, Gaeng Kati Gai (Thai curry Chicken with Coconut Milk). I would also not hesitate to try them in Tom Kha Gai.

Buying and storing. Buy the freshest banana stems and cook within a day; with exposure to light and air they will keep growing and get tougher. One can store them in the refrigerator for a day or two, but I prefer to cook them as soon as I can to enjoy the best taste. The cooking time for banana stems is about 3 to 5 minutes. Keep them soaked in cold water with salt and lime juice until you are ready to cook.

 
© 2012  Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com 

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The Holy Herbs

It has been a busy summer for me so far. This has kept me away from writing, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t cook up a delicious dish for my Thai Kitchen blog. I have a lot of photos and notes and testings that have been done but that are waiting for me to write them up. While waiting for those posts from my food experiences in July, I have a delicious, unpretentious and impromptu dish to share with you. From my garden and Thai kitchen to yours!

Oregano Buds

Why oregano? Ten years ago, oregano was widespread via self-sown seeds in my Seattle garden near Thai spirit house. That year, my niece was visiting from Thailand and I used oregano in place of Thai holy basil when I prepared Phad Kraprow Gai (stir-fried minced chicken with Thai holy basil). I didn’t tell her that I’d used oregano and she didn’t notice the difference. Later on, when I told her it was not Thai holy basil, but Greek holy oregano we laughed! Fresh oregano has a peppery and pungent taste that I love and which is similar to Thai holy basil. Try using oregano in place of Thai holy basil when oregano leaves and blossoms are abundant in your garden.

Oregano Blossoms

Yesterday was my day off from traveling on the road and I was hanging around home and working in my garden. My girlfriend and I were immersing ourselves in the sun, surrounded by flowers, herbs and weeds. All of a sudden I realized that most of my oregano plants were blossoming. As it got close to lunch time, I began to think about what I could cook with those blossoms. I decided to make Oregano Blossoms Fried Rice for lunch. I cut the stems down to six inches long so there were some leaves attached to yield more leaves until the end of the summer.

Oregano Blossoms Fried Rice

Does frozen cooked rice work for this dish? This is the first time that I have experimented with previously frozen rice from my fridge. I thawed the rice before using it to loosen up the cooked rice grains and it worked perfectly well for fried rice. Off course my passion is to share what is happening in my Thai Kitchen with you, so here is my recipe for oregano blossoms.

Oregano Blossoms Fried Rice with Tomato and Garlic

Khao Phad Dok Oregano Makrua Thet Kratiem

ข้าวผัดดอกออริกาโนกับมะเขือเทศและกระเทียม

Oregano is not a Thai herb, but it has long been a substitute ingredient for me in the absence of my beloved Thai holy basil. Both belong to the mint, or Lamiaceae, family. The flavor undertones of both herbs are alike, and as a gardener I love herbs that can grow wide and are easy to take care of. Now that I have discovered how great oregano blossoms taste in this recipe, I will enjoy the same dish often this summer! Cheers to the holy herbs!

Serves: 2 to 4

3 tablespoons canola oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and chopped
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cayenne pepper, sliced (remove seeds if preferred)
1/2 cup oregano leaves and blossoms, stems removed
1 large tomato, cut into wedges
2 eggs
3 cups cooked rice, cooled or frozen
2 pinches of salt, optional
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
4 lime wedges
8 sting beans or cucumber or any fresh vegetable condiment, optional
 
Heat canola oil in a skillet or wok on high heat. Add garlic and stir until golden, then add onion, cayenne and oregano leaves and blossoms and blossoms. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Clear the center of the wok and scramble in eggs for two seconds before adding rice. Stir in soy sauce and  fish sauce. Serve with lime wedge, vegetable condiment and spicy fish sauce. (See recipe below).
 
© 2012 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com  
 
Follow Me on Pinterest
 

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Applied Thai Culinary Art

Gai Yang Amphawa – ไก่ย่างอัมพวา

Grilled Thai Chicken Gai Yang, shown here from my visit in 2011, is famous Thai street food.

On May 29th—just about two weeks ago—The New York Times published the article “Cuisines Mastered as Acquired Tastes.” It told the story of some cooks that have become stars of authentic cuisines from other than their native countries.

One person mentioned in the article is Superstar Thai chef, Andy Ricker, the James Beard Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest in 2011. The article was fascinating reading and brought to mind my last week’s post on Thai basic seasoning paste.  Andy Ricker uses Kratiem Prik Thai paste – a basic Thai seasoning – in his restaurant kitchens as intensively as a Thai would in his. I have been to Andy’s Pok Pok Restaurant in Portland, Oregon a few times. Several of the dishes on his current menu obviously use this basic Thai seasoning paste, including Kai Yaang: Charcoal, rotisserie-roasted natural game hen stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, pepper and cilantro), Moo Paa Kham Waan (Boar collar meat rubbed with garlic, coriander root and black pepper glazed with soy and sugar grilled over charcoal) and Kung Op Wun Sen (Wild caught gulf prawns baked in a clay pot over charcoal with pork belly, soy, ginger, cilantro root, black pepper, chinese celery and bean thread noodle.). Andy uses Kratiem Prik Thai as a marinade sauce in the first two dishes and as a seasoning in the third.

Goong Oob Woon Sen – กุ้งอบวุ้นเส้น

Goong Oob Woon Sen, a famous Thai hot pot dish served on a banana leaf. I enjoyed this dish served from a clay pot or on a banana leaf by street vendors in Amphawa. The grass noodles were soaked with the delightful flavors of soy, cilantro root, garlic and black pepper. A short gentle braising brings out all the great flavors.

It is great to see non-Thai become super stars in Thai cuisine because it is important to educate both Thai and non-Thai about our truly amazing cuisine. We would like non-Thai to appreciate and learn about authentic Thai cuisine in restaurants in America and elsewhere. And most importantly, we would like for Thai restaurant owners to work hard to preserve our culinary heritage through menus that don’t just offer dishes laden with sugar and coconut milk. If you are looking for a Thai cookbook, here are some authorities on Thai cuisine whose work I admire: David Thompson, a restauranteur and cookbook author; Nancie McDermott, cookbook author and historian; Robert Carmack and Robert Danhi, cookbook authors and tour leaders to Southeast Asia; and Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, cookbook authors, writers, travelers and photographers.

Fried Thai Garlic and Pepper Fish – Kratiem Prik Thai Pla – ปลากระเทียมพริกไทย

Fried Thai Garlic and Pepper Fish – Kratiem Prik Thai Pla

My friend Kratiem Prik Thai Pla at Kamala Beach village Pavilion Beach Restaurant with its signature garlic-black pepper sauce, topped with a lot of fried garlic.

Now that you have learned about Kratiem Prik Thai paste from this and the previous post, you can have fun learning to be a food detective, reading menus and finding the tastes of garlic, black pepper, and cilantro toots in Thai restaurants.

Cilantro roots alternative. In Seattle, when I see cilantro roots at a farmers market or at PCC Natural Markets, I buy a bunch so I can have a supply on hand in the fridge and the freezer. When  cilantro roots are not available, I use 2 teaspoons of finely chopped cilantro stems as a substitute for 1 cilantro root.

I hope you enjoy my photos from a famous restaurant in Bangkok, street food in Amphawa, and a beach restaurant in Phuket. The creators of these dishes may vary as to their preferences for white pepper or black pepper, soy sauce or fish sauce, palm sugar or white sugar, but they all use the secret ingredients of garlic, black pepper and cilantro root.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions for using Thai Basic Seasoning Paste Recipe.

Sun-dried Pork – Moo Daet Deow – หมูแดดเดียว

Amphawa, Thailand
Sun-dried pork on the street at Amphawa, ready to deep fry to order.
Some Thai cooks prefer to use fish sauce rather than soy sauce and white peppercorn powder rather than black pepper corns in making Kratiem Prik Thai Rak Puk Chee paste.

Kratiem Prik Thai Goong – กระเทียมพริกไทยกุ้ง

You will find the nationally famous garlic prawns in many forms and under many names in Thai restaurant menus. The traditional Thai version doesn’t mix in vegetables but has a few fresh sliced cucumbers on the side. This photo of garlic prawns was taken at Harmonique Restaurant, my favorite restaurant in Bangkok.

© 2012 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com  
 
Follow Me on Pinterest

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Conditional Love

My durian tree

Durian ทุเรียน, Durio Zibethinus Merr., is a native plant to Brunei, Sarawak, Malaysia and Indonesia. Southern Thailand is a part of the Malay Peninsula and it has a tropical climate pattern similar to Malaysia.

One of my memories of growing up in a village on a hilly isle of PhuketSouthern Thailand, is of the beginning of durian season. It would begin after two months of monsoon, around June and July, when the earth was moist and the mountains a lush green. The villagers would gather ripe durians that had fallen to the ground the night before and sell them out in front of my grandmother’s home the next morning. Many piles of 4 to 8 durians in all sizes were auctioned off each morning. Later the winners carried home the thorny fruits which had been tied up with twine or string. Then the whole extended family would luxuriously savor the heavenly durian, a feast of nature. Durian was not a fruit we enjoyed everyday, just as you would not want a rich custard everyday. Eating and sharing durian once or twice a year was an indulgence and a family ritual.

My last visit to Thailand in July 2011 was a memorable and fruitful one. I spent many days working on my plantation with my gardener and it was right at the peak of durian, bamboo shoot, and sator season. Durian (known as stinky fruit) and sator (also known as Petai or stinky beans) are infamous for their unique smells, though their health benefits transcend their strong odors. On my plantation, durian and sator grow side by side, a part of the Southern Thailand hillside landscape. One morning we had durian for breakfast with dark Thai coffee. As those of us who love durian say, “it tastes like heaven, a perfect custard on earth.” I was glad to taste durian again after a long time without it.

Life and culture around Seattle are not the same as in the village of Thailand. Here it is hard to convince friends and students to embrace durian’s infamous stinky side. My rules for eating durian are these: it must be a good durian (for me, this means a Phuket durian), in-season, not too ripe, eaten in small portions once or twice a year, and never mixed with alcohol. I would also recommend not socializing with people who don’t like durian the day you eat it, and don’t carry it around in a small closed space or a home with an air conditioning system. In Thailand, durian is considered contraband if you carry it in a rental car, or in air-conditioned public places such as buses, hotels or airplanes.

Pranee with Phuket cultivar of durian

There are many durian cultivars in Thailand but in Phuket the small, native cultivar is popular with locals as well as tourists from all over Asia. When visiting Thailand during durian season, ask someone who is knowledgeable about durian to introduce it to you. If you try the right one, chances are you, too, will taste the heaven—and the smell won’t put you off too much. And you will have something to talk about for a lifetime!

The best way to enjoy fresh durian is in moderation. Some people experience a fever after eating durian because it contains so many calories. One hundred grams of durian has about 30 grams of sugar, 25 grams of protein and approximately 144 calories (please see source below). Besides eating fresh durian, you may find durian in many desserts: Kao Neow Thurian, sticky rice with coconut milk and durian sauce; Thurian Icecream, durian ice cream; and Thurian Gwan, durian candies.

How to open the durian with a paring knife and cleaver

Opening durian requires some skill. Below are step-by-step pictures on how to open the durian the way a Phuketian does it. You will need two thick towels to protect the counter and your hand, a cleaver and a paring knife.

Look for a split in the durian

First remove the stem, then find the natural split in the hull. Use a paring knife to follow the split and make it wider, then use the cleaver to twist the hull open.

Insert the cleaver into the split line and then use the cleaver to twist the hull open.

Use both hands on each side of the split to pull and force until the hull opens completely

A perfect custard fruit snuggles inside

The custard lumps and seeds are snuggled inside each hollow hull.

Durian with delicious custard and seeds inside

© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com .

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Are Winter Squash Leaves Edible?

I enjoyed the Seattle sun last Wednesday at the Columbia City Farmers Market along with the delicious food from the stalls. I purchased a few fresh vegetables from various farmers and, like always, a bunch of winter squash leaves from a Hmong farmer’s stall. This time the squash leaves prompted me to cook and share with you a recipe from my Thai kitchen: how to cook winter squash leaves –Yod Namtao – ยอดน้ำเต้า.

Winter squash leaves are edible. In fact, all parts of squash family plants are edible, from leaves to stems, flowers, fruit, skin and seeds. The young leaves and stems are shown in the photos above and below. These edible greens become available when a farmer cuts back the leaves on a plant in order to encourage it to produce fewer but larger fruits. Winter squash leaves are popular in rustic-style cooking in Southeast Asia and they are great sources of fiber and other nutritional benefits.

Winter Squash Leaves and Blossoms - my visit to Hoi An Market 2009

Though they may feel a little rough to the touch, the young leaves from winter squash have amazing flavors when cooked. They have a  spinach-like texture, but are richer and denser with a bite to it in flavor. Like any leafy green vegetable, you can stir-fry, steam or stew them. In my kitchen, I either blanch them in salted coconut milk or saute them with butter, then add water and chicken stock and cook them down until the leaves are softened but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Last year I made a winter melon leaves stew with dried fish and shallots using a Hmong farmer’s verbal recipe. It was similar to my Watermelon Rind Soup and made a delicious vegetable stew.           

Winter squash leaves are only available in the summer and only at the Hmong farmers’ stalls. Because of this limitation, I never fail to purchase a bunch of winter squash leaves each visit to the market. Supporting the Hmong farmers also helps me to ensure that there will be a continuing supply due to the demand. When you get a chance, please pick up some winter squash leaves at a Seattle Farmer Markets near you and give them a try.

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Winter Squash Leaves Boiled in Salted Coconut Milk

Yod Namtao Luak Kati

ยอดน้ำเต้าลวกกะทิ

Winter Squash Leaves in Salted Coconut Milk

One bunch of winter squash leaves weighs about a pound. After removing all of the twine holding them together and the hard stems, the soft edible part weighs about six ounces; the rest goes into a compost. If I have time, I use a peeler to remove the rough skin on the stems then cook the stems down until they are soft, about 8 minutes.

There are many ways to prepare winter squash leaves, but blanching or boiling them in salted coconut milk produces my favorite quick and easy side dish. This same method can also be used with many other leafy green vegetables, which can then be served with Thai Chili Dip. You will be surprised how the flavor of winter squash leaves and leafy green vegetables are complimented by just a little coconut milk and salt.

 
Serves: 4
Cooking Time: 5 minutes
 
6 ounces winter squash leaves (see preparation above)
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon plus 2 pinches salt

Bring coconut milk, water and salt to a boil on medium-high heat. Then add the squash leaves, using tongs to turn them around to make sure they are all cooked in the liquid—like blanching the leaves in a coconut broth. Cook from 3 to 5 minutes until the greens reach your desired degree of tenderness. Serve with the broth as a side dish, or with warm jasmine rice as a main dish.

© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen  
I Love Thai cooking 
 Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area. Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com . 

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