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Archive for the ‘Pranee’s Tips & Techniques’ Category

Thai Kitchen Apprentice

Thai Kaffir Lime – Luk Makrut

Makrut and Bai Makrut (citrus hystrix)

When I was growing up, we used many citrus fruits in our family kitchen: lime, key lime, kaffir lime and calamansi, to name just a few. We use citrus juice in Thai cooking and when it comes to juice we depend largely on lime juice; most other citrus juices are for fun and creative cooking while they are in season. Kaffir lime is an exception. It was never important for its juice but rather for its precious rind.

Kaffir Limes – the rind is an ingredient for curry paste

Kaffir Lime (citrus hystrix), Makrut in Thai, is a bumpy citrus fruit that has a great deal of aromatic essential oil in the rind. In Thailand and Laos, we use the rind in curry paste. My grandmother would cut a kaffir lime in half and rub the lime on her head to massage her scalp and condition her hair.

Kaffir Lime Leaf ~ Bai Makrut is known as kroy saoch in Cambodia. These shiny, dark green, double-lobed leaves are used extensively in Thai, Lao and Cambodian cuisines as well as in the neighboring countries of India, Burma, Malaysian and Indonesia. For Thais, whole kaffir lime leaves have endless possibilities. They are an important ingredient in soups such as Tom Yum and Tom Kha, and are also always in curries. Whole kaffir lime leaves are used like bay leaves. The essential oil in the fresh leaves imparts flavor quickly and easily in boiling liquid, but the leaves themselves are not for eating. We never use dry kaffir lime leaves in Thailand. Letting them dry allows the delicate essential oil to disappear and nothing is left in the dry leaves. Ideally you want to freeze the fresh leaves right away while their moisture helps trap all of the essence.

When I was growing up, each home had one or more large kaffir lime trees in the back yard. The fresh leaves is the price that the trees pay for their alluring fragrance with citrus and floral notes. Besides using whole kaffir lime leaves in Thai soups and curries, another way to use the leaves is as a very fine chiffonade.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

The tender fresh leaves are ideal for cutting into fine chiffonade then adding to fish cakes or salads. There is no substitute nor any other ingredients that can truly imitate the alluring fragrance and flavor of kaffir limes. To avoid frustration, I keep a pound of frozen kaffir limes in my freezer for emergencies and for convenience, but I use fresh ones any time they are available at the store. I seldom chiffonade frozen kaffir lime leaves.

Thai Hua Mok batter wrapped in banana leaves ready for steaming

Thai Kitchen Apprentice

My mom is famous for Hua Mok – steamed fish cake in banana leaves. I was so proud of how people in the village raved about her Hua Mok that I found an opportunity to make her my business partner. I asked her to make Hua Mok and I would sell them right after school, around 4 to 5pm. That way people in the villages could purchase them for a snack or as a main dish for their family. She agreed and I became an apprentice cook at her side. The valuable lesson I learned was to shred the kaffir lime leaves into the finest slivers. A fine chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves is a high point of Thai cuisine, so it is important to be patient and to practice cutting the leaves; there is no compromise. The fine chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves is incorporated into many recipes: Tod Mun (fried fish cake), Hua Mok (steamed fish cake in banana leaves), Kao Yum (rice salad), Pla (spicy Thai herbal salad with meat, poultry or seafood), Phanang curry and Chu Chi curry. These are traditional Thai dishes that are always served with generous amounts of fine chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves on top.

I took the three pictures below when I visited Koh Kred, an island village of ethnic Mon people outside of Bangkok. For me, Koh Kred is a culinary treasure island. It is famous for traditional fried fish cake or steamed fish cake. Both recipes use extreme amounts of fine slivered kaffir lime leaves. In Koh Kred I visited Pha (Thai for Auntie) Mu and savored her steamed fish cake in banana leaves. She also kindly let me take her picture as she spent her time chiffonading kaffir lime leaves while selling her Hua Mok.

Kaffir lime leaves are stacked before being made into a finely shredded chiffonade

To chiffonade, layer three to four kaffir lime leaves and fold, then, holding them tightly, use a sharp knife to thinly slice them (see picture below). I tell my students that I often cut the air seven times to control my knife then I may succeed with three perfect fine slivers. There are two errors you are likely to make while cutting: one is cutting the air instead of the leaves, the other is cutting too big a slice. Cutting the air indicates that you are close to perfection. When the leaves are too old and tough, I would prefer not to chiffonade them at all – eating one will feel like you’ve eaten a fish bone. Only the tender fresh kaffir lime leaves are good for this.

I have posted many photos to give you a good sense of how Thai cuisine depends on the flavor of the kaffir limes and kaffir lime leaves. Today kaffir lime leaves are easy to find in America and around the world. I hope I have inspired you to incorporate this alluring citrusy sense and flavor in your cooking. You can use kaffir lime in practically everything!

Pha Moo is making a chiffonade of Kaffir lime leaves

Pha Moo spends many hours chiffonading her kaffir lime leaves as there is no shortcut for this step. Often, when I make a fine chiffonade in a classroom, students who are across the room will pause as they notice the alluring fragrance. The food’s citrusy taste is easily noticeable and appreciated.

Pha Moo’s famous steamed fish cake

Pha Moo’s steamed fish cakes are so scrumptious. Her regular customers come from the neighborhood and from Bangkok.

Tod Mun Pla and Tod Mun Khai Nok Katha – Fish Cake and Quail Eggs

Koh Kred Tod Mun Pla is packed full of herbs. Besides kaffir lime, Noh Kala, a local rhizome is added to the fish paste.

Pho Noodle Soup with Chicken, with fine fresh shredded chili and kaffir Lime

A famous Pho Noodle stall in Hanoi provides a fine chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves and Thai chili for customers to add to the Pho Ga, Chicken Noodle Soup.

Shredded kaffir lime leaves is one of the ingredients in Amok curry paste

Please click photo for Kroeung Khmer curry paste recipe

In Siem Reap, Cambodia at Le Tigre De Papier cooking class, a member of my tour learned how to add kaffir lime leaves to Khmer curry paste.

Pla Gai, Thai herbal salad in lime juice with fine slivers of kaffir lime leaves

In Phuket, the BoatHouse Cooking School teaches students to make a fine chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves for Pla Salad.

Phuket Spicy Devil Soup – Tom Prade Gai at Palai Seafood Restaurant

Coconut and Turmeric Curry of Blue Swimmer Crab with Southern Lime

Coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with southern lime at Nahm Restaurant in Bangkok by David Thompson

Southern Thai Rice Salad with Mixed Herbs

Please click photo to see Pranee’s Southern Thai Rice Salad Recipe

Pranee’s Salmon Fish Cake – Tod Mun Pla Salmon

Please click photo for Pranee’s Salmon Fish Cake Recipe

Kaffir lime leaves are available fresh or frozen in Asian markets, at the PCC Natural Markets, and from online stores. For fun facts and recipes, please also check kaffirlimeleaves.com

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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A Gift from My Thai Kitchen

Creating a homemade gift is a wonderful way to express your heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your friends, families or associates. Every year I like to come up with something from my kitchen that will interest the recipients and be easy for them to love, such as curry paste, chutney, chili jam or seasoning salt—there are plenty of ideas.

Thai Yellow Rice Pilaf – A Gift from My Thai Kitchen

This year it works out well for me to choose an old project—making a rice pilaf mix. This is something that I did with my son’s fourth grade classmates as a parent volunteer project, though this time my rice mix recipe is reconstructed from two favorite Thai rice dishes. You may recognize Thai Yellow Curry Fried Rice with Pineapple (Kao Phad Sapparos) and my favorite Southern dish, Phuket Chicken Baryani Rice (Kao Mok Gai). I trust that you will enjoy this versatile recipe often. My plan is to give the rice mix as a gift to friends and family, but it also makes a good side dish combined with leftover turkey. Right after Thanksgiving will be a great time for you to try out the recipe before making up the mix to give as a gift.

Thai Yellow Curry Rice Pilaf Mix

The rice dish made from the mix can also be called a rice pilaf, a traditional Persian dish, as I applied the science of baking rice  in the oven instead of using the traditional Thai method of preparing it in a rice cooker or steamer. The recipe below has so much potential that you can add any vegetable you desire, just like in a rice pilaf. Following an American Holiday theme I use craisins instead of pineapple or raisins, which will be fun cooked with leftover turkey or served as a side dish with turkey. So make it fun and be creative with your own accent. I hope you have a chance to create a rice mix for a friend or simply pack a few boxes to take with you to your cabin. Let’s celebrate with a gift from our kitchens!

Jasmine Rice

First start with the uncooked rice, then add the spices, dried fruits and nuts. Keep it simple and creative.

Thai Yellow Curry Rice Pilaf Mix

 

How to Make Thai Yellow Curry Rice Pilaf Mix

I purchased large quantities of all of the ingredients below and containers from the packaging specialty store. This recipe makes one gift package which will serve four as a main dish or eight as a side dish.

1 two-cup container or a one-quart ziplock bag
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons jasmine, long grain or basmati rice
2 tablespoons dried chopped onions
1 to 2 tablespoons madras curry powder
½ cup chopped or 20 whole raw cashew nuts or almonds
1 teaspoon salt
3 bay leaves
¼ cup each craisins, cranberries and dried pineapple

Place all ingredients in the container or ziplock bag in this order: jasmine rice, dried chopped onion, curry powder, cashew nuts, salt and bay leaves. Cover the container or ziplock bag and seal well, then add printing cooking directions (see below). Add some gift wrap or a bow and your gift is ready.

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Thai Yellow Curry Rice Pilaf with Tomato and Onion

(Cut the instruction-recipe below and insert in the rice pilaf box)

Thai Yellow Curry Rice Pilaf

Cooking Instructions

Serves: 4 as a main dish or 8 as a side dish

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 package Thai Yellow Curry Rice Pilaf Mix
1 2/3 cup water or chicken stock
4 cooked chicken thighs with bone in and skin on, or 4 pieces leftover turkey with bone in and skin on
¼ cup sweet chili sauce, as accompaniment
1 English cucumber, sliced  for accompaniment
2 tomatoes, sliced for accompaniment
1 cup cilantro leaves for accompaniment
 

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat a Dutch oven or an oven-proof pan that comes with a tight lid on the stove top over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add canola oil and the Thai Yellow Curry Rice Pilaf Mix.  Stir the mixture until it becomes fragrant and the rice grains turn opaque, about 30 seconds, being careful not to let it burn. Stir in water or chicken broth. Place chicken or leftover turkey in with the rice and the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover the pan and place it in the center of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes without opening the lid.

Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes without opening the lid at all. Then stir it once to mix cooked rice together and put the lid back on. You can keep it warm in the oven at 100°F until it is ready to serve, but not longer than 30 minutes. Serve with accompaniment on the side.

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Leftover turkey makes an excellent Kao Mok Gai or twice-cooked chicken in rich spices rice pilaf.

© 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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Living the Fantasy

Northwest Comice Pear

I love pear salad and lately I have been seeing local pears everywhere! After enjoying pears prepared many different ways in restaurants and at a potluck dinner, I began fantasizing about creating a Thai pear salad. Then I had dinner two months ago at the Typhoon Thai Restaurant in Redmond and ordered their sumptuous pear salad—a well-balanced combination of palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce dressing with fried dry shrimp and cashew nuts for texture. I loved the crisper textured pear that was used. After seeing the creation designed by Chef Bo, the executive chef and owner of Typhoon, I was determined to come up with my own.

I started with the theme of a pear and walnut salad, but added some interesting flavors. First I decided to use a Comice pear. It is buttery-sweet and has a soft texture that allows the pear juice to mix in well with the salad dressing. Then I thought about the nut part of the salad. Walnuts are a traditional addition to American pear salads, and what came to my mind was coconut milk-palm sugar candied walnuts with a hint of Asian spice. They turned out great, with even greater potential for future cooking. I added these ingredients to my shopping list, but it was only when I was at the market that my salad really took shape. I picked up a 5-ounce box of herb salad mix and one bunch of fresh cilantro to provide the base for a mixed salad with a nice Asian touch. Then I chose an orange bell pepper for color. I would julienne it so thin that it would lace around the pear and no longer taste like bell pepper, but when mixed in with the salad dressing it would provide contrasting color as well as a gentle crunch. Finally I chose some shallots, something which my Thai family and I always put in salads.

Pear Preparation

Palm Sugar Candied Walnuts

Palm Sugar Candied Walnuts

2 tablespoons coconut nut milk
2 tablespoons palm sugar
2 pinches cardamom powder
1 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Lay parchment paper over baking sheet.

To make quick and easy caramel, combine coconut milk, palm sugar and cardamom powder in a small saucepan and stir well. Place on a burner over high heat. When the mixture has thickened, about 3 minutes, remove from the heat and stir in walnuts until they are well covered with caramel. Pour the walnuts onto the parchment paper and spread them out. Put in the oven and bake until golden, about 8 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Calamansi - ส้มจี๊ด

Calamansi – ส้มจี๊ด

In the U.S. you can grow calamansi, a citrus fruit, as an ornamental house plant. In Seattle, I purchased frozen Golden Calamansi juice from the Philippines in a package of twelve .5-ounce  packets. I was so delighted to learn that calamasi is related to both of my favorite citrus families: kumquats and mandarins, and I thought it would make an excellent emergency substitute for lime juice. And then I discovered by chance that the calamansi juice in my freezer provided the perfect zing for my pear salad. The aromatic, gentle, sweet and sour calamansi citrus juice was my choice for the sour agent for this salad. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, however, so on my second attempt at this pear salad I created a substitute for calamansi juice that will turn out quite divine, though not so heavenly as with calamansi juice. I used 1½ tablespoons lemon juice and 1½ tablespoons of freshly squeezed orange juice, then I decided to zest the orange peel to get ¼ teaspoon orange zest to add citrus aromatics to the juice.

Now that my fantasy of a pear salad is laid out with all its mouth-watering components, let’s get cooking and living the fantasy! Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Pear Salad with Calamansi Salad Dressing and Palm Sugar Candied Walnut

Thai Pear Salad with Goodies

I love pear salad. It is the sweet and fragrance of  the pear that makes it so appealing and it is easy to blend in any citrus sour-sweet dressing. I love to add a little bit of fish sauce in my Thai salad dressing for the depth of the flavor. Combining lemon and orange juice makes a good substitute for calamasi juice and brown sugar is a good substitute for palm sugar in this recipe. Therefore, I hope you can make this recipe work without an extra trip to  an Asian market. I hope you have a chance to create this dish anytime and especially to share with family and friends as a Thanksgiving salad. Cheers!

Serves: 6
 
1 (5-ounce) package fresh herb salad mix
½ cup cilantro leaves
4  tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly crushed black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon brown or palm sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 tablespoons calamansi juice (or 1½ tablespoons lemon juice plus 1½ tablespoons orange juice and ¼ teaspoon orange zest)
1 orange bell pepper, thinly sliced 
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
3 comice pears, peeled, halved, cored and sliced
1 cup palm sugar candied walnuts,  from recipe above

Combine fresh herb salad mix and cilantro leaves together in a salad bowl, then pour 1 tablespoon olive oil over the greens, gently combining them by hand until they are well-coasted with olive oil. Place on 6 salad plates.

To make Calamansi salad dressing, whisk together remaining olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, fish sauce and calamansi juice in a large bowl until well-blended. Gently fold in bell pepper, shallots and pears, then place pear salad equally over the greens. Garnish with the candied walnuts.

Pear Salad Ingredients

 
© 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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Early Bird

A Magical Sunrise Over Angkor Wat

In 2010, I took a short but memorable expedition into Siem Reap, a city and province in northwestern Cambodia. The night before it began I arranged for a motor-tricycle to take two friends and me to Angkor Wat, the temple complex built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. We left our hotel around 5am while it was still pitch black. We arrived at Angkor Wat and with a flashlight found a perfect spot, facing east, with the giant shadow of Angkor Wat in front of us. Hundreds of tourists were there to witness the magical sunrise that arises from behind the complex. All eyes were focused on the silhouette of Angkor Wat where the warm, changing shades of sunrise were at play until the sun was completely up.

Early morning scene around Angkor Wat

Early morning life in the countryside around Angkor Wat and the town of Siem Reap is beautiful and serene. For visitors there is no better way to learn about the country than to watch the locals go about their day. A herd of birds flew out from their nests and the locals accomplished a great deal between dawn and noon. The woman in the picture above had bundled dried branches into brushes which she carried by bicycle to sell at the local market.

A friendly local sells mudfish for Amok Curry and Prahok, both national dishes

A lively place to visit early in the morning is the local market. The Psah Chas (Old Market) is not to be missed by visitors to Siem Reap. I found a place in the market that served coffee and joined the locals for the Khmer national breakfast—a fish curry with fresh herbs and rice noodles. I used sign language and a smile to order the dish. This curried noodle dish is identical to a Thai dish called Khanom Jean, though milder. Giant mudfish are a popular fish for all fish dishes including Amok, Khmer fish curry stew, and prahok, a fermented fish paste. The Psah Chas Old Market is a great place to learn Khmer Cuisine Ingredients 101.

Psah Chas Old Market, Siem Reap

After admiring all the fresh vegetables, fruits and staple ingredients, I purchased many packages of Amok Curry Powder to take home for myself and my foodie friends. The powder is made for tourists, and can be bought at the Psah Chas Old Market or at the Siem Reap Airport. Most of the produce I found at the market was the same as in Thailand.

Pan-fried Sea-bass with Amok Curry Powder

At home in Seattle lately I have been pan-frying all kinds of fish, from salmon to catfish, and they’ve all turned out delicious. Above is the pan-fried sea bass with Amok Curry Powder that I prepared for my family the other day. They loved its instant flavor of Southeast Asia, so I felt it was time to share this recipe and story with you. No matter how much time passes, the flavor of Amok curry and my memories of Siem Reap will always be with me.

Kroeung, Khmer Curry Paste Ingredients

From 12 noon clockwise: lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, shallot, Kaffir lime leaf and galangal. Center: red spur and Thai chilies

Amok Curry Powder

This creation was inspired by my March 2010 trip to Cambodia when I purchased many bottles of Amok Curry Powder. I used the powder on salmon and sea bass and really loved the citrus and lemongrass flavors and the combustion caused by the combination of flavors. I spent over a year trying to come up with my own combination by simply following the structure of Khmer curry paste ingredients shown in the photo above. Now I would say that my Amok Curry Powder is quite good. It can be enjoyed as a spice rub over any fish or seafood for a quick and easy dish. Above is a photograph of my Amok Curry Powder sprinkled over sea bass, which was then pan-fried and served with stir-fried peas. The simplicity of this dish and the good fresh fish let the Siem Reap Amok flavor stand out. Together they go a long way in anyone’s kitchen.

¼ teaspoon black pepper flakes
½ teaspoon Thai chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic granules
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon galangal powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons lemongrass powder
1 teaspoon Kaffir lime leaf powder

Combine black pepper flakes, Thai Chili powder, garlic granules, turmeric powder, galangal powder, sea salt and lemongrass powder in a small bowl. Store in a spice jar for up to 2 weeks. For freshness, keep the mixture in the freezer, or mix just enough spices for a single use. Spices stay fresh longer if they are stored separately rather than combined.

Pranee’s note: To make galangal, Kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass powders, purchase these ingredients in the dry form—or make your own—and grind them n a spice grinder. Please look for Pranee’s future post on how to make dried lemongrass powder.

© 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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Dragon Crystal Ball – แก้วมังกร

Last Tuesday a friend and I prepared a tropical fruit salad together in her kitchen to test a version of my versatile Thai mixed fruit salad recipe. It is a recipe that I have made countless times and the results are always good, though never the same due to seasonal inspirations. This time I focused on just three different kinds of fruit, each high in anti-oxidants and at their peak fresh in the market. Tropical fruits have so many potential healthy benefits, I loved creating a recipe of the moment for you to enjoy. This combination of dragon fruit, papaya and Thai grapefruit is unique; I hope that you enjoy the recipe. It works really well with all fruits, so let’s play with tropical fruits!

Dragon Fruit in a fruit tray at my family's Chinese New Year altar

Dragon Fruit  (Hylocereus undatus) is also known as red Pitaya, or in Thailand we call it Kaeo Mangkon – แก้วมังกร. The most commonly-seen “dragon fruit” in the market is a red-skinned fruit with white flesh. There are two more varieties, one with red skin and red fruit and another with yellow skin and white fruit, but the red skin and white fruit with black seeds is the most common.

Dragon Fruit - Pitaya

Dragon Crystal Ball – แก้วมังกร

Dragon Fruit is native to Central American and its neighboring areas. It came to Southeast Asia about a century ago and is believed to have been brought to Vietnam by French missionaries. It is now very popular throughout Southeast Asia where there is an ideal tropical climate to grow this cactus-like green plant with its abundance of large flowers that become the red fruit. Because of its beautiful looks and auspicious name, dragon fruit is often seen in Thailand and Vietnam on ancestor altars or being presented to a friend as a gift. It is quite dramatic looking both inside and out.

Dicing Dragon Fruit Flesh

Dragon fruit is easy to prepare. After trimming off the top and bottom, cut the fruit in half then use your thumb and pointer finger to press the skin away from the fruit; it will peel off easily. From there cut the fruit into the desired shape. The flavor is not dramatic compared to its appearance. The fruit is similar in someways to a kiwi fruit, but the texture is denser. It has a gentle sweet-sour taste and the seeds, which look like black sesame seeds, provide a fun texture. Dragon fruit’s texture, unique look, and unassertive taste combine to make it a star in this mixed-fruit salad.

Dicing Papaya

This deep rich yellow-orange papaya is so delicious and creamy. I was careful to add it gently into the salad, mixing just enough so that the papaya flavors become well combined with the dragon fruit and Thai grapefruit.

Som Oh - Thai Grapefruit

Pomelo, the third ingredient in my salad, is also known as Asian or Thai grapefruit. It adds a citrusy sweet and sour flavor to the salad. In America, pomelo is available in the markets for many months beginning in September. Please check my blog post on Pomelo Salad with Crab to learn about Thai grapefruit and how to open them.

Dragon fruit, papaya and Thai grapefruit salad

Thai Mixed Fruit Salad with Dragon Fruit 

Som Tum Pollamai Kao Mangkon

ส้มตำผลไม้แก้วมังกร

Servings: 6    Preparation: 15 minutes     Cooking time: 5 minutes

Som Tum Pollamai has become a trendy dish in Thailand over the last few years, even though it has been known for centuries. It is simply a fruit salad with an accent of Thai herbal flavors and aromas. Dragon fruit, papaya and pomelo make a great combination because they give you a great anti-oxidant boost and much more. My friend commented that this would make a great fruit dish for a holiday brunch as well as being fun to serve at a poker party because the cubed dragon fruit look so much like dice. 

6 cups mixed seasonal fruits, peeled and cut into small bite-size cubes
4 tablespoons brown sugar or palm sugar
2-3 tablespoons lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemongrass, thinly sliced (see Pranee’s Youtube video demonstration how to prepare lemongrass)
3 Kaffir lime leaves whole, or 1 tablespoon lime peel
1 cup mint leaves

Mix sugar, lime juice and salt together in a small bowl and stir well. Place the mixed fruits in a large salad bowl, then sprinkle the liquid mixture over the fruit; toss gently but thoroughly until the dressing and fruits are well combined. Chill in the refrigerator for at least a half-hour to let it sit and develop flavor. Before serving, add lemongrass, Kaffir lime or lime peels and mint and mix gently. Garnish with mint leaves or short stalks of lemongrass as desired.

Cook note: Other fruits that go well together include apple, pear, guava, cantaloupe, pineapple, Som Oh (Thai grapefruit) or any citrus fruits, grapes, melon, honeydew melon, banana, strawberry and half grated green mango.

© 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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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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Under a Tamarind Tree

Tamarind branches provide shade for animal and people

The tamarind tree (Tamarindus Indica L) is a large tree that can grow to be 80 to 100 feet tall. Native to Africa, it was introduced to Southeast Asia and South America where it is now well established. From India to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippine, Malaysia and Indonesia, tamarind trees play a significant role in Southeast Asian cuisine and culture. I have been fortunate to have traveled to Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam and have seen how our cultures and cuisines have evolved in almost the same ways around tamarind trees and their fruit.

young tamarind leaves

The tamarind tree bears leaves and flowers that can be cooked like vegetables.

Tamarind pods

When the fruits are green, we snack or pickle them. The mature brown pods are made into a candy or kept for cooking. My grandmother loved adding a young tamarind leaf to her fish soup, and she also cleaned her brass ware with tamarind until it was shiny and pinkish. When I was young I loved playing with tamarind flowers. They were small, but have a beautiful orchid-like flower. The wood from tamarind tree is perfect for making a butcher block or cutting board. And most importantly of all, the large tamarind tree provides shade and a social gathering place during the day.

Shops under tamarind tree, Myanmar

One of the first things you will want to learn about cooking with tamarind is how to turn a dry tamarind fruit paste or fruit pulp into a concentrate form that is ready to use in daily cooking. You won’t have any problem finding tamarind paste to buy;  it is abundant in Asian and Latino markets. In southern Thailand we use tamarind concentrate in dipping sauces, sorbets, salad dressings, chutney, beverages, peanut sauce, stir-fry sauce, curry, soup, and any dish that needs a gentle acidic flavor to heighten it. You can also find new ways of your own to use this fruity, acidic concentrate; below are several photos of dishes from my hometown to give you ideas.Tamarind is one of the ingredients in Worcestershire sauce, but there is not a perfect substitute for it as the fruity flavor of tamarind is so unique.

Tamarind Fruit is a Heart of Southeast Asian Cooking

Chicken Soup with Tamarind Added for Sour Flavor

Above is my home town spicy soup similar to Tom Kha Gai (chicken sweet and sour soup with galangal and coconut milk). Tamarind gives the soup a nice gentle sour and refreshing taste.

Pomelo Salad with Prawns, Fried Shallots and Tamarind Dressing

Tamarind concentrate is used in salad dressings to add a nice layer of flavors to a fruit salad. When combines with palm sugar, it provides a sophisticated  balance to the flavors.

Grilled Jackfish with Phuket Tamarind Sauce

Phuket’s signature tamarind sauce (Nam Jim Makham) for grilled jackfish over charcoal husks.

Kai Leuk Koey - Son-in-law eggs

The famous Thai Kai Look Keuy, Son-In-Law Eggs, has a well-balanced, gentle and fruity sour taste from tamarind, the sweet of palm sugar, a highlight of fish sauce, and the excitement of a few pinches of chili powder. It also has umami—or savoriness—one of the five basic tastes together with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Phad Thai with Tamarind Sauce

Tamarind concentrate is an important part of Phad Thai, the renowned dish of Thailand. We can’t call it Phad Thai without tamarind concentrate!

Sour Curry Prawns with Cha-Om Omelette

Sour curry is a non-coconut curry soup.  Tamarind is an important part of the fish broth that gives the sour curry fish or seafood a harmonious balance. It’s flavor profile combines fruity, sour-sweet, and spicy.

Stir-Fried Prawns in Tamarind Sauce

 Stir-fried prawns with tamarind sauce is another signature dish from Phuket.

Tamarind Candy from Thailand

Tamarind Fruit 

Makham มะขาม

Thailand ranks first in the world in the production of Tamarind and has the largest tamarind plantation in the world. Tamarind fruits resemble brown, flat, fava beans. When ripe, the fruit has a long, dark-brown pod with 5 to 8 seeds. Remove the shell, vein and seeds to get the dried and sometimes sticky fruit flesh. It will stay fresh for a year.

Two varieties of tamarind from Thailand are available in the US markets. One of them is the sweet variety, which you seldom see. It comes in a beautiful box with many good looking brown pods that you can crack open and eat like any dried fruit. It has a sweet fruity taste, reminiscent of dried apricots.

Tamarind pods, tamarind concentrate and tamarind paste

The sour variety of tamarind is the most common and the most important for Thai and Southeast Asia cooking. It is available in Asian markets either as a package of dried fruit in a 16-ounce rectangular brick, or ready to use in a plastic jar. The three forms of tamarind are shown in the photo above.  The dried fruit form give a purer sour flavor and doesn’t need refrigeration. The concentrate form must be kept in the refrigerator or freezer until ready for use. There is no best substitute for tamarind.

How to make a ready-to-use tamarind concentrate

Nam Makham

น้ำมะขาม

Yield: 2 cups

8 ounces tamarind flesh, about half of a 16-ounce package
2 1/2 cups boiling water

Place the chunk of tamarind into a large bowl, then pour boiling water over it and let it sit until the water is cool enough to handle. Massage and squeeze the tamarind in the water with both hands so the water and hands rub the tamarind to make a thick concentrate; the pulp and liquid should resemble a thick soup. Strain liquid though a large sieve into a medium pot. Squeeze the tamarind to get out all of the liquid, then discard the solid. Bring the strained liquid to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Store and keep in refrigerator for two weeks, or in the freezer for 6 months.

Pranee’s note: To be safe, I recommend only using Tamarind grown in Thailand in my recipes.

© 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 Las Delicias with Love

It was Mother’s Day, May 8, 2011, when I arrived as part of a team of eight gracious women in the Nicaraguan village of Las Delicias. The village is situated in the hilly northern area in the Matagalpa region and is surrounded by coffee plantations. We were there with the organization BuildOn to present  the community with a new school on behalf of many generous donors from the United States.

May 8, 2011, Las Delicias

The welcoming and celebrating event was an indescribably heart-warming experience. It took place right on the grounds of the future school. For the next four days, our host families shared their food, their houses and their children with us and our lives were enriched by their culture, foods and hospitality.

Dinner with Rice, banana and bean

Jacqualee, one of my group members, and I were fortunate to have Thelma and Ricardo and their daughter Helene as our host family. A typical day began around 5:30am with the sound of Thelma’s tortilla-making or the rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo. Then we would have breakfast at 7am before going to work on the building project with local volunteers. A typical meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner was corn tortillas, rice, bananas, and beans, accompanied by either eggs or chicken.

Jacqualee and I were very excited when Thelma and Ricardo asked if we could teach them the cuisine we ate back home. We happily agreed and I cooked up the menu with Jacqualee. I wanted something practical that Thelma would enjoy cooking for her family and that would use ingredients that were available in her backyard or the local market—forget about Tom Yum Goong and fancy Thai dishes. We decided on Son-In-Law Eggs, Mango Salad and Sweet Rice, Bananas & Beans Wrapped in Banana Leaf.

Banana leaf just right outside

We started with Kao Tom Mud. First Ricardo helped with cutting the banana leaf from the tree which was right outside in their yard. I removed the stems and tore the leaves into pieces 8 inches wide, then cleaned them well with a damp cloth to remove dirt. I only had to show Thelma once how to use the banana leaf for wrapping, then she took over the task with confidence. We made enough of them to give some to her neighbor.

While it was in the steamer, we prepared mango salad and son-in-law eggs. While we were cooking, Danilo, our translator, translated our cooking lesson from English into Spanish. Danilo helped me explain the most important part of Thai cooking was the harmonious blend of the four essential flavors of Thai cooking: sweet, sour, salty and spicy. The sweet was the sugar, the sour available to us was mango and two citrus juices, the spicy was Nicaraguan chili and, the salty was salt and the salty peanut that Jacqualee brought from home. I loved listening to Danilo speaking in Spanish explaining to Thelma about sweet, sour, salty and spicy. It was one of the highlights for me personally and professionally, and cooking for Thelma and Ricardo gave us a chance to thank them for their warm welcome to their home.

Thelma wrapped rice, banana and bean with banana leaf

I have used my recipe below countless times in cooking classes. It is basically a two-stage process. In the first stage, the sticky rice cooks until it has a sticky texture but it is still grainy and raw and is ideal for wrapping around a banana. It is pliable like playdough to form or shape and then it gets wrapped by the banana leaf. The second stage is the actual cooking of Kao Tom Mud, which is generally done by steaming. We steamed the rice and banana all the way through, which can take from 30 to 50 minutes. After 30 minutes of steaming, open one up to check if more steaming time is needed.

Kao Tom Mud

In my Seattle kitchen, I love to put the wrap on the grill or in the oven for the second stage, which is how I teach it in my classes. Now that summer is finally here, I hope that you will enjoy preparing this recipe either in a steamer or on your grill. Banana leaves are easy to find in local Asian markets in the freezer section.

I hope that you will enjoy cooking rice, banana, and beans wrapped with banana leaves. You will feel like you are in the tropical countries of Thailand or Nicaragua.

Kao Tom Mud, Steamed Sweet Rice and Banana Wrapped in Banana Leaf

Sweet Rice and Banana Wrapped in Banana Leaf

Kao Tom Mud 

ข้าวต้มมัด

Servings: 8

2 cups Thai sticky rice, soaked for 3 hours or overnight, and drained
¾ cup coconut milk
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, optional
1 cup canned black beans, drained, optional
1 teaspoon salt
2 bananas, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and also crosswise to get 4 pieces from each banana
8 (8 X 8-inch) banana leaves or pieces of parchment paper
 
Stir sticky rice, coconut milk, sugar and salt together in a large pan over medium heat. Stir until all the coconut milk is absorbed. Stir in black beans and fold gently to mix.

Divide sticky rice mixture into 8 equal portions. Spread each portion onto a banana leaf, spreading to cover an area 6 by 4 inches, then place a section of the banana in the center. Fold the banana leaf to wrap the sticky rice around the banana.

Then fold the banana leaf into tamale-like envelope and secure both ends with a toothpick that pokes down and then up through the banana leaf. Grill for 5 minutes on each side, or until the sticky rice is translucent and cooked.

Pranee’s note:

If banana leaf is not available, you can use parchment paper. See Pranee’s Grill Sticky Rice in Bamboo Tube Recipe for details.

Pulut Lapa

Image by chooyutshing via Flickr

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Playing with Food: Cassava

Cassava-Sweet Potato Pancake, a delicious Thai Dessert

I noticed recently that I have told my students to play with food in almost every class. I hope they have. After learning all the essential tips and techniques, the way to become a good cook is by experiencing the ingredients and having fun.

On the weekends, I clean up the fridge and cook creatively.  This weekend I had fresh cassava and sweet potato leftover from my class. While I was holding them in my hand, I heard an echo of Rösti. Rösti is a fried, grated potato dish made in Switzerland. I made a quick decision and at almost the same time my hand reached to turn on the oven to 450°F. I will heat up my well-seasoned 8-inch cast iron pan and make this quick & easy Thai dessert, Rösti style.

Cooking with cassavas is not hard at all. After grating the cassava, Thai simply add enough sugar to sweeten to taste, and some salt to bridge the flavor; a bit of coconut milk can also be added to heighten the flavor. Then the mixture is steamed and grilled until it is cooked and translucent. But something new today that I haven’t tried before is adding grated sweet potato. Why not? It was perfect. I used about 2 parts cassava to 1 part sweet potato. The glutinous property of cassava helps the sweet potato hold up nicely, and the sweet potato gives a nice orange color and sweet compliment to the dish.

Learn something new while playing with food and discover a new excitement and a sweet reward to the lesson. Cassava-Sweet Potato Pancake makes a perfect snack or dessert with light herbal tea.

Cassava - Sweet Potato Pancake

Cassava – Sweet Potato Pancake

Khanom Man Sumpalang Oop

มันสำปะหลังมันเทศแพนเค้ก

Servings: 6-8

2 cups grated cassava, fresh or frozen (if fresh , use a 10-inch-long cassava and remove the skin before grating)
1 cup grated sweet potato, about 1 small or medium
1/2 cup palm sugar or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons coconut milk
2 tablespoon rice flour, optional
1 tablespoon cooking oil
 
Preheat the oven to 450 F.
 
Combine grated cassava, sweet potato, sugar, salt, coconut milk and rice flour in a large bowl; stir until well mixed.
 
Heat 8-inch cast iron pan on medium heat and cover the entire surface with cooking oil. Pour cassava-sweet potato pancake mixture into the pan and spread out evenly. Place uncovered in the center of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the bottom is crusty brown. Then turn the oven to broil and place the pan right underneath. The top of the pancake should be 6 inches below the heat source. Remove when the top is brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it! A nice crusty brown is the most delicious part of the cake. Let the pancake rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or cold.
Cassava (yuca) roots, the Taínos' main crop

Image via Wikipedia

Pranee’s Thai Kitchen note:

Cassava is a root from the Cassava or Tapioca Plant (Manihot esculenta Crantz). It is a bushy plant that grows to about 3 meters tall. It is an annual plant with underground food-storing root-tubers. The tuber is large and long with a dark brown skin and pink underneath to protect and keep the white flesh moist. In Thailand, cassava is usually boiled or roasted and serve with sugar. It also is made into various sweets combined with grated coconut and/or coconut milk and sugar. Raw cassava is poisonous, but when cooked it became a delicious dessert.  Pearl tapioca and tapioca starch and flour are all products of cassava roots.

© 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 .




Read Full Post »

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