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Archive for the ‘Thai Ingredient 101’ Category

Stink Bean: Top Ten Facebook Photo

Can you smell that? Stink bean, called sator in Thai – สะตอ – is also known as Parkia or Petai. It is a flat edible bean that is large, but dense in texture. Whether fresh or cooked, it has a taste and aroma similar to asparagus, but 3 to 5 times more powerful. You may never have heard of it or seen it before. Sator looks a like a large fava bean but is found on a large tree that only grows in southern Thailand, the neighboring countries south of Thailand, and near the equator. At home in Thailand, I have 55 Sator trees in various stages of development. It happens to be a native plant that survives on hilly mountains and thrives side by side with my durian tree. A perfect pair, stinky fruits and stink bean.

The scientific term for sator is Parkia speciosa. One cluster has from 3 to 15 pods and each pod can have 6 to 16 beans. Sator, like asparagus, has an amino acid that is responsible for the noticeable smell. Southerners, like my family and friends, are delighted when the short sator season finally arrives and they prepare and share sator dishes and photos. Below is a picture my niece posted on Facebook on May 30th; many of my friends and other chefs from Thailand did the same. Perhaps the famous smell of this rare edible bean is precious for those who value its deliciousness and take culinary pride in this special bean.

Phad Phed Sator Goong – ผัดเผ็ดสะตอกุ้ง

One of many food photos of a stink bean dish. This is one my niece posted on Facebook. The dish was prepared by my sister Rudee. It is a one dish meal of Stir-fried Spicy Stink Beans with Prawns served over steamed jasmine rice.

The middle of May is the beginning of sator season in southern Thailand. As the bean starts to make its appearance, sator fans get so excited. The most famous stink bean dish of all is Phad Phed Sator Goong – Stir-fried Sator with Prawns.

Sator and durian grow side by side in Phuket

Sator, สะตอ, grows wild in Phuket, a twisted cluster bean that grows on a tall tree, often side by side with durian.

What is Sator, Parkia or Petai?

It is an honor to once again present you with a local dish cooked by a local home cook, my friend Varunee who also teaches southern cooking on my culinary tour. Varunee will present you with Phad Phed Sator Phuket – Stir-fried Spicy Stink Bean with Prawns, Phuket Style. This is the way my mom and her mom and the local people in Phuket would cook it in their kitchens for family and friends. Please feel free to modify the recipe to suit your liking. There is no substitute for sator, however you can enjoy this recipe with any seafood or with other vegetables such as asparagus, fava beans or edamame for a similar texture.

Phad Phed Sator (Parkia) Goong – ผัดเผ็ดสะตอกุ้ง

Stir-fried Spicy Stink Beans with Prawns, Phuket Style

Phad Phed Sator Goong Phuket

ผัดเผ็ดสะตอกุ้งภูเก็ต

Serves: 4

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons Phuket red curry paste, or any brand from Thailand
1 teaspoon shrimp paste, optional (omit it if you use Mae Ploy Brand red curry paste)
8 prawns, shelled and deveined
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon palm sugar or brown sugar
1/2 cup Sator or Parkia beans, fresh or frozen
3 Kaffir lime leaves, center vein removed 

Heat a wok on high heat until it is hot, pour in vegetable oil and then stir in garlic, curry paste and shrimp paste. Stir well until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in prawns and stir for 30 seconds. Pour in water. Stir well until curry paste and oil are well-combined and prawns are cooked well in the sauce. Stir in soy sauce. Stir in palm sugar until well-combined.

Fold the Kaffir lime leaves lengthwise, remove the vein, then add the leaves to the wok. Stir in sator. Stir back and forth until the sator is partially cooked. Be careful not to overcook the prawns or the sator, which doesn’t need to be cooked very long. A shorter time is better for sator to keep its crunchy texture. Remove Kaffir leaves. Serve hot with steamed jasmine rice.

Please see instructions and photos below for cooking step by step.

Varunee shows you how to prepare her Phad Phet Sator Goong Phuket Style

 

My friend Varunee will show you how to prepare a famous Phuket dish Phad Phed Sator Goong, Stir-fried Spicy Stink Beans and Prawns, Phuket Style. Please enjoy her cooking.

Red curry paste and shrimp paste

In Phuket there are two kinds of red curry paste. One is for coconut-based curry and one is for stir-fries without coconut milk or with very little—just about 2 to 4 tablespoons coconut milk to make the sauce or to tone down the spicy level of the dish. Please do not be overly concerned with this level of complication, use Mae Ploy or Thai kitchen brands as you wish. For the best results, I recommend my Phuket Red Curry Paste Recipe.

Cooking oil and curry paste

Heat a wok on high heat until it is hot, pour in vegetable oil and then stir in garlic, curry paste and shrimp paste.

Phad Phed Sator (Parkia) Goong – ผัดเผ็ดสะตอกุ้ง

Stir in prawns and stir for 30 seconds.

Phad Phed Sator (Parkia) Goong – ผัดเผ็ดสะตอกุ้ง

Then pour in water and stir well until curry paste and oil are well-combined, making a good sauce, and the prawns are cooked well.

Phad Phed Sator (Parkia) Goong – ผัดเผ็ดสะตอกุ้ง

Stir in soy sauce.

Phad Phed Sator (Parkia) Goong – ผัดเผ็ดสะตอกุ้ง

Stir in palm sugar until well-combined.

Phad Phed Sator (Parkia) Goong – ผัดเผ็ดสะตอกุ้ง

Fold the Kaffir lime leaves, remove the veins, then add the leaves to the wok.

Stir in Sator – Stink bean

Stir in sator.

Phad Phed Sator Goong – ผัดเผ็ดสะตอกุ้ง

Stir back and forth until the prawns are cooked and sator is partially cooked. Be careful not to overcook the prawns or sator. A shorter time allows sator to keep its crunchy texture.

Credit: Khun Varunee

© 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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Three Best Friends

สามสหาย – Saam Saahai

To consider oneself a Thai cook, one should understand the fundamentals of  Kratiem Prik Thai—garlic-black pepper-cilantro root seasoning paste. Like Nam Prik or chili dip, it is a truly Thai invention without any influences from neighboring countries. Like the classic pesto sauce that originated in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy, Kratiem Prik Thai is a classic Thai culinary seasoning that has been around for as long as the existence of Siam.

Garlic, black pepper and cilantro roots

Pounding a mortar and pestle to make a Kratiem Prik Thai paste is a classic Thai culinary technique, and this paste is prepared practically everyday in every Thai kitchen where it serves as a seasoning for any meat or seafood. There is no need for more herbs than just this awesome three: garlic, black pepper and cilantro root. I like to call them the “three best friends” or, in Thai, สามสหาย – Saam Saahai. They often appear together in Thai recipes. Like The Three Musketeers, they are”All for one, one for all.”

Garlic – Black Pepper – Cilantro Root

Kratiem – Prik Thai- Rark Puk Chee

กระเทียม – พริกไทยดำ – รากผักชี

The Kratiem Prik Thai paste is simply made with just the three main ingredients of garlic, black pepper and cilantro. When balanced with salty and sweet from soy sauce and brown sugar, they deepen the flavor of grilled meat, appetizers, meat patties for soup, or marinades for meat before deep-frying. Then sweet chili sauce and Sriracha hot sauce may be served alongside the meat with a vegetable condiment. I hope you have a chance to learn how to make the Kratiem Prik Thai paste below and experiment with it in your cooking at home, from marinating your steak to adding it into a meat patty or simply sauteing it with seafood for a quick and easy main dish.

Garlic – Black Pepper – Cilantro Root Kratiem – Prik Thai – กระเทียม – พริกไทยดำ – รากผักชี

Place garlic, black pepper and cilantro roots in a mortar.

Garlic – Black Pepper – Cilantro Root, the three ingredients in  Kratiem – Prik Thai – กระเทียม – พริกไทยดำ – รากผักชี

With pestle, pound garlic, black pepper and cilantro root in a medium-size mortar

Garlic – black pepper – cilantro root Kratiem – Prik Thai – กระเทียม – พริกไทยดำ – รากผักชี

until it forms a fine paste, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Garlic, black pepper and cilantro roots with brown sugar and soy sauce: Kratiem – Prik Thai – กระเทียม – พริกไทยดำ – รากผักชี

Add brown sugar and soy sauce and stir in circular motion with pestle until it is well-blended and smooth.

Thai Basic Seasoning Paste

กระเทียม – พริกไทยดำ – รากผักชี

This recipe makes a large quantity. You can store it in the refrigerator and use it as needed, or freeze it in convenient quantities in an ice cube tray. Use 2 tablespoons of the finished paste per pound of meat or seafood as a marinade before grilling or frying. You can also use it as a basic seasoning paste in ground meats cooked for Thai appetizers. Please click on the photo for a link to a recipe for using the paste with seafood or shrimp.

 
Yield: 1/2 cup
 
1 tablespoon black pepper corns, or more
10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
8 cilantro roots or 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro stems
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar
 
Place garlic, black pepper and cilantro roots in a medium size mortar. With pestle, pound the ingredients until they form a fine paste, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add brown sugar and soy sauce and stir in circular motion with the pestle until it well-blended and smooth. Store in a mason jar in the refrigerator for a week, or freeze for up to 6 months. Please see suggestion above on how to incorporate this seasoning paste in your cooking.
 
Alternative preparation method: Place garlic, black pepper, cilantro roots, soy sauce and sugar in a blender and blend until it reaches the desired texture. I like the consistency shown above which still maintains a little texture.
 
Note: Please wait to see my next post when I will discuss in depth how to incorporate Kratiem Prik Thai Rark Puk Chee seasoning in your daily cooking.
 
© 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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From a Thai Village to the Big City

I grew up in a world full of lemongrass and could tell you thousands of stories that evolve around this fragrant herb, from planting and cooking it, to all things related. But I will keep this short and sweet so that you can go straight to my recipes and prepare them.

Lemongrass Paste & Lemongrass Tartar Sauce

Here in Seattle, I always have many lemongrass stalks in my refrigerator—not in the backyard like in Thailand, but both methods work for the Thai cook who wants to be able to add lemongrass to a recipe at a moment’s notice. When I do a hands-on class I make sure students learn how to prepare lemongrass three ways (please watch the video). This lesson results in a lot of leftover lemongrass, which I cook, freeze, or make into a powder. A few days ago my friend was visiting me and our discussion of this and that led us to the kitchen. I wanted to make a pesto-like paste for her to add to her marinade sauce. I decided to stop short of making the lemongrass paste and we wandered off to another topic. The idea for us today is to use up the lemongrass in my fridge and turn it into a versatile form ready to be incorporated into many dishes such as a wet rub for a marinade or a lemongrass tartar sauce to go with fried rock fish for a family dinner.

I wish you fun cooking this summer with the lemongrass paste recipe from my kitchen. First you have to start your lesson at home by learning how to prepare lemongrass for Thai cooking.

Lemongrass Cutting 101 – slicing it right

Click picture to view video on slicing lemongrass by Pranee

Slicing lemongrass properly is an important part of Thai cooking. I hope you spend some time learning the right way to do this and get enough experience to develop a solid technique. Don’t try to save time by slicing lemongrass into bigger pieces because you are using a food processor. The grain of this fibrous plant runs lengthwise of the stalk, so slicing it thinly against the grain is essential. Besides, it provides aroma therapy and a mindful moment in the kitchen!


Lemongrass Paste, Lemongrass Tartar Sauce

Lemongrass Paste 

Lemongrass has a citrus aroma that can blend into any dish. I make a lemongrass paste using extra light olive oil that you can use well beyond Thai cuisine. Like lime and lemon, it blends itself into any cuisine. I spread it out on toast like pesto, or add it to rice, curries, marinades, or just about anything. All become so delightfully fresh. Also, to my amazement, the fragrance of lemongrass and olive oil are divine together.

yield: 1/2 cup

5 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and sliced (please watch Pranee’s Demonstration on YouTube)
1/4 cup extra light olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

Place lemongrass, olive oil and salt in the blender or mini food processor and blend. Use spatula to clean the side to make sure it well mixed. Repeat the process repeat the process several times until getting a smooth texture. Store in a jar, keep in the fridge for a week or up to three months in the freezer.

Lemongrass Tartar Sauce with Dill

Lemongrass Tartar Sauce with Dill

The idea of creating a lemongrass tartar sauce came to me randomly. My son loves fish with tartar sauce and I have made tartar sauce for him many times. Many western chefs, such as Christine Keff from the Flying Fish in Seattle, have created an awesome lemongrass aoli, so I thought why not a tartar sauce? I use serrano peppers and dill as they go really well with fish and keep the color palate to just green. I love the results and would use this sauce in many ways, not just for fried fish.
Yield: 1/2 cup
 
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used Best Foods mayonnaise with olive oil)
2 tablespoons lemongrass paste, from recipe above
1/2 -1 whole serrano pepper, grated with a microplane
1 clove garlic, grated with a microplane
1 tablespoon small diced pickled cucumber
3 tablespoons lemon juice (I used calamansi juice)
1 tablespoon dill, chopped
 

In a one-cup bowl, stir together mayonnaise, lemongrass paste, serrano pepper, pickled cucumber and lemon juice until well-mixed. Stir in dill until it is well-combined. For the best results, prepare the night before or at least 30 minutes before serving.

© 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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Grilled Bok Choy for Minimalist Cooking

Bok Choy – ผักกาดใบ

I want to share with you my tips and techniques for making quick and easy grilled bok choy, something I did last weekend to celebrate the first warm sunny day when I spent a lot of time outdoors gardening. Cooking in the summer is about minimalism, and I like the idea of a few ingredients on the grill at one time.

Bok choy, also known as Chinese cabbage, is my favorite Asian vegetable. To me it is like vegetable-candy. I love its crunchy texture and light mustard flavor and the fact that I don’t need to be concerned about calories when I eat it. Even in large portions, I can just enjoy its delightful nutritional benefits. There are many ways to stir-fry bok choy with seasonings in a wok, but my favorite way to cook it is on the grill. This is in part because I don’t like to cut up a beautiful bok choy before I cook it; I would rather do that with a knife as I eat it. With baby bok choy, however, I can avoid cutting it all together and there are many other delicious Asian vegetables that I can cut up and stir-fry—such as choy sum, morning glory, and dozens of other greens. So when summer comes along, bok choy becomes a regular on my grill. It goes with any main dish.

This recipe is a great way to enjoy beautiful, low-fat, crispy, grilled bok choy. I typically cut regular bok choy in half lengthwise. This makes for easy grilling and a very appealing natural pattern. To quote Georgia O’Keeffe: “Colors and line and shape seem for me a more definite statement than words.” Sliced bok choy makes a beautiful pattern indeed. You can appreciate the look while grilling and eating them, and it only takes a little effort. You can dress the bok choy up to accompany any type of cuisine by adding a vinaigrette or sauce after grilling.

Grilled bok choy as a side dish

A perforated grill pan is ideal for grilling vegetables or seafood

Technique

First cut the bok choy in half lengthwise, then soak it under ice cold water for 15 minutes or longer for a crispy texture. Drain well, but do not spin. Drizzle a tablespoon or more of grape seed oil (or any vegetable oil) over the bok choy then sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt; using tongs, mix well. (This technique is easier and uses less cooking oil than brushing it with oil.) The water bath, cooking oil and salt will keep the vegetable green, shiny and tasting good. Crushed fresh white or black pepper adds a great accent.

Grilled bok choy, grilled beef and steamed jasmine rice

This is a perfect dinner for a minimalist. Except for the rice cooked in a rice cooker, each dish is cooked with just three ingredients out on the grill. I rub fish sauce over my steak and pierce it with rosemary from my garden. The steaks are 1/2 inch thick, so both the steak and the bok choy cook in less than 15 minutes. The total time to prepare and to cook is about 30 minutes.  Minimalist cooking is a perfect approach for summer to come!

Grilled Bok Choy

ผักกาดใบย่าง

Pak Gard Bai Yang

Serves: 4

 
1 pound bok choy, cut in half lengthwise
1 tablespoons grape seed oil, canola oil or any vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper
1/4 cup Thai Chili-lime vinaigrette, optional

Pre-heat the grill to high heat. Place perforated grill pan on top of the grill.

Soak bok choy under cold water for at least 15 minutes, or longer for a crispy texture. Drain well but do not spin. Drizzle on a teaspoon or more of the oil and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon sea salt over the top. Use tongs to mix well.

Place bok choy on perforated grill pan in a single layer and let it grill for 3 to 5 minutes on each side until it is translucent but still firm. Serve as is, or use tongs to mix well with Thai Chili-lime vinaigrette. Serve warm or cold as a side dish.

Pranee’s Note: Measure the first seven ingredients from the Thai Chili-Lime Vinaigrette recipe into an 8-ounce mason jar, close the lid tight and shake well. Pour over grilled bok choy.

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 Old Day & The New Way

When I was in Thailand exactly a year ago, I created this recipe – Spicy Thai Coconut Chips. I wanted to create delicious snacks for upcoming cooking demo. At the same time I wanted the flavor to reflect my Southern Thai cuisine, specifically my grandmother cooking. After receiving a reminder to send in recipe from Seattle office, I went to my mom kitchen and cook with my family. This was a same day I wrote and recorded a mystery dish from Southern Thailand – Stir-fried Fresh Grated Coconut with Phuket  Curry Paste.

Stir-fried fresh grated coconut with Phuket red curry paste

It was a perfect day. I was lucky that my sister in-law – Tim was there. After she prepared the old forgotten dish of stir-fried fresh greated coconut with Phuket curry paste, I created new modern dish to reflect this flavor for the new generation. It is not often that I cooked for my family in Thailand. They were impressed seeing a recipe developer at work. I used my grandmother’s favorite spice, turmeric. I added more spice and other ingredients to create the balance of flavor of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. And my whole Thai family was excited with familiar texture and flavor from the coconut chip that was bake in my sister small oven.

Pranee’s Spicy Thai Coconut Chips

I hope you enjoy the step-by-sttep photos and recipes below taken and created in my mom’s kitchen in Phuket, Thailand. Have a great spicy Thai crunches!

Spicy Thai Coconut Chip

Maprow Krop Rod Ped 

มะพร้าวกรอบรสเผ็ดเปรี้ยวสไตล์ไทย

slice fresh coconut with peeler

First sliced fresh coconut with peeler, you may use dried coconut chips in a package. The cooking time may vary. Dried coconut chip is accessible and easy to prepare and it has longer shelve life.

fresh coconut chips

Place coconut chips in a baking sheet.

mix with spicy, salty, sour and sweet

Combine chili powder, turmeric, salt and lime juice in a large bowl or right on a baking sheet.

Spicy Thai Coconut Chips

The clue is crisp and dry and the coconut is almost brown.

1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 cups dried large coconut chips or sliced fresh coconut chips

Preheat oven to 350º F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine chili powder, turmeric, salt and lime juice in a large bowl. Mix in coconut chips and combine well.

Spread coconut flakes in a thin layer on the baking sheet. Place in the center of the oven rack and stir every 4 minutes for 8 to 12 minutes, or until crisp and toasted.

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

Recipe by Pranee Halvorsen, PCC Cooks instructor.  Demonstrated on the PCC Cooks stage at Vegfest 2011. You also can see this recipe from PCC Natural Markets website.

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Without a Rice Cooker

You can cook rice for 30 people, anytime, without a rice cooker! Since last November, my son and I have been preparing one meal a month for 60 homeless youth at Seattle’s [James W. Ray] Orion Center. The organization helps homeless youth get off the street and provides them with meals, education and shelter. The meal-calendar is posted and updated to allow members of the public to sign up to prepare a meal for these hungry youth. It has been a rewarding experience to take part in helping to build community. Thank you to a friend who also signed up to help prepare a meal with me. Together—without a rice cooker—we cooked lavender-turmeric scented jasmine rice for 30–6o hungry young people.

Rice can be cooked in a rice cooker, on the stove top, or in the oven. My recipe below is for rice cooked in the oven. I wanted to share the recipe so you would know that you do not need to buy a rice cooker in order to cook large quantities of rice. Instead you can purchase a large hotel pan and cook up to 30 servings of rice in about an hour.

Before putting rice and water in the hotel pan, it is best if all ingredients are hot before they are sealed up and placed in a preheated oven. (Here’s a link for an explanation as to how this method works: “Once water is heated past the 212°F mark, it stops being water and turns into steam. Steaming has an advantage over methods such as boiling or even simmering …..”. Moist Heat Cooking Method by About.com.)

About the recipe

Culinary Lavender

Today, the recipe I want to share with you is Kao Oop Kamin and Dok Lavender, lavender-turmeric scented jasmine rice. It works well served with Thai main dishes such as Thai curry dishes. I came up with the concept of adding lavender to turmeric scented jasmine rice about two years ago after I visited the Lavender Wind Farm on Whidbey Island and purchased a bag full of culinary lavender. After that visit I began adding lavender to everything. My friend, Kathy Gehrt, a local expert on cooking with lavender, says ” you can infuse anything with lavender” just be careful not to over use the lavender. You can learn more about cooking with lavender from Kathy’s book as well as her blog “Discovering Lavender.

One day I simply played with turmeric powder and lavender in a rice cooker. I found it had an alluring and somehow surprising fragrance. After making this dish I forgot about this new flavor and scent combination until sometime later when I heated up the leftovers and experienced the same unexpected delight. The next time I cooked this recipe was at the first dinner I prepared at the Orion Center. My friend was puzzled by the rice’s flavor and fragrance—”What is it in this steamed rice?

Thai jasmine rice, culinary lavender and turmeric

The sweet perfume of lavender complements the pungent turmeric, which is also known as Indian saffron. This amazing blend gives off an alluring aroma and gives the rice a subtle flavor that allows you to serve it with any cuisine. You can find culinary lavender in jars or in the bulk herbs section in a natural food store.

Playing with lavender and turmeric in a rice cooker

Lavender-Turmeric Scented Jasmine Rice

Kao Op Khamin Dok Lavender

ข้าวอบขมิ้นลาเวนเดอร์

Lavender-Turmeric Scented Jasmine Rice

Yield: 30 cups cooked rice

When I cook this at a large event, I measure up the jasmine rice, turmeric, lavender and salt beforehand and store them in a large ziplock bag. Each bag will provide a main course or side dish for 30 servings. You can bake enough in your oven to serve 30 people. In a commercial kitchen, where the ovens are larger, you could double the recipe and bake each in a separate hotel pan—one on the top shelf and another one on the bottom shelf. For smaller portions at home, set the oven temperature at 350°F and bake for 30 minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes. The rice to water ratio is 1 to 1 ½.

1/4 cup canola oil
10 cups jasmine rice
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
3 tablespoons culinary lavender 
2 teaspoons salt
16 cups boiling water
2 sheets 2 ½-foot-long aluminum foil 

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place large pan on high heat on the top of your stove and add canola oil. When the oil is hot, add rice, turmeric, lavender and salt and stir for 1 minute. Pour the rice mixture into a hotel pan and then pour in boiling water. Stir well and cover tightly with foil. Put pan in the preheated oven and let it cook undisturbed (no peeking) for at least 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes before removing the foil. Stir and serve.

Summer 2010 at Lavender Wind Farm, Whidbey Island

 
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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Eat the Jungle

Papaya, Carica papaya Linn., is a native to South American and Mexico. From there it spread throughout tropical countries like the Hawaiian islands, Sri Lanka, India and Southeast Asia. In Thailand, we regard papaya as a herbaceous plant. The fruit shape is elongated and has a pointy tip. The green fruit is used in savory dishes such as green papaya salad, Gaeng Som (sour curry), Gaeng Kati (red curry), Gaeng Ohm (pork stew), or it is pickled or candied, stir-fried with egg, or used as a vegetable condiment. In our garden, when we want to have a ripe papaya we allow the green papaya to mature on the tree until a good portion of yellow and orange appears on part of its green skin. Then we pick the papayas and keep them covered with a rice sack until they fully ripen. Because the papain protein enzyme helps the digestive system, green papaya salad is an ideal side dish to accompany the grilled meat dishes common to Thai and Vietnamese cuisines—think of green papaya salad instead of coleslaw.

It is best to buy papaya with a great hint of yellow or orange color. When soft to the touch, peeled and seeded, ripe papaya is great eating fresh or in a smoothie.

Papaya is a great source for Vitamin A, C, folate and potassium. For an in-depth nutrient analysis please visit whfoods.com.

Thais eat fresh ripe papaya with a squeeze of lime and some sea salt. The seeds have a peppery flavor, but I haven’t come across Thais cooking with the seeds. We discard them, but Hawaiian cuisineuses the seeds in salad dressing.

Green Papaya

Papayas at the young and green stage are ideal for Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese cuisines. A few examples include the Thai green papaya salad Som tam which also know as Papaya Pok Pok–a fun name that comes from the sound that is made during preparation when the ingredients are pounded with a mortar and pestle. The Vietnamese movie The Scent of Green Papayaoffers an insight into the relationship of green papaya to Vietnamese cuisine and people. I personally have many stories to share about papayas.

Yield: ½ cup

1 shallot, halved and peeled 
6 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup minced lemongrass, about 1 stalk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry turmeric
½ to 1 tablespoon chili pepper flakes, or 10 to 15 dry Thai red chilies
1 teaspoon shrimp paste or 1 tablespoon miso paste or anchovy paste
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
¼ cup cooking oil

Place everything except the oil in the food processor. While the processor is running, pour in cooking oil as needed. Blend until smooth.

Phuket Jungle Curry with Green Papaya


Phuket Jungle Curry with Green Papaya

Gaeng Pa Malakaw Moo

แกงป่ามะละกอกับหมู

The exotic blend of peppery non-coconut curry with wild vegetables creates the flavor profile inspiration for this dish. I am glad most Thai restaurants carry it on their menus. You may be wary of any spicy Thai curry without coconut milk, but you will be amazed how each vegetable in this curry has it own sweetness when it’s cooked. Individual flavors from each vegetable stand out better than in a coconut curry dish.

Ingredients for Phuket Jungle Curry

Serves 4 to 6           Preparation time: 20 minutes           Cooking time: 10 minutes

3 tablespoons red curry paste or fresh Jungle Curry paste from recipe above
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup water
1 cup diced green papaya, peeled and seeded, about ¼ of a whole small green papaya
1 cup wedged Thai eggplants, about 5 whole Thai eggplants
1 cup yardlong beans or green beans, cut into 1 inch-lengths
1/4 cup sliced pork tenderloin, optional for vegetarian
¼ cup Thai basil or any basil, or 3 nasturtium flowers (optional)
4 Kaffir lime leaves, optional if not available
1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar
2 dashes fish sauce, or more to taste

Blend red curry paste and canola oil in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add water and green papaya chunks, stir, then cover with a lid and let it cook for 3 minutes or until green papaya starts to look half-cooked. Add eggplant, yardlong beans and pork and stir, cover and cook for 3 more minutes until eggplant is soft but not mushy.

Stir in basil, Kaffir lime leaves, and sugar and cook for 30 seconds more; add fish sauce to taste. Remove from heat and serve with Jasmine rice.

 

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© 2010  Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen  
 I Love Thai cooking 
 
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking class in Seattle areas, her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com

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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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Enjoy the Seasons

Lake Washington, Seattle

When I drove along Lake Washington toward Seward Park to my friend’s house the other day, the beauty of the drive blew me away. It was one of those rare random days of beautiful Seattle weather that exist just to tease you. I decided to stop and capture the pictures in front of me and ended up arriving fifteen minutes late at my friend’s. I asked her for forgiveness, showing her a dozen photos on my camera. She gave me a pardon. I hope you will enjoy the holiday seasons despite how busy your life is. Like the Thai say, “Sanuk.” It means to have fun.

Many Bowls of Soup

I am lucky that many friends have pampered me with many  hearty soups this winter. While savoring these soups, I came up with a plan to create delicious soups to share with you. By playing around with foods during the month of December, I rediscovered some connections among the different Asian cuisines. I enjoyed the process of how this soup came about. I hope you enjoy the story and the process of making Curried Sweet Potato with Curry Leaf Soup. I hope you will be courageous and look for curry leaves in an Asian market then have a successful adventure making this soup. Happy Holidays to you all!

Curry Leaves 

Curry Leaf – Murraya Koenigii -from my freezer

Curry leaf is used in Malaysian, Southern and West Coast Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. It tastes and smells like curry powder, though more delicate and aromatic. It is available fresh at many Asian markets in the Seattle area. Thai cuisine doesn’t usually incorporate curry leaves; Kaffir lime leaves are usually more dominant. In fact, it was only a few months ago that I actually saw curry leaves being used in cooking. The first time was when I was a guest at a Malaysian cooking lesson given by my girlfriend’s mother in-law. She demonstrated her family’s secret recipe for Malaysian Chicken Curry with Curry Leaf. Then in November I took an Indian cooking class from Raghavan Iyear, an IACP associate and the author of 660 Curries. During the class, Iyear said “Use curry leaf  in anything just like bay leaf, but do use a fresh one, otherwise don’t use it at all. There is nothing left in a dry curry leaf.” He then demonstrated using generous amounts of fresh curry leaves in the recipe Basmati Rice with Yogurt and Mustard Seeds from his cookbook.

Raghavan Iyer’s Basmati Rice with Yogurt and Mustard Seeds – plenty of curry leaves

After those two experiences I was crazy about the flavor of the aromatic curry leaf (Murraya Koenigii). Since then I have had a package of curry leaves in my freezer waiting for its moment. Freezing is another way to preserve the delicate essential oil in the leaf.

Sweet Potato

The other night, when I cooked yellow chicken curry for my family, instead of using a regular potato, I used a sweet potato. At home I often improvise, and this time I was glad I did. It turned out to be a delicious yellow chicken curry. When I was looking for frozen Kaffir lime leaves, I thought of the curry leaves. Though the Thai don’t use curry leaves,  Yellow Curry (or Gaeng Kari in Thai) is in fact a Thai version of Indian curry. Malaysian Chicken Curry also shows the strong influence of Indian Curry. Then I saw the whole connection: Malaysian Chicken Curry itself is similar to Thai yellow curry. Just before serving yellow curry to my family, I imitated my friend’s mother in-law and placed 6 curry leaves in my left palm. Then then with my right, I roughed them back and forth before dropping the leaves into a boiling curry that was about 5 minutes from being ready to serve. (The other way that Iyear incorporated the curry in the cooking class was by adding the leaves to hot oil along with other dry whole spices to intensify the flavor, then allowing the simmering process to extract the delicate perfume and flavor.)

Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Curry Leaf

Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Curry Leaf

Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Curry Leaf Recipe

ซุปแกงมันฝรั่งหวาน

When you have curry paste, curry powder and curry leaves as staple ingredients in your kitchen, this dish is so easy to prepare. A small amount of oil to fry the curry paste, curry powder and curry leaves helps the natural essential oil and the flavors to bloom. Pay attention and put patience to this step – allow the fragrance to develop and the oil to separate. Then the rest is easy. There is no need to use a large amount of coconut milk, use just enough to give a nice flavor to the curry. If the soup is a little too spicy, increase the coconut milk or next time you can reduce the amount of red curry paste. I use just a little coconut milk in this recipe, cutting back further on coconut milk may effect the flavor and the balance of this curry. I consider this a hearty winter soup with big flavor.

Serves: 6 (yields about 5 cups)

1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup coconut milk, divided
2 to 3 teaspoons red curry paste 
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
12 curry leaves, divided
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 (32-ounce) box Pacific Natural Food Free Range Chicken Broth
1/4 teaspoon fish sauce

In a large pot, heat canola oil, 1/4 cup coconut milk, red curry paste, Madras curry powder and 6 curry leaves on medium-high heat; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in diced onions until they become translucent, about 3 minutes. Add sweet potato and chicken broth; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, and with the lid on, let it cook until the onion and sweet potato are softened, about 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in fish sauce and 1/4 cup coconut milk, stir for 30 seconds, then remove from the burner. Use an immersion blender or a tabletop blender to puree the soup. Serve in a soup bowl and garnish with curry leaves.

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 Divine Fruit, Persimmon ลูกพลับ 

Here in Seattle, I have been savoring persimmons during all of November and now into December. Persimmons reached their peak this last week. The abundance of this fruit at peak season provides a low price and high quality sweet fruits and this is when I am inspired to cook with persimmons. This year in my kitchen I found two delicious new ways to cook with them: persimmon-orange butter and persimmon upside-down cake. Today I will share with you my discoveries of this divine fruit which only appears once a year.

Fuyu Persimmon fruit – ลูกพลับ

The yellow-orange color of persimmon and its aromatic sweetness make this fruit special. In the U.S., the season for persimmons is in November and December, and they give us  a special way to celebrate the holiday seasons. Persimmons arrived in the U.S. and Europe over 200 years ago. There are two varieties in Seattle market: Hachiya and Fuyu. The former is recommended to eat when it is fully ripe. The latter, Fuyu, is my favorite and it is the variety most commonly available, so my focus today will be on the Fuyu persimmon.

Fuyu persimmons (Diospyros Kaki L) are native to Northern China. It is an ancient fruit—a fossilized persimmon was found in the tomb of the emperor of the Han Dynasty. Fuyu persimmons first traveled from China to Thailand in 1937, but they did not become widespread until the Royal Project Foundation under Kasetsart University  conducted a study in 1969 that grew various varieties of persimmons in Thailand and led to the successful establishment of persimmon farming in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phetchabun. These are three persimmon varieties in Thailand: Xichu, Fuyu and Hyakume. (Source: 111 Thai Fruits by Nidda and Thaweethong Hongvivat published by Sangdad). The season for harvesting them is from July till September each year.  The nutritional benefits from persimmons are priceless. It is high in potassium, vitamin C, and much more.

Unripe Fuyu persimmon early in the season

When the hint of green disappears from the skin and is replaced by a yellow-orange color, one can snack on unripe Fuyu persimmon, though the ripe ones are the best. Persimmons can accompany an assorted cheese platter, much like pears or grapes, or combining green salad with bacon. For dessert, last year I found my pleasure by adding persimmons in coconut milk to my pearl tapioca pudding just before serving. This year, in the process of creating a dessert for 70 people, I found myself preparing persimmon-orange butter to serve over sweet sticky rice. Then came persimmon upside-down cake; this was magically created right after baking cranberry upside-down cake for my family. For an impromptu inspiration, all we need is to have plenty of persimmons around while they are in season.

Fuyu Persimmon

Persimmon-Orange Butter

Yield: 2 cups

You can use persimmon-orange butter on just about everything, or you can eat it plain like apple sauce. This is my favorite way:  served with sticky rice, on top of peanut butter and fruit butter for the sandwich.

6 fully ripened Fuyu persimmons, peeled and chopped
Zest of one orange
6 oranges, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 tablespoons triple sec
3 tablespoons butter

Place persimmons, orange zest, orange, salt, sugar, cinnamon stick, triple sec and butter in a large saucepan. Let it cook on medium heat until softened and all juices from the fruit have evaporated, about 30 minutes. Stir often during the cooking. Remove cinnamon stick. Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

The Making of Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

Sliced persimmon, brown sugar, star anise and triple sac

When I was looking for a spice to compliment the flavor of persimmon, I picked up my cinnamon powder from Vietnam and star anise powder from Thailand. After smelling the star anise, I decided it was a sure thing. At that moment my eye glanced over at the star-shaped center of the persimmon and I decided to place a star anise in between the slices of persimmon. The star anise mirrors the pattern of the star-shaped center of the persimmon. Perfect.

Right Side Up

I was also happy that I had some persimmon-orange butter that I had created on another day. This allowed me to add some persimmon flavor in the body of the cake.

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

I used organic brown sugar, but any brown sugar would do the work.

A Perfect Persimmon-Star Anise Upside-Down Cake

The pretty star-shaped centers creates a perfect look for this upside-down cake.

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

Burnt brown sugar with creamy  soft persimmons melt in your mouth, almost like a crème caramel.

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

เค้กลูกพลับ

I baked Yankee Cranberry Upside-Down Cake many times last week, which is what led me to this project.  I played around with persimmons and spices I had in the kitchen, and by the time the cranberry upside-down cake was finished, my persimmon-star anise upside-down cake was ready to go in. It became totally a different cake with its own flavor profiles, but it was the Yankee Cranberry Upside-Down Cake that inspired me with confidence.

Baking time: 35 to 40 minutes

Serves: 8 to 12

6 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup brown sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons star anise powder, divided
1 tablespoon triple sec, divided
3 persimmons, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 6 pieces, each about 1/3 inch thick
5 star anises, whole
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons persimmon-orange butter, persimmon pulps or orange marmalade
 

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cover a 9-inch spring form pan with 2 tablespoons melted butter, then sprinkle with brown sugar, triple sec and ½ teaspoon star anise powder to cover entire surface. Arrange persimmon slices and star anise as shown in the photo above.

Combine flour, baking powder, remaining star anise powder and salt.

Beat the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the sugar very hard by hand until they are well mixed. Then beat in eggs, one at a time, very hard by hand until the mixture is custardy. Whisk in ½ cup of the flour mixture, mix well, then whisk in ¼ cup buttermilk; continue this method of adding the flour and buttermilk until you finish with ¼ cup flour.  Pour the batter into the center of the springform pan, smoothing it with a spatula to make it evenly cover the persimmon.

Bake on a rack in the center of the oven until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes. While the cake is still warm, invert the cake onto a serving platter.

credit: http://familyfun.go.com/recipes/yankee-cranberry-upside-down-cake-687053/

Photos: © 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen

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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Fall Wishes

Fall Color in Seattle

Seattle is a beautiful city. When we get some of its rare sunshine, the season becomes memorable. This past week I wished for at least a good week of sunshine and beautiful fall colors and a chance to enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Northwest scenery. I got my wish. But there is another wish I make each fall as well: I wish for a good price for chanterelle mushrooms. This year I got both my wishes.

I enjoy cooking with chanterelle mushrooms from the local market and I love to add northwest flavors to my Thai dishes. This year I discovered a sensational new way to achieve both of these ends by adding chanterelle mushrooms to my vegan Thai green curry.

Chanterelle Mushrooms

The flavor of chanterelle mushrooms reminds me of Hed Kone – a wild mushroom  in my village. It has an interesting spicy flavor that goes well with coconut milk or fat. When cooked, the mushroom’s nutty and sweet-fruity flavors combine with its meaty flavor to enrich this meatless green curry dish. This meaty flavor was an added bonus that I didn’t expect but discovered while experimenting last year. I prepared this dish in my series of seven Thai Quick & Easy cooking classes at PCC Cooks.  Although I shared the recipe below with more than 14o students, I can still capture the moment when I savored the dish with them during the classes. The chanterelle mushrooms make for a unique combination. This dish is a great reflection of true Thai flavors achieved by using local ingredients such as chanterelle mushroom and Italian eggplant with Thai ingredients such as bamboo shoots, young corn and water chestnuts.

I love this recipe the way it is and would not want to change anything.  I want to share this recipe with you so that you can enjoy it as much as I do when fresh chanterelle mushrooms are abundant in the fall. My wishes have been fulfilled and I am content.

Thai Green Curry with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Kaffir Lime Leaves

Gaeng Keow Wan Ja

Thai Green curry with chanterelle mushrooms and Kaffir lime leaves

แกงเขียวหวานกับเห็ดมังสวิรัติ

Green curry is delicious. It is distinguished from other curries by its flavor and color which are derived from fresh Thai green chiles. Green curry is as versatile as red curry; it can incorporate many kinds of vegetables and mushrooms. Some vegetables that work well in green curries are zucchini, eggplant, green beans, bamboo shoots, young corn and water chestnuts. Serve with jasmine rice or somen noodles.

Servings: 8

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 jar Thai Kitchen green curry paste, about 5 tablespoons
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon green or black peppercorns, whole
1½ – 2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup water
2 cups chanterelle mushrooms, brushed to remove the dirt and torn into small pieces
2 Portobello mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed, and diced (1/2 inch by 1/2 inch)
½ cup baby corn, washed and drained
 ½ cup sliced bamboo shoots
1 cup water chestnuts
1 Italian eggplant, diced or 2 zucchini, diced
½ teaspoon salt, or more as needed
½ to 1 tablespoon sugar, or as needed
4 Kaffir lime leaves, optional
¼ cup basil leaves

 In a saucepan on medium-high heat, combine canola oil, green curry paste, coriander, cumin powder and green or black peppercorns, stirring constantly until fragrant. Stir in ½ cup coconut milk and let the mixture cook until the oil is separated and curry is fragrant.

Stir in chanterelle and portobello mushrooms, baby corn, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and water; let cook for 2 minutes. Stir in eggplant and the remaining coconut milk, salt, sugar and lime leaves. Let the mixture cook until the eggplant just softens but still holds its shape well. Stir in  basil. When it comes to a boil, remove from heat and serve with jasmine rice.

© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai coPranee Khruasanit Halvorsenoking.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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Stinky Leaf Omelet

Last week I found fresh acacia leaf, or cha-om, for the first time in Seattle at the Makong Raineir Market. Without hesitation, I grabbed this rare opportunity to purchase some. Two days later the cha-om was still fresh in my refrigerator. There are many ways to prepare cha-om in rustic Thai cooking (see pictures below), but my heart was set on my favorite cha-om omelet—Khai Jeow Cha-Om—which is dense with a layer of cha-om leaf. It can be cut into 1-inch squares and served as a side dish or as an accompaniment to Shrimp Paste Chili Dip – Nam Prik Kapi (see the video of my sister and I preparing Nam Prik Kapi). I prepared a cha-om omelet last Sunday and packed it in a tiffin (a stainless steel food carrier), along with warmed jasmine rice and shrimp paste chili dip. Then I took it to a Thai community potluck party and I am happy to tell you that it was gone in the blink of an eye. We all love these stinky leaf omelets—a taste of our Thai villages.

A Package of Cha-Om at an Asian Market in Seattle

Fresh cha-om has a very strong, almost sulphur-like aroma that mellows when it is cooked. A little research led me to a link which mentions that cha-om is rich in Niacin (B-complex), just like most deep green leaf vegetables such as wild pepper leaf (chapoo), spinach and coccinia (tum lueng). One hundred grams of these vegetables yields more than 1.9 mg. of B-complex vitamins. This reminded me of the old Thai saying about bitter vegetables that I mentioned in a previous blog:  “The sweet is a faintness and the bitter is a medicine.”

Cha-Om Shrub Fence

Cha-Om (ชะอม ), or Acacia Pennata, is a shrub that is native to South and Southeast Asia. It can grow up to 5 meters tall, but in Thailand we usually let it grow to about 2 meters, then cut it down to promote young leaves. Most villagers love to grow a few cha-om plants in their backyard. I am glad to share with you photos of my friend Nongnut’s cha-om plants. I took them a few months ago while wandering in my village in Phuket.

Tender Shoots of Cha-Om

Every week Nongnut’s mom would cut off the young leaves and bundle them up to sell in the morning in front of their house. The bundles would lie alongside the many other edible vegetables from their plantation such as bamboo shoots and young banana trunk. This is a very common practice in Thai villages. It keeps her parents active, they share daily dialogs with friends in the village, and they earn some money selling these nutritious, organic vegetables to villagers.

Typically one bunch of cha-om leaves weighs about six ounces; after removing the hard stems, it will yield about two cups of leaves. Frozen cha-om leaf is available in Asian markets in the US all year round.

Sour Curry with Cha-Om Omelet and Prawns

Cha-Om omelet cut into square chunks adds a delicious layer of flavor to the traditional Thai sour curry Gaeng Som Goong Cha-Om. In Seattle, the only place I know that serves this dish is the Krua Thai Family Restaurant in University Village.

Tom Laos - Mixed Vegetable and Mushroom Soup with Cha-Om Leaf

In Northeastern Thailand, cha-om is used in the famous Tom Laos Soup.

Acacia Omelet

Khai Jeow Cha-Om

ไข่เจียวชะอม

Whisk Cha-Om and Egg Together

Simply whisk cha-om  leaves, egg, salt and fish sauce together to create an egg mixture for Acacia Omelet, or Khai Jeow Cha-Om, a rustic dish of Thailand.

Cha-Om Omelet

There is no substitute for acacia or cha-om leaf, but this recipe can be adapted by using baby spinach for a quick, easy and healthy meal.

Serves: 2-4

2  cups (about 6 ounces ) chopped acacia leaves, stems removed
5 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fish sauce
6 tablespoons canola oil

Place acacia leaves, eggs, salt and fish sauce in a large bowl and whisk with folk until mixed, about 1 minute.

Heat a large pan on medium-high heat and cover the whole surface with half of the canola oil. Pour in half of the egg mixture and tilt the pan to make an even layer of omelet; let it cook until golden yellow on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip it and cook until the other side is also golden yellow, about 2 minutes. Remove with spatula to a serving plate. Repeat the same process with the remaining cooking oil and the rest of egg mixture. Cut the omelet into small squares about 1-inch by 1-inch and place in a serving plate to serve as a side dish with Thai chili dip or any curry.

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In the Seattle area you can find cha-om in the freezer section at the Mekong Rainier Market or the Vietwah Market. Please click here to find the addresses for these stores.

© 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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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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The Sweet is a Faintness and the Bitter is a Medicine

I often hear the old Thai saying  หวานเป็นลม ขมเป็นยา: kwan pen lom kom pen yah. This culinary wisdom literally says “the sweet is a faintness and the bitter is a medicine.” Growing up in a village in Thailand with my grandma and her friends, I acquired a taste for the bitter and exotic vegetables from their gardens and the wilderness around us.

Bitter melon or Bitter Gourd is called มะระ—Mara—in Thai. Its scientific name is Momordica charantia and it is native to Asia and Africa. It is a climbing annual plant that one can grow anytime, anywhere in Southeast Asia and South Asia regardless of the season.

Bitter Melon – Photo from my morning walk in Hoi An, Vietnam

In most Thai or Asian villages, where there is a fence or an arbor there will be a climbing plant next to it. There just needs to be a space large enough for seeds to grow.

Chinese Bitter Melon – the China phenotype is common in Thailand

Bitter melon is best eaten when it is green and young. When the fruit grows older, the taste gets more bitter. It is not common to eat the older fruit when it turns yellow-orange and the seeds become red; at this later stage the plant is mainly used for growing the seeds for future new plants.

Indian variety of bitter melon – photo from my visit to a market in Hue, Vietnam

Bitter melon is widely cooked in many ways in Southeast Asia. In Thailand, I often enjoy it in stir-fried dishes with soy sauce and with or without egg. It is also popular with mara yad sai—stuffed with pork in a soup. Fresh green or boiled bitter melon can be served in a Thai crudites platter with Thai chili dip, or it can accompany pickled cabbage in a pork-bone soup or stewed bitter melon and pork-bone soup. It can also be cooked in a curry dish as well. In Myanmar and Bangladeshi, bitter melon is often stir-fried with garlic and turmeric powder.

How to prepare bitter melon

All parts of the fruit are edible after you remove the seeds and stem. For stir-fries, thin-slice the melon as shown above. Then I often take steps to reduce some of the bitterness. There are two ways to do this: put the sliced melon in boiling water for a few minutes and then strain out the melon and discard the water. Or sprinkle some salt on the melon, mix it in well and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing them in water. You may squeeze to dry. I personally like to use this latter method before making my stir-fries as some of the bitter flavor is left behind.

Why should you eat bitter melon? For much the same reason that you eat broccoli or spinach: for their health benefits. Bitter melon is an aid to diabetes control. It lowers blood sugar and promotes healthy insulin levels; besides that it also has Vitamin C, B1 and B2. While more studies need to be done, it is time to learn about new vegetables like bitter melon or get back to eating them routinely and celebrating the sweet truth about bitter melon. Cheers to a bitter melon!

Stir-fried Bitter Melon with Egg

Stir-fried Bitter Melon with Egg

Phad Mara Kub Khai 

ผัดมะระกับไข่

Serves: 4

Cooking Time: 4 minutes

When one has acquired a taste for bitter melon, stir-fried bitter melon with egg is a delightful dish. Personally, it makes me happy like after eating bitter-sweet chocolate. A bite of sliced bitter melon contrasts with the sweet, cooked egg and the hint of salty-soy flavor,  making this three-flavor combination very memorable and it lingers on my palate. When trying this dish for the first time, don’t be afraid of the bitter that you will taste at first. Wait a little while and you will taste the sweet from the egg, then the salty from the soy sauce. Serve the stir-fried bitter melon as a side with a curry dish and warm steamed jasmine rice.

Serves: 2

3 to 5 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 eggs
1½ cups sliced bitter melon, about 1 large bitter melon
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup water or chicken broth
 
Heat a wok on high heat until it is hot. Pour in 3 tablespoons canola oil and stir in garlic. When garlic is golden, stir in one egg and stir a few times. When the egg is cooked, stir in bitter melon. Stir for 1 minute, then add another egg and stir a few times before adding soy sauce and sugar. Add water or chicken broth and let it cook 1 minute. Depending on one’s liking, the melon should be not too soft or to firm; it should still have some crunch. Serve warm with steamed jasmine rice.
 
© 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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Drink Me

It has been exactly a week since I returned from Thailand and I am still trying to catch up with our Seattle summer. My friends have all assured me that I didn’t miss much during the past month as we are still having the same cold weather we had in June. This July, Seattle hit the record lowest temperature for summer, so all I really need to catch up on is eating the plentiful seasonal fruits and vegetables from the local farmers markets and nearby towns.  

Hami Melon

During my first grocery shopping back here in Seattle, my cart was full with all sorts of berries. And then my eye caught on a good-looking melon that I haven’t tried: Hami melon. It is grown in California and available from mid-May to July and from September to December. I let it ripen at home for a few days and its sweet aroma was inviting me to taste it. The sweet scent reminds me of the Thai long muskmelon that I used to grow a long time ago in my organic garden in Phuket—it grew abundantly despite my lack of knowledge and farming experience.

Hami Melon

Hami melon is a type of muskmelon, a Chinese melon variety. A good one can taste sweeter and have a higher sugar content than most other varieties of melon. I decided to make a smoothie with coconut milk to duplicate Taeng Thai Kati, a famous Thai muskmelon dessert made with coconut milk, but we will drink ours instead of eating it. I kept the flavor profile and the amounts of ingredients the same as in Taeng Thai Kati, but added a generous amount of crushed ice and simple syrup to turn it into a nice cold smoothie. I used only one-third cup coconut milk in my recipe, a perfect amount to make a smoothie, a healthy summer drink. But if you are looking for a nice milkshake-like drink and dessert combo, add a scoop or two of coconut ice cream; it would taste heavenly. When a sweet flavor is needed, honey or palm sugar simple syrup are good choices to add a dimension of sweetness and aroma.

Coconut Melon Smoothie

Stock up on a few cans of coconut milk, then anytime the sweet floral scents of melon invite you, all you have to do is prepare this recipe. Hami melon is hard to resist, especially when it is combined with alluring fresh coconut milk. Drink me.

Coconut Melon Smoothie

Nam Kati Taeng Thai Smoothie

น้ำกะทิแตงไทยสมูทตี้

Serves: 2 to 4

Yield: 3 cups

16 ounces (see note) diced Hami melon, seeded, peeled and diced, or substitute honey-dew melon
⅓ cup coconut milk or coconut ice cream, more as desired
1½ cups crushed ice
2 tablespoons palm sugar simple syrup, optional (see note)
pinch of salt

Place melon, coconut milk, ice, sugar and salt in the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a tall glass and serve right away with a straw.

Pranee’s Note

A 4-pound Hami melon (medium size), seeded, peeled and diced will yield about 2 pounds of diced melon.
 
To make palm sugar simple syrup, place a disc of palm sugar (about 4 tablespoons) and about ¼ cup water in a saucepan.
Bring to a boil and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Cool and chill. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week.   Yield: ¼ cup.
 
© 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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