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Love the One You’re With

When you want to cook Thai food outside of Thailand and rare ingredients are missing or their availability is limited, we learn how to make substitutions for critical ingredients. Thus it often transpires that some ingredients in traditional dishes change over time. Green papaya salad – Som Tum – is not acceptable without green papaya, so how do you create this traditional dish when the freshest texture and flavor are important and all you can find is an aging and bitter green papaya? My friend in Switzerland and some Hmong farmers in the Pacific Northwest use sweet, fresh local carrots from their gardens in place of the hard-to-find green papaya. The homesickness for this traditional dish can be cured by the sound of the mortar and pestle and the pungent authenticity of the rest of the ingredients. I never forgot the taste of the Som Tum I ate in Switzerland after being away from Thailand for two months for the first time. Love the one you’re with!

Khmer Chicken Curry with Sorrel

Khmer Chicken Curry with Sorrel

The best and freshest ingredients from our garden can also replace the absent or impossible to find tamarind leaves. This is perhaps what led me to this next local Pacific Northwest ingredient—sorrel—and the discovery of a pattern of substitutions: the similarity of the texture of carrots to that of green papayas, the similarity of the flavor of sorrel leaves to young tamarind leaves, and the similarity of the flavor and texture of green apples to green mangoes. I am not here to change Thai cuisine. These new dishes arenot the same as the old, but the substitution of nostalgia for a traditional culinary love affair.
young tamarind leaves

Young tamarind leaves

My photos from a fresh market in Surathani
Young Tamarind Leaves 
ยอดใบมะขามอ่อน
Yod Bai MaKham Oon
Young tamarind leaves have been used as food in Southeast Asia for a long time. My family and other Thais in my village cook them in vegetable stews like Tom Som and use them to add a sour flavor to coconut milk and non-coconut milk based curry dishes. In addition to having a delightful tangy sour taste, tamarind leaves have a medicinal benefit: they are packed full of vitamin A.
Sorrel

Sorrel – ซอรเรล – Rumex acetosa

Sorrel– ซอรเรล- Rumex acetosa is native to Europe and northern Asia. Only 15 years ago, I discovered cooking with sorrel for the first time. It was at a Thai community kitchen when some elders from Lao and Cambodia brought a fresh sorrel and vegetable condiment. Then my friend Ruth Huffman showed me the sorrel  in her garden. Ruth uses it as a leaf vegetable and culinary herb. Now I have three vegetables in my garden from the Polygonaceae (buck wheat) family: regular sorrel, sorrel ‘raspberry dressing’, and rhubarb. Sorrel is recommended for eating in small quantities because of its oxalic acid content. High levels of oxalic acid, like in the green in rhubarb leaves, can be a poison. In the recipe below,  you can use more Swiss chard if you do not have sorrel and simply add more lime juice as desired. I am staying in town this summer and you will find me posting more Thai recipes made with wholesome local sustainable foods. My summer lifestyle is big on gardening, grilling, and entertaining outdoors.
Khmer Chicken Curry with Sorrel

Khmer Chicken Curry with Sorrel

From left to right, I combine regular sorrel, sorrel ‘raspberry dressing,’ and baby Swiss chard from my garden in this curry.
You can find sorrel and Swiss chard all year long in the Pacific Northwest.

Khmer Chicken Curry with Sorrel leaves

แกงไก่เขมรใบซอรเรล

Gaeng Gai Khmer Bai Sorrel

The delightful taste of Khmer chicken curry with sorrel leaves can make it hard to make the recipe stretch to six servings. This curry is more of a comfort food, reminiscent of vegetable stew, with a hint of citrus curry—rice porridge with a wonderful aroma. It is packed with health benefits from fresh turmeric, galangal, and tamarind or sorrel leaves. The curry is flavorful, but not hot, and the coconut milk is only required to taste. The toasted rice makes the soup rich in texture but light in taste. I enjoy this as a one-dish curry meal with a bit of steamed rice on the side. This recipe tastes best made with fresh Khmer Curry Paste or Phuket Curry Paste.

Serves: 4–6

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 chicken breast or 4 chicken thighs, sliced
5 tablespoons Khmer curry paste 0r 3 tablespoons Phuket Red Curry Paste or 3 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4  cup to 1/2 cup coconut milk
3 to 5 tablespoons toasted rice powder
2 cups sorrel leaves
2 cups Swiss chard leaves
½ tablespoon lime or tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon palm sugar, optional
 

Heat a pot with a heavy bottom on medium-high heat, then stir in canola oil, chicken, and Khmer curry paste; cook until fragrant and you see the oil separate out from the remainder of the ingredients. Pour in 1 cup water and let cook on medium heat with the lid on until the chicken is tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in coconut milk and toasted rice powder and cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in sorrel, Swiss chard leaves, and lime juice and cook for 30 seconds. Serve right away with warm steamed jasmine rice.

 
© 2013  Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com 
 
I grow my sorrel in a pot

I grow sorrel, sorrel “raspberry dressing” and Swiss chard in the same pot

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Farm Dinner At Dog Mountain Farm

Dog Mountain Farm, located in Snoqualmie Vally near Carnation, Washington, offers summer farm dinner events that are a culinary delight. The dinners are prepared by a guest chef and served with wines from a local winery. I attended one of these dinners in  June 2010 and was blessed to experience a half day at the farm of sun-filled summer, a beautiful view of the Cascade mountains, and dining on white tablecloths surrounded by apple orchards. The farm offers various farm and culinary activities year round for all age groups.

View of the Cascade Mountain

September 2012 has provided the rare beauty of a long stretch of sunny days. Saturday, September 15th, the date that I cooked at the Dog Mountain Farm, was one of the most beautiful days among them.

The farm dinner guests arrived at 3pm. Farm owners Cindy and David welcomed everyone with champagne and an hors d’oeuvre, then took them on a farm tour.

Galloping Horse or Mar Hor with savory pork on plum brûlée

I was happy to have the hors d’oeuvre done just in time. The abundance of plums provided a good substitute for pineapple in the Thai hors d’oeuvre called Mar Hor or Galloping Horse, a savory pork mixture atop plum brûlée. I was pleased when I ate one to hear the excitement of taste from far away – like someone galloping a horse.

The Dog Mountain Farm raises French Grimaud Pekin and Muscovy ducks, Embden geese, French guinea fowl, and heritage turkeys.

While the guests toured the farm, I continued cooking—there were four more courses coming.

My Thai Farm dinner included wine pairings from the Wilridge Winery. The wines were served by the winery’s owner and winemaker, Paul Beveridge. Paul selected the wines exclusively for the menu above. They were Viognier Rosebud Vineyard ($11.89), Estate Nebbiolo Wilridge Vineyard ($210), Estate Sangiovese Wilridge Vineyard ($21), and Estate Mélange Noir Wilridge Vineyard ($21). The amazing wines, along with the details and personal stories that Paul shared, enriched the dinner experience.

Kabocha Pumpkin Soup with corn, kale, summer squash and lemon basil

The dinner was served around 4:30pm and I was able to pause at that point for just a minute to take in the sun rays that filled the farm kitchen. Then I ladled the Gaeng Leang – Thai country-style soup – into individual bowls. (Please click here for Gaeng Leang Recipe). Gaeng Leang is often served at Thai dinners to display local abundance. This one had a generous amount of lemon basil from the farm green house and was as authentic as my grandmother’s cooking 40 years ago!

Asian pear is crunchy, juicy, sweet and fragrant.

The third course was an Asian pear salad with mixed herbs and salad greens and a sweet chili vinaigrette. I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of the salad or write down the recipe, so I will have to recreate the recipe one day to share with you. This dish was totally impromptu. I adjusted my chili lime vinaigrette recipe by adding a few more ingredients to compliment the farm’s Asian pears and to echo the flavors of the overall dinner menu.

Braised Duck Curry

The fourth course was a traditional Thai duck curry, Gaeng Phed Ped Yang, made with Dog Mountain Farm’s French Grimaud Pekin. For more information and a recipe for curry dishes please check my future posts.

Thai Duck Egg Custard

Please click the picture above to see Pranee’s custard recipe

Coconut Duck Egg Custard Ice Cream

Please click photo above to see Pranee’s Coconut Duck Egg Custard recipe

Originally I had planned to make just one dessert: coconut duck egg custard ice cream with fried farm apples. But once I began cooking with the very fresh duck eggs, I could not help but make my mom’s Thai duck egg custard over black sticky rice, a traditional Thai dessert.

Once the five-course dinner was served I had a chance to relax, join in the conversation with the dinner guests, and take in the beauty of the double sunset—a beautiful sunset to the West and the reflected light on the Cascade Mountains to the East.

Where to find the Dog Mountain Farm Stand

For those of you who live in the Seattle area, Dog Mountain Farm has a stand at the Broadway Farmers Market on Sundays. Please check their website and then send them an e-mail to have them harvest fresh produce that you can pick up at the market on Sunday between 11am – 3pm.

Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen

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The Holy Herbs

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

Oregano Buds

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

Oregano Blossoms

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

Oregano Blossoms Fried Rice

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

Oregano Blossoms Fried Rice with Tomato and Garlic

Khao Phad Dok Oregano Makrua Thet Kratiem

ข้าวผัดดอกออริกาโนกับมะเขือเทศและกระเทียม

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

Serves: 2 to 4

3 tablespoons canola oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and chopped
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cayenne pepper, sliced (remove seeds if preferred)
1/2 cup oregano leaves and blossoms, stems removed
1 large tomato, cut into wedges
2 eggs
3 cups cooked rice, cooled or frozen
2 pinches of salt, optional
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
4 lime wedges
8 sting beans or cucumber or any fresh vegetable condiment, optional
 
Heat canola oil in a skillet or wok on high heat. Add garlic and stir until golden, then add onion, cayenne and oregano leaves and blossoms and blossoms. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Clear the center of the wok and scramble in eggs for two seconds before adding rice. Stir in soy sauce and  fish sauce. Serve with lime wedge, vegetable condiment and spicy fish sauce. (See recipe below).
 
© 2012 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com  
 
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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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Not Just for Fine Dining, Golden Trout

Last Saturday I went to the Pike Place Market to get the fresh fish of the day for my family dinner. Golden trout caught my eye. When I visited the market last summer, only City Fish carried it. This time around it seemed that every fish stall had a pile of golden trout, so I thought this would be a perfect time to share my recipe with you for Steamed Golden Trout in Lime-Chili-Garlic-Dill Sauce. The pictures were taken a while ago, but the recipe is timeless. It is based on Phuket Pla Nueng Manao—steamed fish in lime juice—but the way I prepared it reflects my new home in the Pacific Northwest.

Golden trout is a sub-species of rainbow trout, both of which are related to salmon. The pale pink color of the flesh and its texture are a really amazing mixture of both trout and salmon. There are many ways to prepare golden trout, but today my favorite is to steam them. I love cooking fish whole, so using the oven is a quick way to go.

The golden trout I bought was from a farm in Idaho. Golden trout’s natural habitat is the “clear, cold headwaters of creeks and lakes at elevations above 6,890 feet,” but most golden trout come from fish farms. This is because you may fish for them for your personal consumption but not to sell them commercially. Most golden trout in the markets are from the Idaho Trout Company. From my research I learned that fly fishing for rainbow trout and golden trout is a very popular activity.

Fresh Rainbow Trout from Pike Place Market

When it comes to steaming fish, I am my grandma’s grandaughter. I ate many meals of steamed fish with my grandmother, like Clay Pot Lemongrass-Steamed Fish (Pla Nueng Morh Din). I hope you will have a chance to cook a few of her recipes. Several of them are featured in the Asian Grandmothers Cookbook by Pat Tanumihardja. At home here in Seattle, I have adapted my grandmother’s recipe into an easy and fun way to prepare fish for my friends and family. My recipe below reflects my quick and easy method for doing this at home. I will let you decide which way you prefer.

Garlic, Lime, Dill and Purple Chili

PLA NUENG MANAO

ปลานึ่งมะนาว

Steamed Golden Trout with Lime-Chili-Garlic-Dill Sauce

Servings: 4

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

If you love fish, this recipe works for all occasions! It is light, fresh and delightful — yet easy to prepare. While steaming the fish, prepare the sauce. When the fish is cooked, just pour the sauce over it and serve with hot, fragrant jasmine rice.

1 whole golden trout, or any fileted fish (cooking time may vary)
4 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and smashed
large sheet of parchment paper and foil
10 cloves garlic, peeled
5 Thai red chilis, purple chilis, jalapeno or Serrano peppers
1 cilantro root
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup chopped dill or cilantro
4 lime slices for garnish

Using a mortar and pestle, pound garlic, peppers, cilantro root and salt until smooth. With pestle, blend in sugar, fish sauce and lime juice until sugar dissolves. Stir in dill. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place 1/4 cup water in a 9” x 13” baking pan, then spread the lemongrass out. Place the trout on the bed of lemongrass and sprinkle salt on top of the fish. Cover the dish with parchment paper and then the foil, wrapping it around the edges to form a seal. Bake until the fish is cooked, about 10 to 15 minutes. (The good thing about steaming is you never overcook the fish). To check if the fish is done, insert a knife into the thickest part of the fish and lift the flesh away from the backbone. If it is easy to separate the flesh from the backbone, then it is done. If not, steam a little bit longer.

Place trout on a serving dish along with all of the steaming water. Pour the lime sauce over the top, then garnish with sliced limes and serve with jasmine rice.


Cook’s Note:

~Thai chilies are recommended for this recipe because they have a lingering flavor; you may remove seeds if needed. To control the spiciness of your finished dish, use 2 chilies for mild, 3 or 4 for medium, and 5 or 6 for a full spicy flavor.

~Always add the fish sauce before the lime juice to keep the sauce vibrant and fresh tasting.

~Best of all is to prepare the sauce while the fish is cooking. If you have a steamer, you can steam the fish in a serving size bowl and pour the sauce on top just before serving.

~The sauce can be used as a dipping sauce for any seafood, including mussels, clams and crab meat.

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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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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