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Dinner With Friends

January 6, 2010

As you might have noticed, I just placed a couple of brand new recipes up on the blog under the asian category:

This was motivated by dinner last night with our good friends and fellow foodies Bryan and Samantha.  Bryan is my go to guy on all things Thai and Vietnamese as well as some other Asian foods.  He and I often compare notes on Asian food from Indian to Southeast Asain.  But I defer to him in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.  And so last night, for the first time in memory, I was the sous chef in my own kitchen as we hammered out the two recipes I posted above plus jasmine rice and a killer Red Thai Curry that Bryan has developed over time.  I mean Thai Spicy Delicious all the way and despite the many beers and scarfing the Fresh Rolls as they were finished, I still managed to put back a portion of his awesome curry.  Kuddos Bryan.  BTW I am trying to get him to begin blogging and will connect everyone if he does.

But on to curries.  Although my primary motivator is to consume the local fares, my world food interest comes from a profound interest in the history and culture of both the regions, countries and food items that I eat. 

Curry is an interesting word.  Here is a link to a brief overview of the word itself:

Found in many cuisines, it really is generic for a spice blend of South Asian spices.  Although most people think of Indian food when they think of curry, it can be found throughout Asian cuisine in various forms and is even called the national dish of England.  An interesting fact: over 2 Million Britons eat in Indian restaurants every week!  Holy Fish And Naan Bread Batman!  I guess imperialism had a reverse effect in Jolly England.

As to Thai Currys, they are distinct in their use of Thai Chilis and local ingredients found in Thailand.  Either you love them or you hate them is what I have found in talking with people.  Unfortunately, with the heavy spice levels common in Thai Food and the use of ingredients like coconut milk and other Non-Western traditional ingredients, I believe people often judge the whole cuisine by the first one or two dishes they try.  If they like those, they will continue to explore Thai food, if not, they give up before they find something they like.  I posted a couple delicious, non-spicy and fairly easy to relate to items so that people may get a good first impression.  Hopefully it will encourage more exploration, as I find Thai food to be as interesting and diverse as Indian food. 

When I was new to world food, I happened upon a Thai restaurant near my home in Miami.  Ignorantly assuming it would be similar to Chinese greasy spoons, I went in to try it out.  This particular restaurant also had a sushi bar which was a new favorite of mine, but I was not feeling for sushi that day.  It was a cold day and I asked for a savory soup to warm me up.  The waiter recommended I try Tom Kha Gai(Chicken with coconut and ginger soup).  I was absolutely blown away by the rich savory sweet and aromatic aspects of this dish.  In fact in retrospect, although I was going to culinary school at the time, this may be the first time I was completely blown away by a recipe.  I have learned to make my own version now and will post the recipe up here soon.

I am fortunate to have a good local Thai Grocery near my daughters school.  The owner knows food and is always happy to recommend which ingredient to use for which dish.  She is helping me learn to use the variety of unique ingredients that are part of this cooking style.  If you can locate a good Thai Grocery in your town, make sure to look for the following things:

A good Fish Sauce.  I use the Two Crabs variety and it is a high quality product.  Warning!  Although a key ingredient in Thai food, do not be scared off by the strong aroma!  It lingers like country cousins, but adds salinity and flavor to alot of Thai food. 

Galangal, A variety of Ginger that has a distinct taste and aroma that sets it apart from common ginger.  I still use alot of ginger, but for certain Thai dishes, there is not a substitute for Galangal.

Kefir Lime Leaves, possibly one of the most haunting aromas other than Black Perigord Truffles, Kefir Lime Leaves are also pricey, coming in at around 30 bucks a pound.  Fortunately, they are light and you dont need too many.  Also you can freeze them in a ziploc and they will last along time.  Your Thai Grocery may sell them in whatever weights you require. A small bag good for one or two recipes will cost about 2-3 bucks.

An assortment of spices and mushrooms both dry and fresh.  I like Enokis alot for simple taste and garnish.  They are pretty.

Coconut milk, is available at most grocery stores these days but is often cheaper at an Asian Market.

Sriracha, chili sauce is delicious and balanced in spice and flavor.  Try it.

Thai Soy Sauce.  Just do it. You will never regret it. It is what molasses would taste like if it were not so damn sweet. In fact I will be using it to braise some pork soon and will report on the outcome.

Thai Basil, the quintessential Thai ingredient and used in just about everything.  An excellent pungent and digestible basil that adds a pleasing cloud of aroma to any recipe.

Jasmine Rice, an aromatic rice similar to Basmati.

Thai Chilis, these red and green little chilis are not small in spice!!!  Rivaling some of the hottest western chilies, they add a distinctly delicious flavor as well as fire to any dish.

With these ingredients, you should be able to assemble some great dishes.  There are so many other great things to try you will have fun exploring Thai cuisine.  Talk to your grocer for more great ideas.

Keep Cooking!

Thai Soy Sauce and Two Crabs Brand Fish Sauce

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