Sunday, 21 February 2010

Popular Thai Herbs


The overall character of Thai food, just the same as any regional food, is governed by the most common herbs and spices used in its preparation. What makes Thai food so tasty is the fact the there are such a wide range of inexpensive, and easily obtained herbs and spices to be found in Thailand. Below we will take a look at the three most commonly used of them, which definitely help to form that great Thai taste.

Lemongrass – A very hard grass stalk, with a strong taste of lemon. Thai people add Lemongrass to a dish either smashed down to a paste form in a mortar and pestle, finely chopped, or on 3-6 centimeter lengths. Note that the third form is not eaten, it is simply there to add flavor, leave it in the dish when eating.

Basil – An immensely popular herb across the whole of Thailand. Thai basil is a little different than the basil we find in the western world. The leaves are much larger, and the plants are busier. Also, the taste is not quite so strong. Thai folks will use handfuls of basil when cooking, whereas we would only use a few leaves in the West.

Kaffir Lime Leaves – A whole range of soups, curries, friend dishes and sauces, all feature Kaffir Lime Leaves. Leaves are tossed into the dish, and are used to add flavor. The leaves are never eaten, and are simply left in the serving dish.

So there we have it, 3 of Thailand’s most popular herbs, every chef keen to try their hand at Thai food will need to keep these stocked.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Coping with Chillies


Let’s face it, in the Western World, our idea of spicy is a pizza with a few jalapenos on top. Many people visiting Thailand, or trying authentic Thai food for the first time, often encounter the burning mouth, running nose and numb lips, that only a really spicy dish can cause. So how do we go about enjoying Thai food without this risk?

The simplest way, yet not the best way, is simply to ask for dishes to be prepared without too much chilli. Asking for a dish to be made “Mai Phet” or not hot, is the way to achieve this. However, if you do this, you are missing the true Thai taste, and eating a dish which is a shadow of its proper flavour.

Now I will teach you a little secret I have discovered over the past 5 years living in Thailand. The Thai people cheat when it comes to spicy food. They know for a fact that certain things like sugar will kill the burning chilli sensation dead, whilst leaving the taste intact. Watch a Thai person putting condiments into noodle soup, in goes a spoonful of sugar for every spoonful of dried chilli. In a similar fashion, several types of vegetable leaves can have the same effect such as peppermint.

Hands down the best way to cope with spicy food is to get used to it. I still remember how it used to feel when I could not eat the dishes I ordered. Fortunately a tolerance for chilli is very quick to build up. Persevere, eat food as spicy as you can handle, and then increase the heat over a period of time. Trust me on this, I now eat food spicier than most Thai people can handle, and have been for quite some time.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Secret of that Thai Taste

Most people who have been to Thailand will agree that once you have tasted locally prepared food, then Thai restaurants in the rest of the world pale into insignificance, as the true taste is seldom recreated outside Thailand, but why is this?

The reason is glaringly simple if you watch Thai food being prepared anywhere in the country, from a simple street stall to an up market restaurant – fresh ingredients and good preparation.

Typically, a person preparing a Thai dish will not use any form of pre-prepared seasoning. Instead they will use a mortar and pestle to grind herbs and spices together, to create the flavouring for the dish. The exception to this is curry paste, which will usually be purchased from a local market, although this has previously been prepared in the same way.

In the same way that Thai people pay great attention to the actual preparation of the raw ingredients, they also demand that all food cooked be fresh. Thai people do not stock their fridges, they do not fill up their freezers, instead they work on a buy today eat today basis. Each day, fresh food will be purchased for consumption for that day alone.

So here are the two real tricks to achieving that great Thai taste when cooking at home. Firstly, always use entirely fresh produce whenever you can. Secondly, avoid pre-made or off the shelf seasonings, instead prepare them yourself using the raw ingredients.