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Pad BuabAlthough not the most photogenic of dishes, (made even less so with my lack of food photography skills :)) , it is a delicious and healthy dish, and quite a simple one to make.

I’ve observed many a Thai home cooks and their various personal styles for stir frying, and there is one technique which works well with vegetables such as zucchini and squash.  Some vegetables (mostly leafy ones) are best flash-stir-fried on super high heat usually called “Fai Dang ไฟแดง ” or “red fire.” Chinese broccoli and morning glory (ผักบุ้ง) are wonderful for such technique, which involves stir frying the vegetables in a very hot wok for a very short time.

However, for vegetables such as zucchini and squash, which requires a bit more time to cook and allow flavors of the sauce to penetrate, a different technique is required.  Cooks will stir fry to a point and, deglaze the wok with some water (yes, it is common in Thai cooking to deglaze with water!) and cover the wok with a lid to allow steaming and for flavors to penetrate.

So, that’s the technique we’ll use with this stir fry, a stir fry of zucchini and squash. (Note: This dish is akin to “Pad Buab” in Thailand.  Buab is a similar vegetable to zucchini and squash.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 large zucchini, cut into approx one sq inch pieces
  • 1 large squash, cut into same size
  • garlic, about 4 cloves chopped
  • oyster sauce, about 2 tbsp
  • fish sauce, about 1 tsp
  • 1 egg
  • oil
  1. Heat wok and add oil.  (For this dish, we won’t rely on a super hot wok since we will stir fry a while until the vegetables are tender.  Medium to medium high heat is fine.)
  2. Stir fry garlic till fragrant.
  3. Add zucchini and squash and stir fry until almost tender.
  4. Add oyster sauce and fish sauce and continue to stir fry.
  5. Add a little water just to deglaze the bottom of the wok and cover the wok with a lid.
  6. After a minute or so, check the tenderness of the zucchini and squash, and also the flavors.  Adjust the flavors if needed.
  7. Push the vegetables to the side of the wok and add an egg.  Wait till it starts to set, then scramble and fold back in the vegetables.
  8. Serve with jasmine rice.

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Moo Kratiem Prik Thai

This is another favorite among the lunch crowd in Thailand, and made readily available by food vendors in virtually every street corner. You can find this dish anywhere, and it is indeed simply delicious.

The dish is called Moo Kratiem Prik Thai, that is:

Moo = Pork

Kratiem = garlic

Prik Thai = ground pepper (usually white pepper).

Kai (chicken) and Kung (shrimp) are also popular meats for Kratiem Prik Thai.

As a nation, Thais eat quite a lot of pork, so you will find that dishes from Thai vendors often feature pork as the main protein.

Kratiem Prik Thai is a part of a Thai food category called “Aharn Jahn Deow” or literally “one plate food,” typically a made-to-order stir-fry over white jasmine rice.  It could also be a noodle stir-fry such as Pad Thai, Pad See U, Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Noodles), etc.  I’d go so far as to say that “one-plate-food” is the equivalent of the sandwich in terms of being an all encompassing meal offered up in one ‘package’, so to speak, and often eaten for lunch.

Although not technically street food, the Kratiem Prik Thai isn’t exactly a full sit-down restaurant food either (i.e. a restaurant where we go for dinners with friends and family and order dishes to be eaten family-style).   Most Kratiem Prik Thai is rather eaten at food stalls or lunchtime shops.  It is also a dish Thai home cooks don’t usually make at home.  So, however easy the dish is to make, I never made it until I came to live in the U.S.

There are variations to this dish – some cooks make it dryer, some make it juicier, some use only fish sauce, some only soy sauce (a friend of mine uses only Golden Mountain soy-based seasoning sauce), some a combination of the two, some throw in some oyster sauce.  In essence, this dish should taste salty savory and garlicky with just a hint of spiciness from the ground white pepper.  (Sugar is used only to balance out the other flavors, not to make the dish sweet.)

The following are my basic ingredients for Kratiem Prik Thai.

  • Meat, sliced thin-ish (Pork is most common, followed by shrimp and chicken.)
  • Garlic, minced (I use a couple of cloves per serving.)
  • Fish sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar
  • Ground white pepper (White peppercorns grounded to a powdery form – it tastes significantly different than black pepper, and commonly used in Thai cooking.)
  • Cooking oil
  • Cucumbers and tomatoes for garnish

Steps:

  1. Heat wok and add some oil. (In the meantime, I like to mix in a few dashes of soy sauce to the meat to marinate while waiting for the other steps.)
  2. Add garlic and stir-fry till fragrant.
  3. Add the pork and stir-fry till nearly done.
  4. Add a few dashes of fish sauce and soy sauce, and a sprinkle of sugar.
  5. Stir fry till pork is done and add a little water to deglaze the yummy bits from the bottom of the wok.
  6. Taste and adjusting seasoning if needed.
  7. Sprinkle in some white ground pepper.
  8. Serve over jasmine rice.  Garnish with cucumbers and tomatoes.

The perfect condiment for your Kratiem Prik Thai?   Prik Nam Pla of course!

Oh, just in case you were wondering why I have a fork and spoon in the picture…  In Thailand, we eat our rice-based (or even stir-fry noodle) meals with a fork in the left hand and a spoon in the right, using the fork to push food into the spoon and eating out of the spoon.  Give it a try! 🙂

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Lettuce wrap

This was meant to be a rice porridge dish but it quickly morphed into a lettuce wrap. (I was too hungry to wait for the rice.)  Yummy it was (hello Yoda) – and I didn’t miss the rice!

I was in the process of making one of my favorite breakfast dishes, rice porridge on a bed of lettuce with ground meat garlic stir-fry topping.   The stir-fry was a cinch, as stir-fries often are.  The rice porridge, on the other hand, was easy to make (just boil and then simmer rice with tons of water) but took forever to cook to the right consistency.

So, when the stir-fry was done and the lettuce was all washed and ready, I decided to start snacking.  I remember the little lettuce wrap appetizers from Chinese restaurants and decided to make a little wrap to tie myself over until the rice was done.  Lo and behold, one wrap turned into two turned into an entire meal.  By the time I was happily full, the rice was still not done!

I don’t know how the Chinese restaurants make them, but here is the version that transpired from today’s porridge-intended dish.  Since I hadn’t planned on blogging about this, I didn’t measure the ingredients but it is so easy – you just need to taste and adjust as you cook.  The results are super tasty.

Ingredients:

  • ground turkey (or pork, or chicken)
  • garlic, chopped (a generous amount)
  • oyster sauce
  • fish sauce
  • dark sweet soy sauce (you can substitute with regular soy sauce and add a little more sugar to the dish)
  • sugar
  • ground white pepper (or substitute with regular black pepper)
  • lettuce
  • scallions, thinly sliced
  • chili garlic sauce, as a condiment
  1. Heat wok and add oil.
  2. Stir fry garlic till fragrant.
  3. Add ground meat and stir fry until nearly done.
  4. Add a few dashes each of the oyster sauce, fish sauce, and dark sweet soy sauce.  Add a little sugar and ground pepper.  Stir fry till meat is done.
  5. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Add a little water to make a sauce out of the yummy tidbits stuck to the bottom of the wok.  Stir one last time and you’re done.
  6. Make your lettuce wraps and top with a little scallion and chili garlic sauce.
  7. Enjoy!

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Prik Nam Pla

In my recent post on Sriracha, I mentioned a popular condiment called Prik Nam Pla.  The direct translation is chili (“prik”) fish sauce (“nam pla”).

Prepared simply by cutting up bird chilies, adding some fish sauce and a squeeze of lime, Prik Nam Pla is a condiment for rice-based dishes such as fried rice or just white rice with sides. “Sides” in this case is a reference to all stir-fry dishes, soups, curries, etc. that are to be eaten alongside rice. We call these sides “Gub Kao” which literally means “with rice.”  Noodle dishes tend to have their own separate set of condiments (a topic for another post ;)).

Since I grew up observing my mother prepare fresh Prik Nam Pla to accompany our “Gub Kao” each dinnertime, I would highly recommend that you make it fresh as needed (as opposed to making a batch for storage).  It is easy to do so, and it tastes much better that way!

A note on bird chilies:

bird chiliBird Chili (or “Bird’s Eye Chili“) is called “Prik Kee Noo” in Thai.  Prik means chili and Kee Noo means…ready for this?… “mouse droppings.”  I know.  Such an unfortunate name for a poor little chili, but it makes sense, really.  Bird chilies are so tiny that the name is clearly a reference to its size.

Don’t let its size fool you, however.  Bird chilies are one of the hottest chilies, ranking 50,000 – 100,000 in the Scoville heat scale, a notch below the habanero, and much more innocuous looking, size-wise.

You can buy bird chilies in Asian grocery stores.  I pack them in plastic wrap and freeze them in zip-lock bags for later use.

You can substitute bird chilies with other high-heat chilies.  Serranos (quite a bit milder though) would be a decent substitute, and to a lesser extent, habaneros and Scotch bonnets (both much spicier so be careful!). Jalapenos would be an ‘ok’ substitute but I find that it adds too much of a green pepper flavor and not enough heat.

Let’s conclude this post with a heat remedy.  Let’s face it – the sheer satisfaction and endorphin high from eating spicy foods can sometimes be followed by an excruciating burning of the tongue.  Dairy can help cool you down.  However, I find the best and quickest relief comes from, literally, a spoonful of sugar. Works every time.

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Tuna TartarI’ve come to think about recipes lately.  It’s a funny thing.  I enjoy cookbooks.  I love gawking at pictures of food and reading recipes.  But I don’t always cook with recipes – more specifically, I’m just too lazy to measure stuff :).  Baking is another matter, however.  I don’t mind following such recipes as much.  As for cooking, I prefer freestyle – especially when it comes to Asian cooking.

Well, we had a beautiful warm spring afternoon today so I wanted to make  a light lunch appropriate for such weather.  So tuna tartare it was.  The best tuna tartare I’ve ever had was at Aqua in San Francisco, years ago when I was a West Coaster.  I remember the delicate flavors in the gorgeously presented tartare topped with a raw egg yolk.  The restaurant website posted a tartare recipe, but I was there such a long time ago that I’m not sure if this is the same recipe used back then.  In any case, I was inspired to create my own tuna tartare.

The following are the ingredients that I used to make my tartare, sans egg.  I didn’t measure anything so there’s no recipe.  I just tasted and adjusted the seasonings until the flavors were well-balanced.  More fun that way.

Ingredients

  • Sushi-grade tuna
  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi
  • Ginger, grated
  • Lemon (use both the zest and juice)
  • Sesame seeds (I used black sesame seeds), toasted – it brings out the flavors
  • Sesame oil
  • Scallions, thinly sliced

Cut the tuna into small cubes (a super sharp knife helps).  In a separate bowl, mix together soy sauce, a bit of wasabi and ginger, some lemon juice and zest, and a small dash of sesame oil (sesame oil can overwhelm a dish if we use too much!).  Taste and adjust the flavors to how you like it.  I like to taste by dipping a cube of tuna in the dressing.  When you are happy with the flavors, pour a bit into the tuna and mix – taste, and add more dressing if needed.  Stir in toasted sesame seeds and scallions.

Enjoy!

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Say hello to the ultimate Thai comfort food – a simple fried omelette, Kai Jeow, served with Sriracha, the ‘real’ one ;).  A classic go-to  dish, so under-rated, so obscure (on the international Thai food scene), so simply delicious.

Kai Jeow

The widely beloved Kai Jeow is  the Thai equivalent to meatloaf and mash potatoes in terms of comfort food and to peanut butter and jelly sandwich as the go-to meal that everyone knows how to make.

The key to good Kai Jeow is a hot wok and a generous amount of oil.  No worries, just use decent-for-you oil such as canola.  The other key is a good condiment – real Sriracha sauce.  Yes, that’s right.  Real Sriracha sauce to me is the one called Sriracha Panich (arguably the original sauce from the seaside town of Sriracha in Chon Buri province).  It’s the one my father grew up with and still considers the ultimate chili sauce.

Best Chili Sauce Debate

Sriracha and Gold Label

An ongoing debate between my father and brother centers around which is the best brand of chili sauce, my father’s nostalgic favorite Sriracha Panich or my brother’s preferred Gold Label brand.  Gold Label is a solidly good chili sauce but not a dominant brand in Thailand.  In our hometown province, only one store carries this brand, and my brother would literally empty out the store of his favorite sauce every time he visits.  Needless to say, our childhood home is stocked with at least two brands of chili sauce to appease both my father and brother.

As for me, I side with my father’s chosen brand, for taste and for sentimental value.

Will the real Sriracha please stand up?

Two Srirachas

Sriracha sauce (pronounced “See-Rah-Cha”) is named after the Thai seaside town of Sriracha in Chon Buri province.  It was concocted as a dipping sauce, mostly for different kinds of meats.  The brand become widely popular and has taken on the meaning of chili sauce itself (think Kleenex and Xerox, and in the U.K., Hoover).  Nowadays, there are numerous competing brands of chili sauce, but Thais will still refer to them collectively as “Sriracha.”

Consistent with the original intent, Sriracha (and chili sauce in general) is still used almost exclusively as a dipping sauce for meats and, of course, Kai Jeow.  It is rarely ever used merely to add heat to a dish (a la noodles, stir-fry, etc).  Condiments for adding heat are typically bird chili in fish sauce (Prik Nam Pla), hot pepper in vinegar (Prik Nam Som), or crushed red peppers.

The American version of Sriracha (the omnipresent plastic bottle with the green top produced by Huy Fong) has taken on an all-purpose role of condiment and cooking sauce.  U.S. cooks and chefs  incorporate Sriracha in their recipes, a practice not common among Thai cooks – save the occasional use in some versions of fried rice.

*Note:  The original Sriracha Panich ศรีราชาพาณิชย์ (panich means commerce)  now markets the product under the name Sriraja Panich (with a “j”) since “Sriracha” was trademarked in the U.S. by Huy Fong.

But I digress.

Let’s talk about Kai Jeow.

There are many versions of Kai Jeow, from the plain Kai Jeow to one with scallions, with ground pork (kai jeow moo sub), “stuffed” (kai jeow yud sai) with a saute of ground pork, tomatoes and onions.  The possibilities are endless, and endlessly delicious.

My favorite is the plain Kai Jeow.  I also like my father’s version – adding a little chopped scallions to the wok a few seconds before the egg.

Kai Jeow is typically served with white jasmine rice.  In Northern Thailand, where I am from, sticky rice rules, so I happen to love my Kai Jeow with sticky rice, eating with my hands like a true Northerner.  (I always give my Bangkokian friends a hard time for using utensils to eat sticky rice.  Sacrilege, I say!)  There is something about the glutinous texture and slight sweetness of sticky rice that goes perfectly well with the savory golden crusted Kai Jeow.  Bliss.

Kai Jeow in the simplest form has only two ingredients – egg and fish sauce. Different cooks have their different variations.  I like to add a couple dashes of soy sauce to mine.

Here’s my version:

Ingredients

  • Egg, 1
  • Fish sauce, few dashes (say 1/2 teaspoon worth)
  • Soy sauce, fewer dashes than the fish sauce (maybe 1/4 tsp).  Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce (a soy-based sauce) works great here.

Beat Egg

  1. Break the egg into a bowl.
  2. Add fish sauce and soy sauce.
  3. Heat up the wok and add enough oil to coat bottom of the wok.
  4. While waiting for the oil to heat up, beat the egg with a fork (this is how we do it in Thailand, but a whisk is cool too) until frothy – we want lots of air bubbles.
  5. When the oil is hot (test it by adding a tiny drop of egg – it should really sizzle), slowly pour in the egg.  It will sizzle and bubble away.  Spread it around so it cooks evenly.
  6. When one side is golden brown, flip it, and cook the other side till done.
  7. Serve with rice (either regular rice or sticky rice) and ‘real’ 😉 Sriracha.

An ode to the beloved Kai Jeow, by the equally beloved Thai band Chaliang.

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No name noodlesOr perhaps this should be called “Whatever-I-had-in-the-Fridge Noodles.” Whatever the name, it was mmm..mmm good.

The story is that dinnertime came and I had no idea what to make and my supplies were running low.  I did have a few random ingredients leftover from other meals – some ground beef from making burgers, some jalapenos from making prik nam som, half a bell pepper from a recent stir-fry, some somen noodles (well, I always have a some kind of noodles lying around), etc.

I wanted a stir-fry over noodles, not noodle stir-fry.  I also wanted a soy-saucy flavor with a little kick.  So, the following recipe emerged.

The Ingredients (one portion)

  • Somen Noodles (totally substitutable!), a portion
  • Ground Beef, about a cup
  • 2 cloves Garlic, crushed
  • 1 Jalapeno, cut horizontally
  • 1/4 of an Onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 Red Bell Pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs, Dark Sweet Soy Sauce (or substitute with regular soy sauce but start out using half Tbs instead, then taste and adjust.  Some soy sauces are saltier than others.  Also, add a bit more sugar since sweet soy sauce is, indeed, sweet.)
  • 1  1/2 tsp, Fish Sauce (Note: this is in teaspoons. A little fish sauce goes a long way!)
  • 1/2 tsp, Sugar
  • Scallions, thinly sliced – a little for garnish
  • Cilantro, chopped – a little for garnish
  • Chili garlic sauce (condiment)

The Noodles:

  1. If you are using somen (or another Japanese noodle), cook according to instructions, drain, and rinse.  This will prevent it from clumping.
  2. Place in a bowl to await the stir-fry.

The Stir-Fry:

  1. Heat the wok, add oil, wait till hot.
  2. Add garlic and jalapeno, stir-fry till fragrant (just not too long or garlic will burn!).
  3. Add onions and red bell peppers, stir-fry till tender.
  4. Add ground beef.
  5. Add sweet soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar.
  6. Stir-fry till done.  Spoon on to noodles and garnish with scallions and cilantro.  Top with a small dollop of chili garlic sauce.
  7. Enjoy!

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