Monthly Archives: May 2011

Crab Fried Rice

Bye, Bye Thai! As this is the last day of May – it is also my last day of Thai cooking. I had one more recipe I really wanted to make, called Thai-style Crab Fried Rice.  It’s from a probably not-so-authentic but tasty book of recipes called “From Bangkok to Bali in 30 minutes”. This is a great use for leftover rice, and would probably be just as good (and cheaper!) with canned tuna, or even as a vegetarian dish (just use soy sauce instead of fish sauce, and probably use more shallots for deeper flavor).

Thai-style Crab Fried Rice
3 Tbsp. canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, chopped finely
2 Tbsp. minced cilantro stems
1/4 c. chopped cilantro leaves
3 c. cold cooked rice
1/2 lb. lump crabmeat, picked clean of shells
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
fresh pineapple pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a non-stick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add canola oil and then garlic, shallots and cilantro stems. Stir-fry for a minute until fragrant. Then add cold rice, breaking up large clumps as you go, and continue to stir-fry for another 1-2 minutes. Add crabmeat, fish sauce, brown sugar, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Stir fry for another 1 minute, then transfer to a bowl and top with cilantro leaves. Serve immediately, along with tomatoes (sprinkle them with salt and pepper to flavor) and pineapple chunks on the side.


Mussaman Curry

My friend Janelle’s favorite Thai curry is Mussman, so I waited to cook this dish until she could join me for a meal. This time, I actually made my own curry paste from scratch. What a lot of work – worth it in the end, but I can see why the canned curry pastes are popular! The basic recipe for Mussaman curry paste is;

4 dried red chiles
3 Tbsp. shallots, minced
1/4 c. garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. galangal, finely sliced
1 Tbsp. lemongrass, finely sliced
2 cloves
2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. peppercorn
1 tsp. salt

Note: I omitted the shrimp paste, since that’s an ingredient I probably wouldn’t use again. Also, if the word “galangal” stopped you in your tracks, here’s what it looks like.  Similar to ginger root (though it seems a bit more perishable in my experience so far) galangal is used in many Thai soups and curry pastes and considered to have nutritional and digestive properties.

Steps to make the curry paste: remove and discard seeds from dried red chiles, chop the flesh into small pieces and soak in warm tap water until they’re soft. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, dry roast the coriander, cumin, cloves and peppercorn until aromatic and starting to brown. Grind these in a mortar and pestle with salt into a powder. In the same skillet, dry roast the garlic, lemongrass, shallots, and galangal until starting to brown. In the mortar and pestle, grind together all of these ingredients, adding the softened red pepper too. It takes kind of a pounding and grinding motion, and I don’t have a very large mortar and pestle – so it didn’t work perfectly, but I ended up with a fairly smooth paste in the end. I actually just made half this recipe of curry paste for the curry dish described below, but if you make a double batch you’ll have some for another meal too!

The recipe for this Mussaman curry comes from a cookbook I previously mentioned, that came to me direct from Bangkok. My friend Harold was teaching English in Thailand for a couple of years, so I asked if he had seen any authentic cookbooks written in English. Not only did Harold find me this cookbook, but he also came up with the brilliant idea to have his students read through it and write me little post-it notes in English for the recipes. So now many of the recipes have little comments, like “You can use coconut milk and fresh milk (low sugar)” and “This is a menu very common food in Thailand”. What a great idea, and great gift – and the students got to practice their English at the same time!  Thanks again Harold!

Because the cookbook came from Thailand, I know these must be fairly authentic recipes. And I know from the post-it on the Mussaman curry recipe that “Mussaman” means Moslem.  Ideally, that means I would have NOT used pork in the curry recipe, typically beef or chicken is used. But pork is what I had on hand, so that’s what I used. Musssaman curry usually contains cubed potatoes and peanuts, and I also added green beans. The dish has a nice spice to it without being overly hot, and treated this way the pork also gets really tender. It didn’t turn out as red-colored as the dish when you order it from a Thai restaurant, or even as the picture in the cookbook shows, but it tastes very similar anyway.

Mussaman Curry
1 lb. pork, chicken, or beef, cubed
1 can coconut milk
1/2 recipe (or about 3 Tbsp.) Mussaman paste
1 potato, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. green beans
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. tamarind cooking concentrate
1/2 c. unsalted roasted peanuts

In a large skillet, stir-fry the curry paste in a Tbsp. of oil until aromatic. Then add the meat and continue to stir fry for a few minutes to partially cook the meat. Pour in the coconut milk and scrape all the good bits off the bottom of the pan. Add potatoes, green beans, cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Let simmer covered for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with fish sauce, brown sugar and tamarind, and taste to adjust seasonings accordingly. These ingredients round out the dish with flavors of salty, sweet and sour, respectively. Cook for a little longer until all vegetables and meat are cooked through. Serve over rice.

Adapted/Mixed from: Healthy and Easy Thai Cooking by Nuengnuj Chaixanien, AND Thai Cooking by Judy Bastyra and Becky Johnson

Pad Thai at home – who needs takeout?

Up till now in this month of Thai cooking, I’ve been trying to cook some unusual dishes that you might not find in a typical Thai restaurant in the U.S.  But I have to admit that the common noodle dishes are often my favorite, particularly Pad Thai and Pad Kee Mao (“drunken noodles”).  So tonight, I made a big dish of Pad Thai and it was delicious, if I DO say so myself :)

This whole project is becoming a problem, though — it used to be that I didn’t really like eating out at the typical “American food” places, because they serve items I could make at home, and make better.  Now that I’m learning how to make these international dishes too, eating out even at those restaurants is starting to seem less desirable. Why go out when you can make it yourself much cheaper, and to your particular tastes/allergies/preferences?

I followed the recipe on this website,  The page includes a lot of good tips, ways to make it vegetarian, substitutions you can use, etc.  You can use any type of rice noodle, but I think typically Pad Thai is made with a narrow flat noodle, kind of like the shape of linguine.

Tamarind is an ingredient you might not have on hand, but shown to the right is a concentrated tamarind sauce that I recently found at an Asian market. Prior to finding this, I would take tamarind pulp – which has seeds and everything, soak it in water, then mush it around to make my own paste. But then you have to sift out the seeds and remaining hard parts, and it’s just kind of a pain. With this concentrated solution, you just stir to mix and pour out what you need – much easier! Tamarind adds a sour taste to the dish, which is also accentuated by squeezing a lime wedge over the hot noodles just before eating.  This recipe did make about 3 servings, as mentioned with the recipe.

Kabocha, Thai-style squash dishes

I was first introduced to kabocha squash when my dad started growing a variety called “Black Forest” in our garden more than 10 years ago. Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash, with a flavor I enjoy much more than some other popular winter squash like butternut or acorn squash. The kabocha squash has a nutty flavor and firm flesh that holds up really well in stir fries and other dishes. I’ve seen this squash used in a number of Thai dishes, including a popular ‘dessert’ which involves filling the center of the squash with a coconut custard and steaming until firm, then slicing it open. Very pretty, but I haven’t had time to attempt that!

I made two savory Thai dishes this weekend using the kabocha squash.  First, a beef and kabocha stew, made by stewing pieces of marinated beef in coconut milk and adding kabocha cubes, see recipe below.

Beef and Pumpkin Stew (Kean Bah-Shaw)
1 tsp. coriander seeds
2 tsp. peppercorns
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. cilantro leaves and stems
1/2 lb. top sirloin, cubed
1 can coconut milk, plus enough water to equal 3 c.
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Thai chiles, sliced thinly with seeds
1 1/2 c. cubed kabocha squash

Toast the coriander seeds and peppercorns in a non-stick skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until fragrant and starting to brown a bit. Grind these in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add sea salt, garlic and cilantro and grind into a paste. Rub this paste into the beef chunks, cover and refrigerate overnight to season.

Bring coconut milk and water up to a boil, then add the beef chunks. Simmer, covered for 1 hour. This step should make the beef very tender. Add the fish sauce and chiles, then season to taste with additional fish sauce (for saltiness) if needed. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes. Then add kabocha squash, cover and simmer 15 more minutes. Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro.

Adapted from: “Cracking the Coconut: Classic Thai Home Cooking” by Su-Mei Yu

With the remaining cubed kabocha squash, I made a red curry vegetable and tofu curry dish. The recipe for this is pretty informal and doesn’t really include amounts, since I kind of made it up as I was going!  I had a bunch of vegetables and tofu that I needed to use, so here’s what I did;

Drain and cut the tofu into cubes, saute in vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet until it starting to brown. Add slivered onion and kabocha squash cubes and stir fry for another 4-5 minutes, until the onion is getting translucent. Add eggplant chunks, mushrooms, and sweet corn kernels and stirfry for a few more minutes. Here’s what it looked like;

Then, heat one can coconut milk in another pan, and add about 3 Tbsp. red curry paste, or more to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes until it is all well-dissolved and starts to thicken a bit. For salt, add 1 Tbsp. fish sauce and a couple dashes of soy sauce.

Mix this curry liquid into the stir fried vegetables and cook together for a few minutes. Serve over rice.

For something I made up, I think it turned out pretty tasty! Maybe not “officially” Thai, but it followed the basic principles of making a curry from canned curry paste, as I also described in my post on green curry. As I said then, the method of making a coconut-based curry is actually very easy and quick when you use the canned curry pastes, feel free to experiment with ingredients that you have on hand.

Eggplant & Tofu Stirfry

On the way home Friday, I stopped at an Asian market where they had some lovely Japanese eggplants. If you’ve never had this type of eggplant, I strongly recommend that you try them. They’re so much easier to deal with than the larger eggplant you get in a regular grocery store in the U.S. – you don’t need to peel them and they don’t have a lot of seeds. They also tend to have a less “bitter” aftertaste than the larger eggplants, which means you don’t need to include the step of salting and drawing liquid out of them.

To use in a stir-fry, simply wash the eggplants, trim off the ends and slice or cube them into bite-sized pieces. My dad has grown all kinds of eggplants for many years, so let me also give you a tip about choosing a good eggplant in the store or farmer’s market. Many people make the mistake of thinking eggplant should be soft because that means it’s “ripe”. That’s a misconception, an eggplant is only soft if it has been sitting around too long! A fresh eggplant will actually be firm and shiny, and the stem should look as if it has been recently cut. The ones shown in the picture above are actually not very fresh based on the stem, but they were still fairly firm and I knew I was going to use them quickly.

Eggplant can be included as one of the vegetables in pretty much any Thai curry dish, but I wanted to find a recipe that would showcase the eggplant. This was actually much more difficult than I expected, only one of my available Thai cookbooks had an eggplant recipe that seemed to fit the bill, an eggplant and tofu stir fry. It was worth searching for, though – quick, delicious, and vegetarian.

Eggplant with Tofu
1/4 c. vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Japanese eggplants (3/4-1 lb.)
1/4 lb. firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed
10 basil leaves
2-4 Thai chiles (depending on your spice preference), red or green, sliced thinly
1 Tbsp. black bean sauce

Wash the eggplant and slice into about 1/8-inch rounds. If there’s a thicker spot, you can slice them in half moons instead.  In a non-stick skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute until lightly browned and fragrant.  Add the eggplant and tofu and stir-fry for about 5-7 minutes. Eggplant is a sponge for oil, so don’t be surprised if it mostly is absorbed. By the end of the cooking time, the eggplant should appear somewhat translucent.  You can also cover and steam the dish for a short while to make sure they are cooked through.

Add the basil leaves, chiles and bean sauce and stir well to mix, just for another minute or so. Serve immediately over rice or rice noodles.  This makes about 2-3 servings as a main dish.

Note: the original recipe called for yellow bean sauce, which is something I haven’t seen and didn’t have on hand. So I used the Chinese style black bean sauce instead, and it worked fine.

Adapted from: Keo’s Thai Cuisine, by Keo Sananikone

Spicy Tuna Basil

Phad Ka-prow Pla Tu-na involves canned tuna in a stir-fry, interesting! This recipe came from a cookbook that I received straight from Bangkok, I’ll tell you that story when I have time in a future post. I’m not sure the recipe quite turned out right, because apparently “1 can” of tuna in Thailand is a different size than a typical American can.  After seeing the volume of other ingredients I doubled the tuna and used 2 cans, and I think that is about right as long as you eat the dish with plenty of rice to temper the spiciness. The dish is very quick to make since you’re starting with already cooked meat.

I also had to guess on my own hot pepper ratio, since the original recipe calls for spur chiles, and I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.  I used green Thai chiles which (if not the same) at least look very similar to the online pictures of spur chiles, but I also added a couple of dried red chiles for color since I couldn’t find fresh red ones. If you don’t have a high tolerance for spices, you will want to cut down on the amount of chiles in this recipe – it has a good kick to it as written!

Spicy Tuna Basil
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 dried red chiles, sliced thinly (with seeds for more heat)
2 large garlic cloves, chopped fine
2 cans tuna in water, drained well
2 fresh Thai chiles, chopped fine
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. oyster sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 c. (loosely packed) Thai basil leaves

Heat the canola oil in a non-stick skillet or wok over medium-high heat.  Add fresh chiles and garlic and stir fry until lightly browned. Add tuna and stir until mixed well and heated through.  Then add fresh chiles, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar. Stir for another 1-2 minutes until well-mixed. Take off the heat and add basil leaves (whole or chiffonade, to your preference).

Serve over plain rice, this serves 2 people. The whole cooking process only takes about 5 minutes, so make sure to start your rice cooking ahead of time.

Adapted from: Healthy & Easy Thai Cooking

Hosting a Persian dinner

My church has an annual spring auction event to raise money for our youth group’s summer trips. This year, my friend Amy and I sold tickets to a homemade Persian dinner, which happened last night.  Most of the items on the menu were things that I had made (and blogged about) previously, during the March Persian cooking experience. Those included Pistachio Soup, Cauliflower Kuku, Chicken Kabab, and Adas Polow (this is the rice and lentil mixture shown below with chicken kabab around the outer rim of the plate).

One new item that we made was something I saw in a magazine recently. I don’t think it was attributed to Persian/Iranian culture, but it seemed to fit the overall theme. So we made these cucumber, feta and toasted walnut bite appetizers. No recipe is really required, it’s that easy – and such a delicious crunchy and salty bite. We had to hold ourselves back from eating them all before our guests arrived!

The other new item on the menu was a Persian rice cookie made with rose water. Rose water is a common ingredient in Persian sweets, though a bit unusual and “perfume-y” for the American palate. We served the cookies with a couple small scoops of mango sorbet, sprinkled with pistachios. Our cookies turned out very flat compared to those represented with the recipe on the mypersiankitchen blog, but there are probably a couple of reasons for that. One, the battery in my scales was dead, so I didn’t have a chance to verify the weight of the dry ingredients, and two – I was using rice flour purchased from an Asian market, which may have been a different consistency than Persian rice flour. Regardless of the look, the cookies tasted very good, with a melt-in-your-mouth, very airy consistency.

Overall, I think the crowd felt like they had gotten their “money’s worth”, and we had a great time fellowshipping and laughing together too!