Ooh, my favorite!

Pimalai Resort & Spa
August 29, 2011, 12:45 pm
Filed under: Green, Thai Style, Travel

While helping a dear friend plan for her upcoming trip to Thailand I happened upon this beautiful resort, hidden away from the popular destination of Krabi, and suddenly my need for a beachfront getaway was boosted to new levels. Tucked away, and only accessible by a one-hour boat ride, Pimalai encompasses 100 acres of rainforest and a 900 meter (~.5 miles) stretch of pristine beachfront access. The resort is also host to one of Thailand’s best restaurants, world-renowned spa services and accommodations, and is also considered a green resort.

A new item for my travel to-do’s.

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Larb Gai
November 15, 2010, 12:43 pm
Filed under: Recipes, Thai Style

Chicken Larb served with red leaf lettuce and english cucumbers

I often wonder why people like Thai food so much. The most accessible versions are often too sweet, overly-reliant on coconut milk, and just plain Americanized. I say this only because it is SO easy to happen upon mediocre restaurants; just take your pick from any one of the handful of restaurants that are probably within a mile of your house. While Thai food is most certainly not the only type of ethnic cuisine to fall victim to oversaturation and Americanization, it is the cuisine that I hold most dear to my heart, so I can’t help but take half-assed recipes personally. This, my dear friends, is why I am sharing my family’s Larb recipe with you: complete with a secret ingredient! I truly hope you love it as much as I do.

Larb Gai

Serves 4 as an appetizer or part of a family-style meal with other dishes

–  1 pound organic ground chicken (beef or turkey will also work)

–  2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

–  4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

–  1 red onion, sliced thinly

–  1/4 cup white jasmin rice, toasted

–  Juice from 2 limes

–  1 Tablespoon fish sauce

–  1-4 teaspoons red pepper flakes

–  1/2 teaspoon sugar

–  1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

–  ground black pepper

Rice. Toasted. Yep, that’s the key. If you’ve never experienced this flavor profile before it truly should not be missed. Similar to sesame oil, it’s all about the fragrance: slightly nutty and even a little smokey it’s unlike anything else.

In a skillet over medium heat, add a single layer of jasmin rice (uncooked). Swirl the pan regularly to avoid burning and adjust the heat as needed. If the grains are popping lower the heat, but if they are not browning after a few minutes raise slightly. After about 10 minutes the grains should no longer be translucent but milky white and mostly browned. Remove from head and add directly into a blender.

Toasted jasmin rice – after 10 minutes

Compare the colors – untoasted and toasted

Pulse the rice into a coarse powder. The texture will be inconsistent: very fine with some larger granules mixed in. Set aside.

Toasted rice ground into a coarse powder

Finely mince the garlic and set aside. Then thinly slice one purple onion and set aside.

Paper-thin slices of red onion

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. Once up to temperature add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant but do not brown (about 1 minute). Add the ground chicken and begin to brown. Add half of the fish sauce (1-2 teaspoons) and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix well and break into small pieces.

Note: Ground chicken and turkey tend to take a bit more work to break into smaller pieces.

Tip: Which ever protein you choose, please use a high-quality grade without additives or hormones. This makes all the difference in the world as the texture and taste of this dish is really all about the protein. (If you’ve ever had an off batch of ground turkey, you know that texture is essential!)

Continue to brown until slightly underdone, add lime juice, remaining teaspoon fish sauce, red chili flakes, and a small pinch of sugar. Mix together, then add the toasted rice powder. Continue to cook until the chicken is completely cooked through. Turn off heat and add the onions. Taste for seasoning and add more fish sauce or lime juice as needed. Mix well and set aside.

Just before serving add the chopped cilantro and mix well. Serve with crisp whole red lettuce leaves and thick slices of english cucumber.

Tip: Since I was bringing this as a potluck dish I didn’t add as much of the red chili flakes as usual. If you’re worried about your guests tolerance for heat, you can always add less and have a small dish on the side for each person to add extra.

One of my all-time favorite dishes I really want you to have the chance to taste it as it’s truly intended. It’s a super simple dish that will have you second guessing that last minute take-out. If for nothing else, you must try this to check out the toasted rice; it’s a flavor and scent that’s unlike anything else. Please let me know what you think!

Garlic chili oil
April 21, 2010, 9:41 am
Filed under: Recipes, Thai Style

This condiment is a staple in every Thai kitchen, and oh my gosh, there are no words to describe its yumminess. Just the word garlic is all I need to hear, but then you add fried to the mix and it’s on a whole different level; I’d even go so far as to say the same level as bacon. Then, with the addition of ground chili and a touch of sugar we’re in a different world all together.

This chili recipe actually stems from the basic fried garlic oil that’s used daily in Thai cooking, so if you prefer just the fried garlic, you can still use this recipe, just omit the addition of the chili and sugar. I typically have both handy since it will last for a few weeks.

Garlic chili oil

– 15 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed in a mortar and pestle (food processor will work too)

– 3/4 cup canola oil

– 1-2 tablespoons crushed red chili flakes

–  2 teaspoons sugar

In a small pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. You can test the temperature by dropping in a tiny piece of garlic; it should bubble right away, but be far from burning. When it comes up to temp add the garlic. Stir often and watch the garlic carefully to see how the color changes. After about two minutes it will reach a light yellowish color, about a minute or so longer and it’s a rich golden color with hints of the lighter yellow. Stir in the ground chili flakes and sugar and remove from the heat.

Note: The garlic will continue to cook after it has been removed from the heat, so the trick is to pull it a minute or so before it’s done.

Let cool and store in an air-tight container. Do not refrigerate.

If you want to skip the chili and sugar, simply pull the garlic from the heat when it reaches the rich gold and yellow stage. That’s it.

Here’s a pic from a batch I made a few weeks ago. I was feeling lazy and used the food processor to chop the garlic, so feel free to do that too. I do prefer the texture of the smashed garlic from the mortar and pestle, but in a pinch the food processor is great.

Serving suggestions:

– Soups (see my Jok recipe)

– Pizza (so good on a slice of margherita!)

– Sauteed greens (spinach, kale)

– Fish

– Use the oil in other cooking around the kitchen, it has a great flavor

Only a tiny amount is needed per serving. For a big bowl of soup like jok or pho I’ll add just under a teaspoon–you still want to be able to taste the flavors of your dish.

Songkran Festival
April 15, 2010, 3:44 pm
Filed under: Thai Style

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[via Wikimedia Commons]

Today is the last day of the traditional new year’s day in Thailand. The Songkran festival is mostly centered in Chaing Mai, but the entire country celebrates by throwing water (and sometimes talc used for blessings by the monks) on each other to wash away bad luck and start the year off renewed and cleansed. It started by sprinkling blessed water, after it had been poured over Buddha’s for cleaning, over family members to honor elders and family members, but eventually turned into a full-fledged water fight to help keep cool in the hottest month of the year. Many also use this time to clean their Buddha images and shrines, along with a thorough spring cleaning of the house.

In case you didn’t quite get your new year off on the right track in January, take a quick hop in the shower and start again today! สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์ – Happy Songkran Day!

Jok – Thai-style rice porridge
March 9, 2010, 8:00 am
Filed under: Food, Health, Recipes, Thai Style

One of the first things I make when I feel a cold coming on is a big pot of Jok (pronounced joke). It is typically served as a breakfast and is basically rice that you cook the hell out of so that it becomes a wonderfully soft and silky porridge. With the addition of garlic, ginger, fish sauce, and a protein of your choice (pork, chicken, fish) you are on the fast-track to feeling better than ever. This is also a miracle cure for upset tummies and nasty hangovers!

I think pretty much every asian country has a version of this (the Chinese call in congee), but for me I’ve never had anything better than a piping hot bowl from a street cart in Bangkok. My awesomely wonderful and crazy Thai dad has a killer version of his own. This is one of those things that you don’t measure, you simply taste and adjust, so I did my best to write the recipe to share with you. It’s a wonderful way to become familiar with how you like to season your food, but just know that much of the details are in the instructions, so this isn’t a measure and move on type of thing.

Jok (Thai-style porridge)

Serves: 4-6

–  4-6 garlic cloves (there is no such thing as too much garlic)

–  2 –inch “knuckle” of ginger (scrape the skin off with the side of a spoon)

–  2 ½ cups rice

–  fish sauce to taste (I’ll help you figure this out below)

–  low sodium soy sauce to taste, preferably organic

–  1 pound ground pork

–  1 Tbs olive oil

–  2 eggs, organic

–  fresh cilantro

–  black pepper

–  water, filtered

In a large soup pot (I used my 5-quart Le Creuset) add the rice and rinse until the water runs clear (usually 2-3 rinses will do), then add about 5 cups of water and place on stovetop on medium heat.

While the rice is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Meanwhile, add the garlic and ginger to a food processor and pulse until they are coarsely chopped bits. When the oil is up to temperature add the ground pork, garlic and ginger, 1 Tbs soy sauce, and 1 Tbs fish sauce. Saute until it is mostly cooked through.

Tip: Don’t break up the pork too much. You’ll want larger pieces for texture and flavor. If they are too small, they’ll be lost in the texture of the rice.

Add the cooked pork mixture to the pot of cooking rice and mix in well. At this point add 2 cups of water, 1 Tbs fish sauce, and 1 Tbs soy sauce. Reduce heat slightly, stir, and let simmer.

Keep checking the water level as the rice will absorb a lot pretty quickly. You can’t really overcook the rice, but it’s really about adding the right amount of flavor. It doesn’t have to be this exact, but as a guide at 30 and 45 minutes add 1 cup of water.  At 45 minutes only, add 1 Tbs fish sauce, and 1 Tbs soy sauce and  stir well.

Note: Remember, we have a huge pot of water and rice, and it needs to be seasoned, so don’t be alarmed at the amount of fish and soy sauces. If you are not using low sodium soy sauce, you will want to cut back on that measurement.

Texture at 30 minutes

Texture at 45 minutes

After about an hour the texture and flavors should be set. Try it and adjust as needed. Raise the heat back up to medium-high and add two eggs, one at a time, stirring to break up the yolk and incorporate well.

Let simmer for a few minutes to cook the eggs and prepare to serve. Top with fresh cilantro, fried garlic, and sliced ginger. I don’t always have it on hand, but I added some pickled garlic and added it as a garnish as well.

I realize the detailed instructions may be a bit overwhelming, but I wanted to give you an idea of how the flavoring part works. Please know that this recipe is really very easy, and the instructions are not as scary as they look. Please give it a try and let me know if you have any suggestions for revising the instructions.

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