As the only journey we can realistically go on right now is a trip to the local supermarket, the only possible way we can get at least a tiny sense of those care-free days of happily travelling around the globe is to go on a gastronomic journey with the food we cook at home and experiment with a few new flavours from around the world.
I spend most of my time cooking Spanish or Mediterranean food, but occasionally I feel the need to cook something totally different and it invariably ends up being something hot & spicy. I’ve been dreaming and reminiscing a lot about my trips to Thailand lately so I’ve been cooking some of my favourite Thai dishes while being locked down at home. I love Thai food, it’s one of my favourite cuisines and the rich flavours of lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, chillies and coriander never fail to amaze me with their fantastic tastes and aromas.
Venturing into Thai cooking for the first time may seem a little daunting with lots of unusual ingredients and spicy flavour combinations, but if you do it right you’ll be rewarded with all the subtle fragrances of Thailand without the getting your mouth burnt off by raw chillies.
Founded on simple ingredients, Thai cuisine relies on five primary flavours, sweet, salty, sour, bitter and hot, and these are used in differing proportions to produce a wonderful range of dishes.
Thai food often has a subtle sweetness; ingredients such as palm sugar and coconut milk are often added to savoury dishes to enhance the flavours of spices and herbs. The salty flavour enhances and brings out the tastes of the other ingredients. It is not usually added in the form of table salt, soy sauce and fish sauce ‘Nam Pla’, which is a sauce made from fermented fish are the preferred options. The sour flavours are normally found in the shape of lime juice, rice vinegars and fresh tamarind, while the bitterness is often from dark green vegetables and herbs.
The hot element obviously comes from chillies but despite its fiery reputation, not all dishes are overpoweringly hot as a subtle heat is sometimes added trough the use of ginger and galangal.
Dishes like a wonderfully aromatic Tom Yum Soup, Thai curry, spicy beef salad or a delicious whole baked fish in banana leaves are among my personal favourites but a simple chicken satay takes a lot beating. Making your own satay paste is very rewarding and makes all the difference so give it a go.
CHICKEN SATAY WITH SESAME-CUCUMBER SALAD
Ingredients: serves 6
· 4 Chicken breasts, diced
· 150g smooth peanut butter
· 50g salted roasted peanuts, finely chopped
· 200ml tinned coconut milk
· 3 kaffir lime leaves
· 1 stalk lemon grass, roughly chopped
· 1 medium red chilli, deseeded
· 1tsp turmeric
· 1 clove garlic, peeled
· 1tbsp chopped fresh ginger
· Juice 2 limes and the grated zest of one
· 1tbsp thai fish sauce
· 20g fresh coriander, finely chopped
· 25g light brown soft sugar
Place the lime leaves in a food processor with the lemon grass. Add the deseeded chilli, garlic, peanut butter, turmeric, coconut milk and light brown soft sugar, ginger, the limejuice and zest and the fish sauce. Blend to form a paste. Pour half the sauce into a large bowl; add the salted roasted peanuts, chopped coriander leaves and the diced chicken breast. Mix well and leave to marinate for at least one hour.
Thread 4 or 5 pieces of chicken onto wooden skewers, keeping them slightly spaced apart. Brush liberally with any remaining marinade and place under a hot grill, turning occasionally, for about 10-12 minutes until golden and just cooked. Serve with lime wedges and sesame-cumber salad
Sesame & cucumber salad
· 1 cucumber
· 1tspn chopped ginger
· 2tspn sesame oil
· 2 tbsp sweet rice vinegar (Mirin)
· 2 tbsp rice vinegar
· 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Finely slice the cucumbers. Place them in a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Leave to marinate for 5-10 minutes & serve.
THAI BAKED SALMON WITH PAPAYA-GLASS NOODLE SALAD
Prep time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 25 mins
· 4 x 175g salmon fillets, skinned
· 1 bunch coriander, washed
· 20 mint leaves
· 1tbsp chopped fresh ginger
· 3 cloves garlic, crushed
· 1 tsp salt
· 1 large red chili, finely chopped
· Juice of 2 limes
· 1 tbsp nam pla (fish sauce)
· 4 bok choi (Chinese cabbage), cut in half lengthways
In a food processor blend together the coriander leaves and stalks, the mint leaves, ginger, garlic, salt, chili, lime juice and fish sauce. Blend until smooth. Place the salmon fillets in a shallow dish and pour over half of the sauce. Leave to marinate for at least 20 minutes.Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Place the cabbage leaves on a baking tray and place the marinated salmon fillets in the top half. Cook in the oven for 6- 8 minutes until the fish is just cooked and the bok choi is tender. Remove the salmon and bok choi from oven and arrange on 4 plates. Pour the reserved sauce over the salmon and serve immediately with papaya & glass noodle salad and lime wedges.
Papaya & Glass noodle salad
· 100g Glass noodles
· 1/2 medium papaya, peeled and sliced
· 2tbsp olive oil
· 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
· ½ medium Green pepper, cut into strips
· 100g bean sprouts
· 1 red chili, sliced
· 2tbsp fish sauce
· Juice of one lime
· Salt to taste
· 2tbsp roasted peanuts, crushed
· A few sprigs fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Soak the noodles in the hot water for a few minutes. Drain, refresh and add the olive oil. Add the papaya slices, garlic, green pepper, bean sprouts and red chili. Season with the fish sauce, lime juice and seasoning. Mix well and garnish with crushed roasted peanuts coriander leaves.