Thai


I’m back!  I returned last week from an amazing two-week adventure in Singapore and Thailand.  Over the next few posts I hope to highlight some of the amazing food that we had there, as well as recreate some of the dishes at home with a full cost analysis.  From Singapore’s famous chili crab, to Thai curries, to street food, we ate it all!  Here are just a few of the major things that stood out from my culinary adventures:

1) Cheap eats In Thailand we routinely ate full dinners with fruit shakes, appetizers, and two entrees for around $10.  Street food was also extremely cheap and not once made me sick.  Pineapple for sixty-seven cents?  Yes, please!  Mystery meat on a stick for $1? OK!  Coconut donuts for $1 each?  Sure, I’ll have two!  It’s no wonder my weight loss efforts prior to the trip were quickly undone.

2) Roti Where have you been all my life??  These heavenly crepe-like pancakes are sold by street vendors everywhere, with a multitude of filling options both sweet and savory.  And of course, they’re cheap too (~$1-2).  My favorites were banana and chocolate topped with sweetened condensed milk, and egg/onion/tomato topped with chili sauce and mayo.  It still amazes me that something this simple can be so good.  I think the secret is the pound of ghee that the roti are cooked in :-O

3) Can you take the heat? Ask for ‘a little spicy’ and you’re likely to be wiping sweat off your face for hours afterwards.  My palate was just getting adjusted to the more intense heat by the end of the trip.  I distinctly remember not ordering water with my red snapper curry at one of the last meals I had in Thailand and thinking I was going to die.  But I actually ate the whole thing without a drop of water!  Woohoo!

4) The world needs more hawker centers Perhaps the thing I was looking forward to most on the trip was going to a hawker center in Singapore.  Boy, did it live up to my expectations!  If you’re not familiar with these, they’re somewhat like American food courts in malls on steroids and with much tastier food.  Row upon row of vendors served all kinds of ethnic food- Indian, Chinese, Malay- this is the melting pot of Asia, after all!  I was extremely lucky that my fiancé had scoped out the hawker center he took me to prior to my arrival.  Navigating the rows of stalls can be confusing and the number of options of food dizzying.  But just pick something and eat it; odds are it will be amazing.

Look for more posts on this trip in the future.  If you just can’t wait, check out the blog that my fiancé and I co-author: The International Food Project.  It details much of the food he has had on his trip all over southeast Asia and will focus on recreating it at home!

Do you ever have days or weeks where you just don’t feel like cooking?  That has been the theme of my past few weeks.  Work stress and personal life stress have left me with zero motivation to cook anything that requires more effort than opening a can/box/carton and dumping/microwaving.  I know it’s terrible, but it’s what has happened.  When I get in these moods, I eventually have to force myself to get back to cooking, even if my heart is not really in it.  My theory is that my heart will follow.  This is exactly what I did tonight, forcing myself to make something not too daunting.  And you know what?  I think I’m actually emerging from my funk.  Of course, I think Thai food will bring anyone out of any kind of funk, no matter how deep. (more…)

A while back I reviewed a Thai cooking class that I took, and this recipe for chicken satays is from that class.  I absolutely love the peanut sauce with its perfectly balanced sweetness and spice, and its creaminess countered by the lime juice.  I had some leftover sauce after my chicken was gone, and I put it in the freezer.  It has been reincarnated this week as a sauce for pasta (served cold) at lunch time- so quick and easy!

A few money-saving tips: I made my own marinade with ingredients I already had at home, instead of purchasing teriyaki sauce.  Also, if you don’t have wooden skewers to do satays, you can just buy thin chicken breast and cook it as is under the broiler (what I did).  It’s delicious either way!

Chicken Satays with Peanut Sauce

Ingredients Cost
1 lb. chicken tenders or thin chicken breast $5.44
1/8-1/4 c. cilantro for garnish $1.50
12 skewers, soaked
Teriyaki marinade
1/2 c. low sodium soy sauce pantry
1/4 c. packed brown sugar pantry
1 1/2 T. extra-virgin olive oil pantry
1 T. grated fresh ginger $0.30
1/4 tsp. pepper pantry
2 garlic cloves, minced $0.10
Peanut sauce
1/2 c. chunky peanut butter pantry
1/2 c. unsweetened coconut milk $0.40
1 T. minced ginger $0.30
1 T. sesame oil pantry
1 T. soy sauce pantry
1 T. brown sugar pantry
1 T. fresh lime juice and zest of one lime $0.89
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper pantry
2 T. cilantro, finely chopped $0.55
1/2 tsp. salt pantry
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes pantry
Total cost (5 servings) $9.48
Cost per serving $1.90

Make the marinade by combining all ingredients. Marinate the chicken in it for 2-4 hours. Combine all the peanut sauce ingredients in a sauce pan. Stir over low heat until all the ingredients are mixed. Sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated; serve at room temperature. Soak wooden skewers, if using, and thread the chicken on the skewers. Grill or broil the chicken until done, 2-3 minutes per side. Sprinkle the chicken with cilantro and chopped peanuts if desired, and serve with the peanut sauce on the side.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I love Thai food, especially curries.  So, when I volunteered to plan a cooking class for a college group I belong to, I jumped at the chance to make it Thai-themed.  My previous Thai cooking adventures at home have yielded less than spectacular results.  Although the beef curry I made was edible, it was definitely missing something.  I was hoping that a Thai cooking class would teach me once and for all how to make a decent curry paste and a scrumptious curry.

So I started searching for Asian cooking schools in the Pittsburgh area and came across Chop, Wok, and Talk.  I emailed the owner, Dorothy Tague, to ask questions and start planning things.  She was very flexible with her schedule, rearranging things so we could get a date that was good for us.  Since she couldn’t accommodate our large number of people (seventeen) at her cooking school in Bloomfield, our group had to find an outside location at which to hold the class (a church near our school). 

When it came to picking the menu, it was a difficult task considering she had so much to choose from.  Besides Thai food, she also does Chinese, sushi, Vietnamese, tapas, Moroccan, an English tea, and brunch.  Dorothy was very helpful in the menu selection process, suggesting dishes that required more hands-on work rather than just sitting back and watching.  For our plan we could pick 4 dishes: two appetizers, an entrée, and either a noodle dish, salad, or dessert.  We settled on chicken satays, shrimp pad Thai, spring rolls, and Panang beef curry. (more…)

I live in a neighborhood with an abundance of Thai restaurants, and my order of choice is usually some type of curry.  I just can’t get enough of that sweet yet spicy, coconut-milk-drenched goodness.  In my post-meal food   coma I always think ‘wow, that was tasty, maybe I could try making that at home sometime!’  Well, this weekend I finally got around to doing just that.  The recipe that I chose was from Complete Thai Cooking, which had a picture of Chiang Mai jungle curry that looked similar to curries I’ve had while eating out.  The day before I wanted to cook it, I made the curry paste.  This process was simple enough: just roughly chop up the ingredients and let a food processor do the real work.  The recipe actually called for white peppercorns, but I couldn’t find them in either of the grocery stores that I visited, so I substituted black.  The paste looked delicious and even smelled hot. Yum.  So I put the paste in the fridge and the next day I made my curry.  The results were very tasty, but not quite what I’ve experienced in restaurants.  Mine was a bit creamier and thicker than I’m used to, and also only slightly spicy (not blazing hot!).  I’m also used to a sweeter curry than this one.  All in all, though, I would make this again and if it was a dish at a restaurant I’d order it.  If I made it again, I’d try to find yellow bean sauce (the original recipe calls for 2 T.) and fresh red chilies (I had to substitute green).

Chiang Mai Jungle Curry

Ingredients   Cost
2 T. oil   pantry
1 lb. lean beef, thinly sliced   $6.05
1 ¾ c. coconut milk $1.19
salt and pepper pantry
   
Spice Paste    
3 T. Red Curry Paste (see below) $1.10
2 T. palm sugar pantry
4 shallots, roughly chopped $1.13
2 garlic cloves $0.10
2 large fresh red chilies, seeded and chopped $1.40
1 lemon grass stalk, roughly chopped   $0.40
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped $0.30
½ tsp. dried shrimp paste   pantry
4 T. lime juice   $0.89
Rice for accompaniment $0.84
       
Garnishes    
Scallions     $0.43
Red bell pepper   $0.99
    Total cost (5 servings) $14.82
    Cost per serving $2.96
       
       
Red Curry Paste    
6 dried red chilies, seeded, soaked, drained, roughly chopped $1.15
2 T. chopped lemon grass   $0.30
1 T. chopped shallots   $0.56
1 T. chopped garlic   $0.10
1 tsp. chopped fresh ginger   $0.10
2 tsp. coriander   pantry
1 tsp. cumin   pantry
6 black peppercorns   pantry
1 tsp. salt     pantry
1 tsp. shrimp paste   pantry
    Total cost  (6 T.) $2.21

For red curry paste: Put all ingredients in a food processor and process to a thick paste.  Transfer the paste to an airtight container.  May be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. 

For curry: Make the spice paste.  Put all the paste ingredients in a food processor and process to a thick paste.  Heat the oil in a large skillet and stir-fry the beef over a moderate heat for 3 minutes.  Add the spice paste and stir-fry for 3 additional minutes. 

Pour the coconut milk into the pan, stir to mix and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer the curry gently, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes or until the beef is tender.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Serve the curry over rice and garnish with thinly sliced bell pepper and scallions.