I guess it’s probably normal that if you live in a foreign country and like to cook you will eventually try your hand at local dishes. While Thai food can be complicated sometimes in terms of ingredients, I’m learning some basic herbs and spices to use for a few of the dishes I have attempted.
Soups and curries are very popular in Thailand, and usually accompanied with a side of white rice. Alternatively, some soups use noodles instead of rice. For many of these soups, there are four basic seasonings commonly used – lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and red chillis. From there, other ingredients send you off to different dishes.
These ingredients, and many more, can all be found at the Chat Chia fresh market in the center of Hua Hin, as well as assorted other fresh markets around the city, as well as supermarkets. Pictured below are two bundles of the four key ingredients. They cost 10 baht (35 cents) for each bundle. You can also buy these herbs individually in larger quantities.
On the left, the lemongrass is on top. This is cut in 2-3-inch pieces and added to boiling water. Like galangal and the lime leaves, lemongrass is not to be eaten, but eaten around. Lemongrass is used in a variety of curries, spicy soups and salads.
Kaffir lime leaves are featured in the bundle at right and need to be carefully handled, as the leaves have barbs. They also are widely used in soups and curries, either cooked whole (as I do) or finely shredded and added before serving.
The galangal root, seen in front on the right, is thinly sliced and added to the mix. This is another common herb for a variety of curries and soups.
Finally are the chilli peppers. The ones here on the right were bought at the market in volume and then sun-dried. You add as many as you want, depending on your tolerance. My tolerance is getting better but 2-3 of these is all I need for a big pot of soup.
Once you have these ingredients going, it’s time to add your meat or seafood, or even potatoes, carrots, mustard greens, pretty much whatever you want. I also like to add some fresh-squeezed lime juice for a tang.
Tonight I will be adding cubed potato, chicken chunks and ground pork – I’ve found the mixing of pork with seafood or chicken to be a surprising good combination.