Learning to cook Thai-style

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.

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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.

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No easy task

Thailand is primarily an agricultural country. Fields of chilli pepper, corn, pineapple and numerous other vegetables and fruit cover much of the landscape outside the major cities.

Today, for a totally unrelated reason, I found myself in farm country west of Hua Hin. The area also is dotted with sharp-rising hills, thick with vegetation and often with a temple perched on or near the top.

In the areas between hills, many suburban-style neighborhoods are popping up, mostly meant for expat retirees or expat winter homes. I was visiting one of them, but passed by fields of pineapples – so I just had to ask my driver to stop.

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Pineapples picked today will be in the fresh markets in town before dawn.

 

 

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Food for thought

About once a month, I need to make a mile-or-so walk to the pet food store for dry cat food. It’s an easy enough walk, rock and roll in the headsets, and today a happy hour drink in a Coke bottle to keep me company.

When I make this walk, I often try to dovetail on the fact I will be passing the fresh market and lots of street food vendors. There’s usually some kind of food that will be of interest.

Today, I stopped at a popup restaurant almost back at my house, a Thai couple just getting the stand operational. I was their first customer of the evening.

Given that portions often are small here, and with the possibility I might be sharing later, I decided to go “all in” and order three dishes.

The first was a pork omelette that I thought would be good as a starter (35 baht/$1 – pictured at left). I added two other pork dishes with rice, pork and basil on right. The third dish was a stir-fried pork dish.

Total bill for 3 meals – 140 baht/less than $5.

The omelette, with some soy sauce for salt, was delicious. It came on a bed of white rice.

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