Phew, it’s been a while! I just came back from a 3-week family vacation in Thailand, visiting my relatives. My dad was born in Bangkok, and one of his sisters (my aunt) still lives there. My siblings and I haven’t been back in 10 years, and it was so enriching to view Thailand with fresh new eyes. Plus, I got to see all my cousins!
In one of the cities we visited (Hua Hin), we all took a short cooking course; so in the coming weeks, you can bet I’ll be posting some Thai recipes.
To start with: an introduction of some Thai ingredients.
Galangal / Siamese Ginger (Kha)
Also called Laos. It is from the same family as ginger with similar shape and color, but is not as strong. It is used for making curry paste, soups, and salads. Dried galangal needs to be soaked in water before use.
Lemongrass is commonly used in teas, soups, salads, and curries. Only the lower part is used for curry pastes, and the whole thing can be used in soups and salads.
Thai garlic is quite small, with each piece measuring about the side of a fingernail. It is used in almost every Thai dish, mostly with the skin on or smashed with the side of a large knife.
Kaffir Lime (Makrood)
Looks like a dark green lemon with lumpy, knobby skin. Only the skin is used for making curry paste. The fruit has very little juice, so is rarely used.
Small red purple onion. Very often used in curry, soups, and salads.
There are a number of different color and sizes of chili. The smallest green (unripe) ones are usually the spiciest, while the red ones (ripe) are less spicy. Generally, the bigger they are, the less spicy. The large ones (10+cm) are used only for decoration. Dried chili is used to make chili powder, for some curry paste, and for aroma.
Fresh Peppercorn (Prik Thai)
Fresh green peppercorn is used for curry pastes, as well as garnishes. Dried peppercorn can be substituted in the pastes.
Sweet Basil / Basilicum (Horapa)
Purple stem with green leaves similar to the European basil. Used for flavouring curry dishes and eating raw in salads.
Part of the ginger family, this is influenced from Indian cuisine. It is used in curry pastes, and to color rice.
Tamarind (Ma Kam Piag)
Adds a sharp, sour taste to thai curry, fish dishes, soups, and for making sauces. In Western cuisine, it is found in Worcestershire Sauce, and can be bought as a paste.
Garlic Chives (Bai Gui Chai)
Chinese/garlic chives have flat dar green leaves with white flowers. It is stronger than the chives in the west, and is related to the onion family.
Palm Sugar (Nam Taan Peep)
Made from various palm trees. The taste of pure coconut palm sugar resembles that of brown sugar, but it has more rounded caramel and butterscotch notes. It is a golden brown colored sugar, sold as granule, blocks, or liquid.
Unripe / Green Papaya (Malakor)
Used when skin is green, and flesh is still quite firm.
Kaffir Lime Leaf (Bai Ma krood)
Used for soups, salads, and curry dishes. Added at the end of cooking for aroma.
Long/Snake Bean (Thua Fak Yao)
Asian bean similar to western green bean. Grows to about 50cm in length.
Pandan Leaf (Bai Thoey)
Adds a distinct aroma to rice and curry dishes. Fresh leaves are typically torn into strips, tied in a knot (to facilitate removal), placed in the cooking liquid, and then removed at the end of the cooking. Dried leaves and bottled extract may be bought.
Holy Basil (Krapow)
Used in curry dishes and stir-fry. The leaf adds a hot flavor to the dish.
Finger Root / Tumicini (Kra Chai)
From the ginger family, but it is known to be considerably ild when compared to other forms of ginger. Used in curry pastes and sliced/julienned in curry dishes. For medicinal purposes, the root can be used to treat tonsillitis and gastric conditions. The root can also be dried ground, and used to treat dysentery.
Mini / Baby Eggplant (Makura Poang)
Small, round eggplant. Used for their strong, bitter taste and crunchy texture.
Thai eggplants are small, roughly a golf ball size. They are light green and white ,and are used in curry dishes and eaten cooked.
Coriander (Pak Chee Foi)
Fresh coriander is used in soups and salads, and as s garnish. The root is used in curry pastes. Coriander seeds can also be used as a substitute for the root/leaves in curry paste.