Bites & Starters
Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, crispy, sticky, tender succulent, and aromatic….
These Thai baby back ribs explode with all the elements that make Thai food so popular the world over.
Tamarind? The tamarind tree originates from Africa, but now found across the tropics including South and Southeast Asia. India is now the largest producer of tamarind. Tamarind is used in many Thai dishes and available fresh or in paste form. Here in Thailand tamarind is available in fresh clusters of pods or in blocks of the sticky contents of the pods that include the seeds. The flesh and seeds from the pods are boiled until vary soft. The seeds are then removed and sticky flesh is passed through a fine mesh strainer. The resulting tamarind paste has a unique tart, sweet, and slightly fruity flavor.
The methods used for this recipe are adapted for the home kitchen. Some of the ingredients may be somewhat unfamiliar, but most can be found in Asian markets or in the Asian foods section of you local supermarket.
Keep in mind that cooking is always an adventure! Discovering new and unfamiliar ingredients and flavors are all part of the fun and open up new windows of possibilities. Tamarind is a subtle flavor enhancer you will find yourself using again and again when cooking Thai or other Asian dishes.
Thai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs Serves 4 to 6
- 1 kilo/ 2.2 pounds baby back pork ribs
Separate the ribs and remove the silver skin membrane from the underside of each rib using a very sharp knife. Rinse the ribs and pat dry with paper towels, and transfer the ribs to a bowl.
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon back peppercorns
- 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
Place all the rub ingredients in a spice mill and pulse until finely ground.
Then sprinkle the seasoning rub over the ribs. Using your hands, rub the seasonings evenly over all the ribs. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside.
Basting sauce: makes 1 ½ cups
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 2 inch knob ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 medium size shallot, finely minced
- 1 bunch of coriander, leaves and roots chopped
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon dark sweet soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 4 tablespoons tamarind paste (available at Asian markets)
- 3 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons rum or brandy
- ½ teaspoon red Thai chile powder, or ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon cold pressed peanut oil
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)
Using a mini processor or mortar and pestle, combine the grated garlic, grated ginger, minced shallot, and coriander leaves and roots and pulse or grind into a coarse paste.
Transfer the paste to a non reactive bowl. Add the soy sauce, sweet dark soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, palm sugar (or light brown sugar), rum or brandy, Thai chile powder, and the peanut oil and mix until well combined.
Select a rectangular baking pan and fit the pan with a shallow baking rack. Lightly oil the bottom of the pan as well as the rack.
Preheat the oven to 325 f/170 c
Place the seasoned ribs on the rack, bone side down and flesh side upward in a single layer, tucking the kaffir lime leaves here and there between ribs. Pour about an inch of water into the baking pan, generously brush the ribs with the basting sauce, seal the pan tightly with foil, and transfer to the preheated oven.
Total cooking time will be about 1 ½ to 2 hours. At 20 minute intervals brush the ribs with more basting sauce. Add water to the bottom of the pan if needed, re-seal the pan, and return the pan to the oven front to back to insure even cooking.
After 1 hour check the meat for tenderness. The finished meat should be very soft, but just short of falling off the bone. So continue checking and roasting the meat until tender as described.
Once the meat is sufficiently tender you want to raise the heat to 400 F/ 200 c.
Remove the foil and brush the ribs generously with more basting sauce. Pour the remaining basting sauce into the bottom of the pan and add more water as needed. Move the oven rack to the upper position, return the ribs to the oven uncovered and cook until the tops of the ribs are deeply colored, sizzling, and crisp on the top surface.
Promptly remove the pan from the oven and, using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter and cover lightly with foil. Remove the roasting rack and skim the fat off the surface of the pan juices and pour the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer into a saucepan.
Place the saucepan over medium flame, bring to a boil, and if the juices are looking very thin boil until reduced to the consistency of a thin sauce.
Alternatively, mix a couple of teaspoons of corn starch mixed with an equal part of cold water, and stir it into the simmering pan juices while stirring until the sauce thickens to a thin sauce.
- 3 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onion
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced coriander leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red hot chile flakes
Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir. Chill until ready to serve.
Serve the ribs on individual plates or on a large platter. Drizzle some pan juices over the ribs and, if serving on individual plates, add a small pool of pan sauce to each plate, or place a bowl of pan juices on the table.
Serve with a bowl of the tamarind dipping sauce and Thai jasmine rice as pictured.
This post came about serendipitously via a friend’s request for a recipe for Pork Loin with Whiskey Caramelized Onions on Baguette that Antoni Porowski prepared on Queer Eye‘s reboot on Netflix series 1; episode 5. Antoni is the Fab 5’s food and wine expert who breezes through some easy food preparations for the novice cook faced with entertaining at home. There are no recipes mentioned nor much attention to “how to” procedures. This has stirred up some speculation about Antoni’s actual cooking acumen, but he has a captivated legion of fans, a cookbook coming out in 2019, and says he’s opening his own restaurant in New York. You can’t argue with success!
I’m always up for a cooking challenge, so I read some comments about this particular dish from the series and put together the recipes for the required components. I decided to include a honey mustard sage vinaigrette that was not featured in the series, but adds a much needed taste bite to bring the whole concept to life.
As pictured, tender thinly sliced fennel scented pork tenderloin is layered on toasted slices of ciabatta smeared with a sage honey mustard vinaigrette. Topping the pork loin are deeply caramelized onions that, while not quite as easy as Antoni’s appeared to be, were well worth the extra effort. All said and done, my friend’s hunch turned out to be a perfect addition to a lively mid summer supper buffet.
Pork Tenderloin with Whiskey Caramelized Onions on Ciabatta serves 10
For the pork tenderloin:
- 3 pork tenderloins, silvery skin removed
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly toasted
- 1 tablespoon flaked sea salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c
Place the fennel seeds, peppercorns, and salt in a spice grinder and grind until powdery.
Pat the tenderloins dry with paper towels. Place on a tray and rub each tenderloin all over with the seasoning rub.
Place an oven proof a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat on the stove top. Add the oil and when hot add the pork loins and brown on all sides.
Then transfer the browned tenderloins to the oven and roast for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, loosely cover the pan with foil and set aside to cool.
When you are ready to serve, thinly slice the pork into medallions.
While the pork is roasting you can prepare the Whiskey Caramelized Onions.
- 4 large yellow onions, skin removed, halved, and cut into thin slices
- 1 medium red onion, skin removed, halved, and cut into thin slices
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 tablespoons whiskey
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl the melting butter into the oil and than add the yellow and red onions, salt, and pepper. Stir until evenly distributed and continue to saute, frequently turning the onions, until they are soft and have turned a deep caramel color. Timing will vary, but about 10 to 15 minutes should do it. Then stir in the sugar and add the whiskey.
Continue to cook until the whiskey has evaporated and the onions have a moist lacquered like sheen. Transfer to a container and set aside to cool.
Sage Honey Mustard Vinaigrette: makes 1 cup
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon dried crushed sage leaves
- 3 small garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 7 tablespoons olive oil
Place the mustard, mustard powder, turmeric, sage, garlic ¾ teaspoon salt, pepper, honey, cider vinegar, and balsamic vinegar in a small food processor and whir until the ingredients are combined. Then with the motor running add the oil in a slow steady stream until the vinaigrette is thick and smooth. Taste and add salt if needed and whir until completely mixed into the vinaigrette.
Transfer to a jar, cover with lid, and refrigerate.
- 4 to 5 ciabatta cut into ¼ inch slices lengthwise and toasted in the oven until just lightly browned around the edges.
Smear a thin layer of the vinaigrette on each slice of toasted ciabatta. Top the ciabatta with sliced medallions of the pork tenderloin and add clusters of caramelized onions on top of each slice. Add a small dabs of the vinaigrette atop of the onions and serve.
Here in Thailand fruits are often incorporated into salads as well as to savory dishes.The sweetness of fruit combined with some saltiness, bitterness, and heat from chilies upends the whole idea of what salads are or what they might be. And don’t limit your fruit choices to just tropical ones. Summer and fall fruits further north will also shine with a whole new range of flavor bites from Asia.
I have used the Thai Basil Cashew sauce/dressing from my previous post for this salad. This sauce includes the pillars of traditional Thai flavors; sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and bitter. An ideal combination of flavors that will lighten, spice up, and cool down some of your summer meals wherever you live.
Spicy Thai Grilled Chicken and Pineapple Salad with Basil Cashew Dressing Serves 4
The Thai pineapples I’ve used in this recipe are considerably smaller than those you find in the west. They tend to be very sweet, tender, and much more flavorsome, and well worth seeking out in Asian markets. They are often sold already prepared and ready for eating too!
Or, do it yourself. See video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zM12_DHt6v4)
Prepare the Thai basil cashew sauce (see recipe here) and Thai sweet chili sauce in advance.
- 2 plump skinless boneless chicken breasts, sliced in half horizontally making 4 fillets, grilled
- 4 small pineapples, outer skin removed, grilled
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup fine carrot julienne
- 1 small Chinese cabbage, thinly sliced
- small head radicchio (or red cabbage)
- thinly sliced red shallot, sliced into thin rings
- Thai basil cashew sauce
- Thai sweet chili sauce (see recipe below)
- fresh basil leaves s garnish
- fresh coriander leaves as garnish
- ½ cup whole cashews as garnish
- fresh lime wedges as garnish
Prepare and grill the chicken fillets and pineapples an hour before you intend to assemble the salad.
Combine the oil, lime juice, and salt in a shallow tray and stir to combine. Add the chicken fillets and turn them over several times until they are covered with the marinade and set aside for one hour.
Fire up the grill or grill pan until very hot. Place the chicken on the grill, or in the grill pan, and grill until the fillets are well marked. Then turn the fillets and grill until well marked on the other side. Then turn the fillets once again placing then at at 45 degrees to create a crisscross grilling markings on the fillets. When marked remove the fillets to a plate and set aside.
Roll the pineapples in the marinade and place them on the grill, or in the grill pan, and grill, turning as needed until they are marked on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Place carrot julienne, Chinese cabbage, sliced radicchio (or red cabbage), and sliced shallots in a medium bowl and toss to combine. The mixture will resemble what we call a slaw in the west. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve the salad.
Slice the chicken fillets at a 45 degree angle across the grain of the meat and set aside.
Cut through the grilled pineapples, making thin rounds, and then cut the rounds in half, and set aside.
Spoon the Thai sweet chili sauce over the chilled prepared salad (slaw) and toss until evenly coated.
Set out individual shallow salad plates and mound the dressed salad (slaw) in the center of each plate. Arrange slices of grilled chicken and grilled pineapple slices alternately across the top of the slaw. Garnish with a few sprigs of coriander leaves, and a fresh whole basil leaf. Top the salads with cashews and add a slice of fresh lime to each plate. Serve with a bowl of extra Thai basil cashew sauce on the table.
Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Thai red chilies, including half of the seeds
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped small Thai green chilies
- 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 3/4 cup water + more as needed
Place the red chilies , green chilies, and garlic in a small mortar and grind to a pulp.
Place the sugar, salt, vinegar, and water in a stainless sauce pan. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar and salt has dissolved. Then add the chilies and garlic mixture and stir to combine. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by some and the sauce has thickened somewhat. Taste and add salt if needed. Set aside to cool before serving
Malfatti, which loosely translates as “poorly made” in Italian, are billowy dumplings of ricotta and spinach. Essentially gnocchi, but without the dough casing. A wonderful choice for a gorgeous light meal that is sure to satisfy even die hard meat sauce lovers.
Malfatti speak for themselves. Unlike gnocchi, there is no fiddling about making perfectly shaped dumplings. These have a very rustic homemade allure that harkens back to 17th century northern Italian cooks in the countryside. Malfatti can be steamed, boiled, sauted, or gently cooked in a simple tomato sauce.
I make my own ricotta (see recipes here) paired with the simplest tomato sauce (see recipe here) made with imported Italian tomatoes or tomato passata, fresh Italian tomatoes which have been passed through a food mill to remove the skin and seeds. Imported passata is readily available. To a passata just add onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil and you have the simplest of red sauces made in no time.
Malfatti: makes about 15 3 servings
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- large bunch of young spinach leaves, chopped
- 6oz/170g ricotta cheese
- 1 organic egg, whisked
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ¼ tsp finely grated nutmeg
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
prepared red sauce
- whole dried red chiles (optional)
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the spinach and saute just until the spinach has wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer the spinach to a paper towel to absorb excess water and set aside.
Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and add the wilted spinach, egg, ¾ cup of Parmegiano-Regiano, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined and coming together.
Cover the mixture and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will make the malfatti easier to form.
Then scoop out a generous tablespoon size portions of the mixture and form into elongated egg shapes without being too concerned about their uniformity. Think malfatti!
Place them on a parchment lined tray, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to cook them in red sauce.
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c
Warm the red sauce and pour a cup or so in a baking dish. Then add the malfatti to the dish and add more sauce to nearly cover the malfatti with only the top exposed. Add the dried chiles if using and transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Open the oven and add the remaining ¼ cup grated Parmigiano over the tops of the malfatti. Turn the baking dish for even baking and continue baking until just lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Serve the malfatti as pictured in a pool of red sauce along with a mixed greens salad and some crusty bread.
A perfect summer meal!