When the hot season, April- June, arrives in Thailand the last thing you want to do is spend much time in the kitchen. With temperatures tipping 40 c/ 104 f daily it is really HOT!
Being a hot country year round Thai cuisine has a unique hot weather appropriateness. Flash cooking fresh ingredients tossed together with assertive flavors and fiery spicy heat is what makes Thai cuisine so universally popular. The capsacin from fiery hot chiles stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain that instantly produces a sense of euphoria, while breaking into a sweat from the heat of chiles has a pleasant cooling effect as well. No wonder everyone loves Thai food!
The recipe that follows is a reinterpretation of a popular Thai stir fry dish; Kra Pao Moo (click here for recipe) . I have upped the ante in this recipe using a Thai rum marinated pork loin and included chayote to the stir fry that adds a fresh crisp element to the final dish.
Chayote originates from Central Mexico and widely used throughout Central and south America. Chayote was introduced to the old world during the Columbian exchange. From there it was transported through trade routes throughout Asia. Chayote is a member of the gourd family, and favored for its crisp texture and plentiful nutrients. The entire plant is eatable and often included in stir fried dishes throughout Asia. Seek it out! Widely available in Latin and Asian markets in North America as well.
Thai Stir Fry with Rum Marinated Pork Loin and Chayote serves 4
To avoid the heat of the day during the hot season I like to marinate the pork in the morning and refrigerate it for the rest of the day. Prep all the other ingredients in the morning as well and refrigerate. That way the stir frying can be done very quickly in the evening without breaking a sweat!
- 1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and diced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced and diced
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- 3 kaffir/ makrut lime leaves
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1/3 cup Thai Sang Som rum (or other dark rum)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 pound pork loin, silvery membrane removed and cut into 3 pieces
- cold water to cover
Select a non reactive bowl just large enough to hold the pork loin and other ingredients. Place all the ingredients except the pork and water into the bowl and stir to combine. Then add the pork loin and, using your hands, massage the pork with the mixture until covered. Then add just enough water to cover all. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 8 hours.
- marinated pork tenderloin, thinly sliced into medallions across the grain
- 2-4 teaspoons oil
1 onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced and halved
- 2 chayote, peeled, halved, pit removed, sliced lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces
- 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, cut into thin strips and diced
- 1-3 Thai red chiles, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed and very thinly sliced and then diced
- reserved marinade
- ½ cup fresh Thai sweet basil leaves
- 1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce or to taste
- stock or water
- additional fish sauce to taste
- fresh lime wedges
A steel Chinese wok is ideal for stir frying food very quickly over intense heat. For more information on cooking with a wok (click here)
Heat your wok over a gas burner or charcoal fire and add the oil. Swirl the pan to coat the surface and promptly add the pork medallions and stack them all the way up the sides of the wok. Sear briefly and then turn the pork and continue searing. Once lightly browned promptly remove the pork from the wok and set aside. Total cooking time 2 to 3 minutes max. Reserve the marinade to use later.
Add a little more oil to the wok and add the onions, garlic, and red bell peppers. Toss and stir fry until softened and lightly colored. Then add the chayote and toss to combine. Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then add the jalapenos and Thai red chiles and toss until combined. Then add the reserved marinade and cook for a couple minutes. Taste the chayote. Ideally you want the chayote to retain a refreshing crispness that will compliment the otherwise deeply flavorful stir fry.
Add the basil leaves and toss to combine. Taste the broth and add additional oyster sauce and fish sauce to taste. If the broth has reduced quite a bit you can add a little stock or water.
Finally add the reserved pork and toss until just heated.
Just before serving squeeze some lime juice into the stir fry, toss, and you are ready to serve.
Serve with Thai Jasmine rice or, my favorite, Thai Jasmine brown rice. Have a bowl of lime wedges set out on the table as well.
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.
Pho is Vietnam’s famous noodle soup that has garnered a legion of devotees around the globe. Traditionally Pho is served first thing in the morning in Vietnam, but there are Pho stalls and shops that are open 24/7 across the country. Making Pho at home does require a lot of ingredients as well as time, so most Vietnamese frequent their local Pho shop for a quick meal on the go. This is a country on the move and in perpetual motion! The energy in the air is mind boggling at first, but then your realize there is an order in this symphony of chaos that envelopes you. Welcome to Vietnam!
Pho became popular during the French colonial period in the mid eighteen hundreds. The French colonists introduced beef into the Vietnamese diet as well as French cooking methods. Some speculate, myself included, that the French beef stew called pot- ou- feu was the likely source for the name Pho, pronounced “fuh”, which is very similar in sound to the French pot-ou-feu.
Fortunately, these days Vietnamese restaurants serving Pho can be found in almost any city in the world. Of course you could use a Knorr Oxo beef broth sachet for a quick Pho, but taking the time to make a traditional Pho at home affords you the luxury of a well tended slow cooked broth that reflects the refined essence of this soups mystique. Hand selecting the other fresh ingredients that are added to the piping hot broth insures that the alluring aromas of this sublime Vietnamese soup fills the air as it arrives at the table.
I have to say Vietnamese food is the perfect cuisine for life in the tropics. It’s light, refreshing, cooling in the steamy hot months, and warming in the bracing monsoon and brief cool winter months.
Getting to it then, developing a perfect broth is the first step in mastering an authentic Pho. Traditional broths are poultry, meat, or seafood based, but a vegetarian broth is doable with thoughful seasoning. The Pho Bo I have made here uses a beef based broth, but feel free to substitute a chicken, pork, or vegetable broth if you like. With a well developed broth you are free to create endless variations of this Vietnamese classic.
Vietnamese Pho Bo: serves 6 to 8
Nuoc Dung Bo ( beef broth) : makes 3 liters
I like to make the broth in advance. You can then cool it, cover, and refrigerate until needed, or freeze it for later use.
- 6 liters water
- 3 pounds beef bones
- 1 hand of ginger root, (unpeeled)
- 3 medium onions, unpeeled
- 6 whole star anise
- 4 four inch cinnamon sticks (Vietnamese if available)
- 5 bay leaves
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon white peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- a pinch or more of ground Saigon cinnamon (click here) to taste
Place the beef bones on a grill or under the broiler in your oven and brown the bones on all sides. Transfer the bones to a large stock pot and set aside.
Fire up a grill or place a rack directly over an open flame on the stove top. Flame roast the hand of ginger with skin on until it is well charred on all sides. Brush off excess charred bits, break the hand apart into fingers and add them to the stock pot.
Remove excess papery skin from the onions and cut them in half. Grill or flame roast the onions, unpeeled, until they are charred on all sides. Brush off excess charred bits and add them to the stock pot.
Fill the stock pot with the water and add the star anise, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, fennel seeds, peppercorns, sugar, and salt. Partially cover with a lid and bring the water to a boil. Uncover and stir. Then reduce the heat until the liquid is just gently simmering. Simmer for 2 ½ hours or until the liquid has reduced by half. Turn off the heat and set aside for an hour or so to cool. Then strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Discard all the solids and set the broth aside until you are ready to assemble the Pho, or transfer to containers with lids and refrigerate. As you will probably have more broth than you will need you may want to freeze the rest of the broth.
preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c
- 1 pound good quality beef round or filet
- flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- fish sauce
Salt and pepper the beef on all sides. Gently rub the beef with fish sauce and place it in a preheated sizzling hot skillet. Quickly sear the beef on all sides and transfer to a roasting pan.
Put the beef in the oven and roast for no more than 12 minutes. You want the beef to be very rare in the center. Promptly remove ifrom the oven, cover lightly with foil, and cool to room temperature.
Just before you are ready to serve the Pho slice the beef as thinly as possible across the grain. Place the slices on a plate and set aside. The beef slices will be slipped into the Pho right before serving.
- 1 pound dried rice vermicelli or 1 pound thin Chinese egg noodles, fresh or dried.
If you are using rice noddles soak them in cold water for 20 minutes. When you are ready to assemble the soup place the soaked vermicelli in a wire mesh basket and lower them into the simmering broth for about 30 seconds and then transfer them to individual bowls, add broth and other ingredients, and serve.
If you are using Chinese egg noodles boil them in a generous pot of salted water as you would pasta, cooked al dente. Transfer to bowls and add broth and other accompanying ingredients, and serve.
The following ingredients should be available in Asian markets. Gather all of the following accompaniments together, lined up, and ready to add to the bowls of steaming hot Pho just before serving.
- mung bean sprouts
- coriander leaves
- ngo gai (saw tooth coriander, if available), thinly sliced
- Vietnamese/Thai sweet basil leaves
- green scallions, thinly sliced
- finely sliced fresh red chilies, to taste Best to remove the seeds before chopping.
- pickled mustard greens (du chua)
- Saigon cinnamon (if available)
- Lime wedges
- fish sauce (nuoc mam/nam pla
Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning, adding fish sauce and/ or salt, and a pinch or 2 of Saigon cinnamon to your liking. Then bring the broth to a full boil.
Place warmed noodles into individual bowls and ladle broth over the noodles to cover generously. Garnish with bean sprouts, sliced ngo gai (if using), basil leaves, sliced scallions, and some finely sliced red chilies.
Slip 4 or 5 slices of the thinly sliced beef into each bowl and serve.
Place bowls of sliced pickled mustard greens, grated ginger, finely sliced red chilies, and lime wedges on the table along with a platter or bowl laden with all the leafy garnishes on the table for adding to each individuals tastes. Be sure to have a dispenser of the ubiquitous nuoc mam/ nam pla (fish sauce) on the table as well.
This is an unexpected salad pairing that I recently discovered at Pulcinella da Stefano, or Stefano’s as we locals call it here in Chiang Mai. Contrary to what you may think, the earthy flavor of roasted beets paired with the sunny topical flavor of mango is a match made in…well, paradise. Beet root is locally grown here in Thailand and available year round as are many varieties of mango. Adding some locally grown figs, grapes, and dressing this salad with a smooth nutty cashew vinaigrette is the perfect flourish to bring this salad with a tropical twist to life.
The recipe that follows is my interpretation of Stefano’s salad but open to variations centered around local and seasonal produce available where you live. Mangoes can usually be found in specialty food stores as well as Asian markets.
Pulcinella da Stefano Italian restaurant is a long standing favorite for locals here in Chiang Mai as well as visitors from abroad. Conveniently located near Thaphae Gate and well worth a visit!
Beet Root Salad with Mango and a Cashew Vinaigrette
Prepare in advance:
Suggested selection of salad greens: romaine (cos), red oak leaf, butter head bib lettuce, radicchio , wild arugula (rocket), watercress, and Italian basil leaves as a garnish.
Beets: Roast and prepare the beets in advance.
Fruits: a fresh ripe mango, fresh figs, and seedless red grapes.
Ricotta cheese: (see homemade recipe here)
Cashews: lightly roasted.
Roasted Beets: Preheat oven to 400F/210C
Wash 4 medium size beets and pat dry, leaving the skin on. Place the beets along with a small sliced red onion in a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Cover the baking pan with foil and seal tightly around the edges. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the beets are tender; testing by inserting a sharp knife easily into the center of the largest beet.
When tender remove the beets from the oven and set aside to cool, leaving the foil on until the beets are cool enough to handle. Then slip the skins off the beets and trim the stem and roots off the top and bottom. Cut the beets in half lengthwise and slice each half into thin slices. Place in a bowl along with the onions. Drizzle with olive oil, lightly season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Assemble your salad greens selection in a bowl and toss. Cover and refrigerate.
Peel the mango, slice into bite size strips, cover and refrigerate.
Cashew Vinaigrette: makes 1 cup
- ½ cup lightly roasted cashews, divided
- 2 plump garlic cloves, dry roasted, peeled, and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons good quality white wine vinegar
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- several twists of ground white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red chile powder (optional)
- ½ teaspoon honey
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 to 3 tablespoons cold water
place 1/3 cup roasted cashews, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, chile powder (if using), and honey in a food processor or blender. Process until the mixture relatively smooth. Then, with the machine running add the olive oil in a slow steady stream and continue to process until the dressing is smooth, emulsified, and thick. To thin the dressing, add 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time and pulse until incorporated into the dressing. Repeat this process until the dressing is the consistency of heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to dress the salad greens.
Assembling the salad:
Lightly dress the salad greens and transfer them to individual shallow salad plates.
Place beet slices along with some onions on top or the greens.
Place sliced mango between the beets,
Tuck fresh basil leaves into the salad here and there.
Then add small clusters of ricotta next to the basil leaves.
Place the halved figs and grapes towards the edge of the salad.
Lightly drizzle just a bit more dressing over the salad.
Slice the remaining cashews in half lengthwise and skater over the salads.
Add a light twist of black pepper and serve.