I used to make some stellar Thai basil pesto variations when I was living in in Thailand. But Thai basil is hard to find here in the US unless you’re lucky enough to have an Asian grocery store near by.
By all means use Thai basil if it is available for the recipe that follows. There are two varieties to look for. Thai sweet basil has pointed bright green aromatic leaves with a hint of anise and an after note e of cinnamon. Thai holly basil leaves are a deep green or sometimes reddish purple leaves with an earthy peppery flavor. Both variegates are distinctly more assertive in flavor than broad leaf Italian basil.
If Thai basil is not available, just adapt and diversify, which is how this recipe evolved. The secret to Thai food’s popularity is a cleaver one. Most Thai dishes include all five elements of taste, those being salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (savory) flavors in one dish which is pure genius. It’s no wonder why Thai food is so loved. With that concept in mind I used readily available broad leaf Italian basil along with some hot jalapenos from south of the border, some Thai fish sauce, lime juice, cashews (abundant in Thailand) and you end up with a Thai- americano pesto!
This is a pesto you will want to add to your repertoire. A dollop added to almost any savory dish will have it bursting with all the flavors of a Thai- americano mash up.
Pictured is Thai..americano Peato served on toasted bread strips atop a salad of baby arugula, pickled beets and hard cooked eggs, and shaved aged provolone cheese.
Thai…americano Pesto Makes about 1 ½ cups
- 3 cups fresh torn broad leaf Italian basil leaves, or Thai basil if available
- 2 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 to 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, seeded and diced
- ½ cup chopped cashews
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce +more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- cold water as needed for thinning
Place the basil leaves, garlic, 3 tablespoons lime juice, jalapeno chiles, cashews, ¾ teaspoon of salt, fish sauce, and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are broken down into a coarse paste.
Scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Turn the machine on and pour the olive oil into the feed tube and continue to run the machine until all the oil is incorporated.
Stop the machine and taste the pesto and add additional salt and fish sauce to taste. If the pesto needs thinning, turn the machine on and add 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
Transfer the pesto to a nonreactive container, cover, and refrigerate.
The pesto can be served chilled or at room temperature with endless applications.
Listed are additional pesto recipes that I have posted over the years to to expand your pesto repertoire for freezing for later use during the winter months.
Fresh Sweet Italian Basil Pesto (see here)
Pesto alla Siciliana & Pesto Trapanese (see here)
Spinach Pesto with Pancetta (see here)
Pomegranate Glazed Pork Loin with Pistachio Pesto (see here)
Pesto Diverso (see here)
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.
Cashew Chicken is an American take on, or is it a take out of, not dissimilar regional chicken dishes found throughout China. There certainly are like dishes in Cantonese and Szechuan cooking (see recipe for Szechuan Gong Bao Chicken here). Whatever the version, cashew chicken has found popularity the world over. Always considered a reliably safe bet for the unadventurous when faced with iffy Chinese food choices. Even here in Thailand cashew chicken is more often than not a numbed down version that is mild and palatable for farang (foreign) visitors. For Thais however it’s got to be a fiery cashew chicken spiked generously with chopped small green sky pointing chilies. Keep in mind the smaller the chilies the more intense their heat. Locally grown cashews are added to the dish to somewhat tame the heat of the chilies.
Of course the great popularity of Thai food rests on the extraordinary artistry of balancing opposing fiery, sweet, sour, savory, and salty flavors that literally tease the senses and ignite the taste buds in completely unexpected experiential ways. Not Unlike the Thai language, Thai cookery has its own unfamiliar and quirky flavor vocabulary, but once you have grasped the essentials the rest is an adventure in Thai cookery just waiting at your kitchen door.
Making the fiery Thai cashew chicken recipe that follows is relatively easy to prepare and uses many of the basic flavor combinations that reappear again and again in Thai cookery. Caution not required. Fire up those chilies for a lusty meal that will not disappoint.
Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken serves 4
For the chicken:
- 1 kilo/2.2 pounds chicken thighs with skin on, deboned
- 3 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil
- 1 yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced
- 2 large red shallots, quartered and thinly sliced
- a 2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned
- 4 large fresh Thai red chilies, halved, seeds removed, and thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, central vein removed and very finely minced
- 1 cup lightly roasted cashew nuts
- fresh Thai basil leaves (garnish)
- fresh coriander leaves (garnish)
For the sauce:
- 2 ½ oz palm sugar (hard or soft) or light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 5 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 6-8 fiery small fresh Thai sky pointing chilies, finely sliced on the diagonal
- 3-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 to 1 ½ cups chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon corn or tapioca starch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
Remove the bones from the chicken thighs and cut each thigh into 3 equal pieces and set aside.
Rather than discarding the bones place them in a large sauce pan. Add 1 small peeled and diced yellow onion and 4 whole fresh kaffir lime leaves. Fill the pan with water and bring to a low boil. Cook for about 30 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients for the recipe. The liquid should be reduced by about a half. Pass the broth through a fine mesh strainer, discard the bones and lime leaves, and set the broth aside to use later.
Slice the onion and shallots and set them aside in a bowl. Likewise, julienne the ginger, mince the kaffir lime leaves, and slice the red chilies, setting each aside in separate bowls.
To prepare the sauce place the palm sugar in a small sauce pan with 2 tablespoons water. Place the pan over low heat and slowly melt the palm sugar until it is completely dissolved, caramel colored, and bubbling up. Take the pan off the heat and add the fish sauce, oyster sauce, and light soy sauce. Swirl the pan to combine the ingredients and put the pan back onto the heat. Add the sliced fiery chillies and swirl the pan. Once bubbling set aside to use later. Reheat the sauce to a boil and stir in the lime juice just before adding it to the chicken.
Heat the coconut or peanut oil in a large skillet set over medium high heat. When nearly smoking add the chicken pieces skin side down and cook until the skin is nicely browned. Promptly turn the chicken and cook another couple of minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter lined with paper towels and set aside to drain off excess fat.
Drain off all but a couple tablespoons of fat from the skillet and return it to the heat. When the fat is hot add the onions and shallots and saute them until they are soft, about 3 minutes. Promptly add the ginger and the sliced red chillies and saute about 2 minute. Then add the minced kaffir lime leaves and stir to combine.
Promptly reheat the sauce and stir in the lime juice. Return the browned chicken to the skillet and toss with the other ingredients. Then pour the bubbling sauce over the chicken mixture in the skillet and toss the ingredients to evenly coat them with the sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes until the sauce is quite thick and sticky. Then add just enough chicken broth to reach the top of the chicken. Stir to combine and cook at a boil for about 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the cashew nuts. Mix the corn or tapioca starch with water and add to the bubbling chicken. Gently sir for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens and glosses the chicken and cashews.
Transfer the Chicken with Cashews to a large platter. Garnish with fresh Thai Basil leaves and bunches of fresh coriander leaves. Serve with Thai Jasmine white or brown Rice scented with kaffir lime leaves.