Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Salt mine

I hate to say it, but sometimes cooking Asian food seems downright routine. I know that there are all kinds of nooks and crannies of Asian cuisine that I have yet to explore (most deep-fried dishes, cooking with Chinese preserved vegetable, making kimchi, making dumplings, steaming most things, to name but a few) but I guess I've fallen into a rut. I love to stir-fry. It's so quick and simple. But I guess that humanity does not live by stir-frying alone. I love to learn new things, so I guess it's time to start pushing the boundaries and giving myself challenges more often.

In the meantime, I've recently cooked a couple of dishes that fell well within the boundaries of things I've tried before. Both were more chili-laden than normal, but that wasn't a problem.

First up was "Shrimp with Roasted Chili Paste and Fresh Basil" from Nancie McDermott's Quick and Easy Thai. This is practically Thai convenience food, even in Thailand. All you have to do is stir-fry some chopped garlic in oil, then add the peeled shrimp and cook until they turn pink. Add three tablespoons of roasted chili paste or nahm prik pao (I used Maesri's), two tablespoons of fish sauce, a quarter of a cup of water or chicken broth (I used the broth) and a teaspoon of sugar. Continue cooking for another minute or two, then add a cup of fresh basil leaves. Toss, garnish with sliced red chilis and serve.

There really is nothing more to this dish than whipping up a fast sauce for some spaghetti. I'm sure you can make your own nahm prik pao, but using it out of the jar creates an experience more like heating some store-bought pasta sauce and doctoring it with a few extra ingredients. My Thai basil plants are not yet ready to supply copious amounts of leaves, so I used Spicy Globe basil from the garden instead. The end result was a thick and flavorful sauce. Like most things involving shrimp, this meal had its finger food moments as well.

The saltier dish from the salt mine will be considered in the next post.


Robert Nanders said...

I've been looking at that book for a long time - is it worth getting, you think?

Winslow said...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for stopping by. I would highly recommend Quick and Easy Thai. When I first started flipping through it, I found dozens of dishes that I wanted to try. It's a very accessible introduction to Thai cooking from someone who has traveled extensively in the country. By now, I've cooked a lot of recipes from the book, and they've all turned out well.

Another book you might consider (by the same author) is Real Thai. There's a lot of recipe overlap with Quick and Easy Thai, but there is more context about regional variations in Thai food. There are also recipes for dishes that are not quite "quick and easy," such as a number of curry pastes.

Quick and Easy Thai has done a lot to make me feel comfortable with Thai food, so I do recommend it. Good luck!