Thai cooking is one of the most exciting, vibrant & flavorsome cuisines in the world. Most of the influence on the Thai cuisine has been by proxy through its neighboring South East Asian countries – Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia & Malaysia – over the course of history, each has had its influence over Thailand.
As with many countries, the dishes vary from one part of Thailand to another. What is a common thread across the country is the exotic aromatics of the spicy, salty, sweet & sour flavors synonymous to Thai recipes. With a few essential ingredients, you can easily replicate authentic Thai flavors so many of us love.
Almost any Thai recipe will have one or more of these ingredients (from top) – ginger, shallots, Thai red chilies, garlic, galangal. The ginger, chilies & galangal can be stored in the freezer in a seal jar container or re-sealable bag. Galangal, like ginger is a rhizome but unlike ginger, you don’t want to eat it. Galangal infuses soups & stir-fries with its piney, astringent flavor that is so unique & it adds the authenticity to Thai recipes – look for it in Asian markets in the produce section.
These ingredients (pictured above) give recipes the essential flavors needed for Thai cooking. Once opened, Thai sauces & pastes will keep indefinitely in the fridge as long as they’re sealed. Keep a store of fresh limes to add juice to salads or towards the end of cooking for brightness & sourness. (left to right from the back) – limes, soy sauce (pictured is a Japanese soy I consider to be the best flavored soy), sambal oelek (South East Asian chili paste), shrimp paste (its pungency adds a depth of flavor), dried tamarind (keep in the pantry to rehydrate in boiling water, this also adds sourness to a recipe), curry pastes (there’s an array of Thai curry pastes available – the ones from Asian markets are the best – such as Mae Ploy or Maesri. Both brands are available online & in Asian markets.), palm sugar (store in the pantry, grate it when needed), star anise (beautiful aniseed flavor, store in a jar in the pantry), green peppercorns in brine & sesame oil (store in fridge once opened to prevent oxidation).
These fresh elements add the bright, floral, herbaceous notes to Thai cooking. (from the back right to left) – Thai basil – easily identified by its purple stem, Thai basil is easy to grow in warmer months. Thai basil imparts a flavor that is so unique to Thai cooking. Lemongrass – bright, citrus flavor, use the white & tender green part only – trim & keep it wrapped up in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for 6 months. Cilantro/coriander – the root of the plant is used to make curry pastes, stems are leaves can both be used in cooking. To store: wrap in paper towel & place in a plastic bag to keep fresh for up to 5 days. Kaffir lime leaves – one leaf is actually two pieces, joined. Kaffir lime leaves are also so uniquely Thai – they’ll keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or in a sealed jar in the freezer for 6 months. They’re also available dried. Buy them fresh or frozen from Asian markets. Fresh mint – wrap in paper towel & place in a resealable plastic bag to store. Mint is very easy to grown inside or outside although outside, it will die off over winter but if you keep it in a pot you can bring inside during the winter.
Fragrant/jasmine rice is consumed with most meals in Thailand. Rice noodles are also popular & are used to make Thai classics such as pad Thai. Coconut milk is used in many Thai curries & in coconut rice. Peanuts are roasted & chopped to add texture & flavor to many recipes.
A wok is a good idea for Thai cooking. Also a large, non-stick frying pan. A food processor ensures easy work when making curry pastes & recipes such as fish cakes.
When setting the Thai table remember – spoons & forks only. Knives are not welcome at the Thai table as they symbolize aggression. And the people of Thailand do not use chops sticks so keep those for your Vietnamese or Chinese meals. Plates & small bowls are both used.