Off to Thailand
I am roaming up and down the aisles of InterAsian Market searching for something called Chile Jam. It is supposed to be the ketchup of Thailand. I cannot find it. All the labels are in Thai. Or Chinese. Or Laotian. I’m not sure which. Chile Jam is just one of the new ingredients I’m stocking up on for a month of cooking with Simple Thai Food by Leela Punyaratabandhu for the Food52 Cookbook Club.
No, I cannot pronounce her last time, so we’re just calling her Leela. And simple is a relative term. Also on my list of things I’ve never bought are sweet soy sauce, galangal (I don’t even know what that is), tamarind, small dried shrimp and Thai red chiles. I also have been slightly dinged by a couple of club members for refusing to buy the 14-inch skillet “imperative” for cooking these dishes. I’ll bet you there are plenty of grannies in Thailand who have not invested in 14-inch skillets.
But I love Thai food and I’m determined to learn. So I have put myself at the mercy of Asian market owners and forced myself to ask for help (kind of like a man asking for directions). Turns out, for example, that the Chile Jam is called Chile Paste with Soya Bean Oil in my neck of the woods, the small dried shrimp can be found in the freezer section and galangal is a root similar to ginger (but you don’t peel it) and it has been shown to fight cancer like a champ and can even keep your brain healthy. I need more galangal in my diet, for sure.
So once you get all the ingredients home, you’re not nearly ready to cook. Oh, no. There’s prep work to be done. Let’s just take the toasted rice powder. Please. It’s a half hour of toasting rice slowly to a golden brown that then needs to be ground up in a spice grinder. And the Thai red chiles that have to be toasted and then ground into a powder. And here’s the pitfall. Thai red chiles are 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units. That’s about 23 times the average heat of a jalapeno.
Do not smell the whole chiles roasting in the pan. Definitely do not smell the powder once it’s ground. Did I do both those things? Of course I did. King Daddy poked his head into the kitchen and asked, “What in the hell is going on in here?” after he heard a symphony of coughing and sneezing.
But I finally made my first Thai dish, a chicken and cashew stir fry. It was delicious. And worth the effort. I always hate giving out recipes from cookbooks because you just need to buy the book. And the น้ำพริกเผา. Chile jam.