Friday, March 30, 2007

Easy Thai Food

Photo by Chris Kohanek

American aren’t the only ones who like convenience foods. Of course, we remember from our childhood those commercials where the little kids proclaimed “and we helped.” Hamburger Helper helped us help our hamburger. These products hearken back to a time when sushi was not available in most cities, let alone the mall. Thai restaurants abound in most parts of this country. We have foods from all parts of the globe available to us now. So why not take advantage of the convenience foods that assist our international neighbors. In about the same time it takes to drive to your neighborhood Thai restaurant and order your food, you can enjoy authentic Thai flavors in your own house at a fraction of the cost.

It is not always easy or even possible to find the myriad exotic ingredients that go into Thai curries. Items like galagal root, kaffir lime, lemongrass, and shrimp paste are not only hard to find, but are sometimes only required in very minute quantities to prepare a meal, despite their integral role. Who wants to have a jar of shrimp paste in the fridge that will take years to utilize? There are only three items that you need to stock in your pantry, beyond your normal groceries to enjoy Thai food at home.

Curry paste. A wide variety of curry pastes are available 4 oz cans: just enough product to make one family meal, maybe with a bit leftover. Red and green curry are the most common types. Other types include Karee (yellow), Paenang, Masman, sour curry, noodle sauce and more.

Coconut milk is available in regular and light. I have tasted these side by side, and I am convinced that the only difference is the amount of water they use to process the coconut into milk. If you are concerned about fat, I would recommend buying the full fat coconut milk and diluting it with water. The result will be the same and it will cost you less.

Fish sauce (Nam Pla). Fish sauce is to Thailand what soy sauce is to Japan. It is made from fermented, salted fish. It has a very pungent smell. Do not be alarmed! You really can eat it. It blends into the other flavors nicely and the strong pungency goes away. Although many of the pastes already contain fish sauce, it is often recommend that you add a bit more to the finished dish. If additional salt is required, add a dash of fish sauce. It is an inexpensive product that has an incredibly long shelf life.

The other ingredients are items that most folks stock regularly; shrimp, chicken, beef, herbs like basil and cilantro, vegetables like eggplant and mushrooms, and chili peppers.

A few recipes follow to demonstrate how easy it is to prepare great Thai food at home. Don’t be too strict. Substitute meats, vegetables, and garnishes. Use whatever strikes your fancy, and enjoy.

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