The first time I had Thai food was in Thailand.
That seems a little strange to me considering I was 30 years old. (I actually celebrated my 30th in Thailand. Great birthday.)
Most people would probably also try some of the dishes that hail from the country they are about to spend a few weeks exploring, but not me.
It was more of an access issue than anything else. There wasn’t much Thai food in central Kentucky the few years before that, and I also wasn’t an adventurous eater. I was more of a count your calories, eat whole grains and enjoy your fat-free yogurt kind of eater. (I know. I shutter when I think about it, too.) Then we moved to Brazil and there was good food, but no Thai.
So I learned about Thai food, including the infamous Pad Thai, in its home. That is not a bad situation to be in. Although it will leave you constantly comparing every dish you have after that to your original experience. For that reason, even though we took a cooking class while there, I haven’t made much Thai food at home. I play with Pad Thai and curry, but that is about it.
I think that is soon going to change. See, now I have this wonderful cookbook called Everyday Thai Cooking: Quick and Easy Family Style Recipes by Katie Chin. Just flipping through its pages, I feel empowered to bring Thai into my kitchen.
In addition to gorgeous food photography (and scenic photos from Thailand that make me want to go back), the book starts with three sections that I love to see in a cookbook – techniques, ingredients and the basics (all those pastes and sauces that make Thai food so amazing.)
Trust me, this section will have you feeling empowered, too. The book is split into appetizers, soups and salads, entrees based on the meat selection (and vegetarian), followed up by a hefty dessert section. Some things I have on my list include Fragrant Coconut Fish in Banana Leaves, Thai Garlicky Eggplant and Coconut Thai Basil Ice Cream. It’s page after page of both familiar and different Thai recipes that are simply explained for the home cook.
The Spicy Thai Salad with Minced Pork is what caught my eye when I first flipped through the book. It is light and healthy with all the familiar flavors of Thai cuisine. Katie and the publishers graciously gave me permission to share this delicious recipe with you.
The thing I found most interesting about this dish was the roasted rice powder. I’m now going to be making this nutty, slightly crunchy powder to top other dishes. It adds a special touch. You’ll love this recipe. It’s all the tease you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of the book.
Spicy Thai Salad with Minced Pork (Larb)
©Katie Chin 2013. Reprinted with permission from Tuttle Publishing
Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal or for lunch
Preparation time: 20 minutes + cooling time
Cooking time: 30 minutes
1 tablespoon long-grain rice1 tablespoon high-heat cooking oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small shallot, ﬁnely sliced
1 teaspoon minced lemongrass
1 fresh hot red or green chili, preferably Thai (deseeded if you prefer less heat)
½ lb (250 g) ground pork
3 tablespoons Basic Chicken Stock or store-bought
2 tablespoons ﬁsh sauce (nam pla)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon palm or brown sugar
4 cups (350 g) mixed baby greens
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
½ cup (52 g) peeled, seeded, and diced cucumber
12–14 fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons ﬁnely chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
2 tablespoons ﬁnely chopped fresh Thai or Italian basil
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts
Fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) for garnish
Mint leaves for garnish
Make the roasted rice powder: Heat the rice in a small dry skillet over medium heat, stirring and tossing for 3–4 minutes, until it turns golden brown. Transfer to a small plate and allow to cool. Use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder and grind the rice into a coarse powder.
Heat the oil in a wok or skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallots, lemongrass, and chili; stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add pork and stir-fry, while breaking it up with a wooden spoon until cooked through, about 5–6 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, ﬁsh sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the rice powder, baby greens, mint leaves, fresh coriander leaves, basil, and red onions. Add the warm pork mixture and toss with the greens. Sprinkle crushed peanuts on top. Garnish with fresh coriander and mint leaves. Serve immediately with lime wedges.
COOK’S NOTE: Feel free to substitute the ﬁsh sauce with soy sauce, the pork with soy protein crumbles and the chicken stock with vegetable stock for a vegetarian version of this salad.