ABOUT THIS BOOK
First things first: unlike the recipes in many cookbooks on the food of Thailand, those included here are not meant to be eaten as part of a proper meal, that is, several different, communal dishes paired with plenty of rice. It’s drinking food, remember, to be snacked on while you make merry. The genre can be tricky to define for two reasons: Thais often drink with dinner, and some dishes in this book, like Naam Phrik Num (Green chile dip), and Yam Plaa Meuk (Squid salad), could be considered part of a proper meal were they served with lots of rice. What I’ve come to understand is that drinking foods are defined as much by what they are as by whether they’re eaten with rice, or at least enough to fill you up. In other words, in the first book, rice is essential. Here, it’s optional.
All of this is reflected in the serving size in each recipe. Keep that in mind as you cook, so you’re not surprised when a dish said to feed four does so as a snack, not as dinner. Remember, too, that the flavors are often intense. You might think you’d prefer to take down a whole bowl of tom saep
, but that first bite will likely set you straight. Yet like so much drinking food, tom saep
could serve as dinnertime stuff, rather than as late-night entertainment, along with a bunch of other food. In other words, it’s up to you. And some dishes, like yam
(salads) and certain grilled items, can be doubled or tripled without burden. Others, like stir-fries, can’t be, since crowding a wok with twice the amount of each ingredient you’re meant to use will yield an unrecognizable product. In cases when making a small portion is unfeasible or when a dish requires an awful amount of work, the recipe I’ve provided makes a larger portion. That just means you should invite more friends over.
I will not insist on how you serve what you make. But I will say that this kind of food is typically eaten from a communal plate rather than divvied up among individual ones. That goes not only for grilled meats and snacks but also for stir-fries, salads, and soups.
The dishes in this book are divided into rough categories. Consider using these to plan your cooking. Yam
(salads), by and large, have similar flavor profiles: spicy, tart, funky. Same is true for tom
(soups), which tend to be sour, spicy, and herbaceous. Naam phrik
(chile dips) have different flavors and textures but similar purposes. So one dish from each category per evening of revelry will usually suffice. If you’re going to prepare a pot of hot oil or a bed of charcoal, however, you might want to prepare a few kinds of fried or grilled items to make it worth the effort.
As for the recipes themselves, each one is meant to guide you to a particular dish that I’ve eaten in Thailand. Because that dish isn’t spaghetti carbonara or Caesar salad, doing it justice requires a little more attention to detail in the kitchen, and rounding up the ingredients calls for a little more effort. You’ll even have to buy some special equipment.
That said, this food is not hard to cook. It becomes even easier once you get the hang of certain Thai techniques that may not be as familiar as dicing and straining. But they aren’t difficult, either, and in some cases, they are actually less onerous than some Western kitchen practices. Your task gets easier still with one big shopping trip to an Asian market with a solid Southeast Asian section. Many items, like bottled sauces and dried ingredients, last indefinitely in your pantry and fridge. Others, like fresh Thai chiles, galangal, and makrut lime leaves, will keep in the freezer for months.
Weight is the preferred measurement for most solid ingredients in this book. It is, simply, more precise. Precision is especially important in a book full of unfamiliar ingredients, techniques, and flavors, where the culinary instincts that might otherwise offset a lack of rigor don’t apply. (When the finished product won’t suffer, however, I’ve provided approximate volume equivalents.) So buy an inexpensive digital scale that handles both US units of measurement (ounces and pounds) and metric units (grams and kilograms). You’ll like it.
Of course, these recipes, like all recipes, are open to interpretation. There’s no right way to make them—not in Thailand and not in your home. Still, I recommend hewing closely to the instructions at first. Until you’ve cooked a dish my way and experienced the contours of its flavors and textures, make substitutions and omissions at your own peril.
Copyright © 2017 by Andy Ricker with JJ Goode. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.