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Current Top Ten Thai Dishes

Michael Babcock, Friday, November 15th, 2013

In this blog I talk about my current “Top Ten” favorite Thai dishes. I have to say “current,” because this is an ever-changing list, based on current tastes and on what recipe Kasma has just created. Sometimes a new dish just has to be included, though many of these dishes are on the list on a permanent basis.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Pork & Tofu

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu

Kasma estimates that restaurants in the U.S. typically serve maybe 5% of the number of different dishes available in Thailand. If you were to take all of Kasma’s Thai Cooking classes, you’d learn somewhere around 250+ different Thai recipes, many of which are seldom found outside of Thailand. My list of top ten dishes is composed of dishes that I’ve eaten both in Thailand and as Kasma’s creations.

I think the best characteristic of a top ten dish is the delight that you feel when you eat it. Often such a dish will light up all of your taste buds, your entire palate. It will be almost impossible to describe: although you’ll be able to point out flavors that come into consciousness, listing or talking about them is never enough because the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. Even a strong flavor that jumps out can be eaten only in context with the entire backdrop of flavors. To use an overworked analogy, it’s like trying to describe a color to a blind person: this is true even trying to describe this taste to someone who knows what good Thai food should taste like. The only way to really experience the dish is to eat it.

Thai Salad

Wilted Green Salad

Many of the dishes here taste so good, are so delightful, that it’s hard to stop eating. With others, particularly the curries, you can’t really eat a lot because they are so rich. In both instances, even with just a few bites, you feel satisfied and happy to have eaten such a delightful dish.

With two exceptions, recipes are not included. Kasma has developed nearly all of her recipes for teaching in her Thai cooking classes. If you want the recipe, start taking the classes! In these dishes the flavors come together in a startling, stupendous harmony: there’s no way to give a listing of exact ingredients that will give the exact balance of the dish – they must be cooked “to taste” and you have to know what you’re looking for – you need a supremely (Thai-) educated palate. Kasma has written about this process and included a tasting exercise:

Eggplant Salad

Roasted Eggplant Salad

It really takes someone who knows exactly what they are doing and what they are looking for: Kasma, for instance. Once you’ve tasted the dish as it is, then, maybe, you’ll be able to use your expertise to duplicate it.

Kasma teaches alll of these dishes in her advanced cooking classes. Also, three of the dishes are in my blog from October 2012 on Five Favorite Thai Dishes.

A Note on Rice

Hunglay Curry

Hunglay Curry

In Thailand, when it’s time to eat, what you say is taan kao (or kin kao), which literally means “eat rice.” The real food of a meal, traditionally was the rice – kao; everything else was grouped under the heading gab kao – literally “with rice.”

As a westerner, I was used to thinking of rice as an accompaniment to a meal, something that you could simply not eat if you weren’t too hungry or if you were counting carbohydrates. Many (probably most) dishes in Thai cuisine (not noodle dishes) are meant to be eaten with rice and, really, they do not taste as good without it. When you serve a curry (such as the Goat Curry or Hunglay Curry) over rice, the taste of the rice, with the curry sauce mixed in, is an integral part of the taste and the whole experience. With most of the dishes below, it is assumed that they are eaten with rice: without the rice, they would not be on the list.


Go directly to a slideshow of all the dishes at the bottom of the page.

The Top Five Dishes

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee)

Tofu Dish

Fermented Tofu and Pork Belly

This dish is a perfect example of a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The “secret ingredient” in this recipe is the red fermented tofu and its brine, which is stir-fried (quickly) with the pork belly (thinly sliced pork belly cooks very fast), chopped garlic, rather large garlic cloves, Thai chillies, fish sauce and some sugar to balance. It is impossible to describe and easy to keep eating and eating, because it is so delicious, despite how rich it is with the fatty pork belly. A stunning dish. Must be eaten with rice.

I first had this dish at the old Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi (the picture at the top of the page to the right is from there). The picture to the left here shows Kasma’s version, cooked during one of her Advanced classes (Set H). The flavor of the two dishes, although slightly different, are quite similar. Both are great.

Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad with Roasted Peppers and Shrimp (Yam Makeua Yao)

Eggplant Salad

Roasted Eggplant Salad

This is one dish that never leaves my Top Five list and hasn’t from the moment I tasted it. A perfect example of a Thai yum (or yam) – a Thai “salad” with a sauce that is sour-spicy/hot with hints of sweet and salty. The eggplant must be charcoal-roasted for this dish, preferably with something like mesquite (here in the U.S., at least) that imparts that wonderful, wood-smoky flavor. One time a student of Kasma’s brought the dish to a potluck having oven-roasted the eggplant: it was a grave disappointment.

The sour-spicy-salty dressing in combination with the  grilled eggplant is a delight and the other ingredients (the shrimp, dried shrimp, sliced shallots and egg) add texture and other accents to the mouth. It is usually a very spicy salad requiring lots of rice to help mitigate the heat.

Kasma’s recipe for this dish is available online: Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad. Try it after doing Kasma’s balancing flavor exercise. Be warned: there is something about roasting the peppers that can make them incendiary.

In addition to Kasma’s classes, My Choice Restaurant in Bangkok has a very good version. (See the third picture of this blog, above right.)

Hot and Spicy Drunkard’s Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Ground Pork, Thai Chillies and Holy Basil (Gkuay Dtiow Pad Kee Mao)

Drunkard's Noodles

Hot & Spicy Drunkard's Noodles

If ever there was a dish that I find hard to stop eating, it is this one. This dish is widely available in Thailand and even shows up on menus in the United States, though in the U.S. it never fails to disappoint. Kasma’s version uses fresh chow fun rice noodles  from a local shop, Yuen Hop Noodle Company, on Webster Street in Oakland, that are delicious to begin with. Add in in ground pork  (we get pastured pork from Riverdog Farms at the Berkeley Farmer’s market), Asian broccoli (ka-nah), a head of garlic, 15 to 20 Thai chillies (yes, this is one dish that must be served spicy/hot), some black soy, Thai oyster sauce and fish sauce, and a large amount of holy basil leaves (you can’t have too much in this dish) and you have an astounding dish with delightful taste and mouth feel. My favorite noodle dish of all time.

By the way, these are called “Drunkard’s Noodles” because they are so spicy that in order to cool the tongue, people are known to drink massive quantities of beer. Do not scrimp on the Thai chillies!

I have never had a better version than Kasma’s.

Spicy Stir-Fried Preserved Black Eggs with Crisped Holy Basil and Chopped Pork (Kai Yiewmah Pad Gkaprow Gkrawb)

Stir-fried Black Eggs

Stir-fried Black Eggs & Pork

Ahh, preserved black eggs (or century eggs), an ingredient that before I met Kasma I would not have considered eating. (See the Wikipedia entry – Century Egg.) To make them (according to Wikipedia), eggs are coated in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for several weeks or even months until the egg white turns a dark, translucent brown and the yolk takes on a dark green to grey color. Kasma says an ingredient missing in the Wikipedia entry, though, is tea leaves: the best preserved eggs are made with tea leaves. The brand she buys lists tea leaves as the primary ingredient. Century eggs can have a rather strong odor, reminiscent of ammonia and sulfur. They are absolutely foreign to a western sensibility and  are, I would say, an acquired taste: over the years, I have learned to like them in congee (johk).

Although a version of this dish is found in many restaurants in Thailand, I had always resisted trying it, until Kasma created this version of the recipe for one of her Advanced Thai Cooking Classes (Advanced Set I).

This recipe actually replaces Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao, which was previously a top five dish. This is a dish that I simply cannot describe adequately. The flavors (indeed, most of the ingredients) are the same as are found in the Drunkard’s Noodles above without the noodles – this dish is served over rice. What is indescribable is what happens to the preserved eggs when you fry them until they are blistered and browned all the way around: they acquire a texture and a taste that, combined with the pork and other seasonings, is outrageously delicious. Simply a stunning dish.

Another difference between this and the traditional pad kaprao (stir-fried with holy basil) recipe is that this one includes crispy-fried holy basil leaves, which add a different flavor and a crunchy texture to the mix.

There is a recipe – Spicy Basil Chicken Recipe– that can be used as the basis for making this recipe yourself. You’ll have to add the preserved egg and also make crispy-fried holy basil.

By the way, the name for preserved eggs in Thai is kai yiao ma (ไข่เยี่ยวม้า), which literally means “horse urine eggs” (yum!), so-called because of the distinctive ammonia odor.

Wilted Greens Salad with Coconut-Lime Chilli Sauce, Fried Chinese Sausage, Crisped Garlic and Crisped Shallots (Yam Dtam Leung)

Wilted Green Salad

Wilted Green Salad

There is simply no way to do justice to this dish with words. Like the eggplant salad, another yum (or yam) salad, it  really must be made with dtam leung greens: nothing else tastes as good. Dtam leung is a vine that grows in the rainy season throughout southeast Asia. It is typically called “ivy gourd” in English. We are able to eat this dish only when we are in Mae Hong Son (at the restaurant, Bai Fern) – as shown in the second picture of this blog, above on the left) or here in the San Francisco Bay Area (shown directly to the left), during the summer when we’re able to get dtam leung leaves from Mithapheap Market in Oakland.

The coconut-lime chilli sauce, is equally salty and sour with a little background sweetness; the little bit of coconut cream transforms it into a different dimension.

What kicks this into the top five, is the addition of the other ingredients, which expand the taste and, in particular, the textures: chinese sausage, carrot shreds, green onion, shallots, unsalted, roasted peanuts, and (the pièces de résistance) crisp-fried garlic and crisp-fried shallots. The wilted green in the sauce provides the backdrop and with each bite, a different taste/texture combination pops into consciousness. Oh my, it is so very tasty.

In Thailand, this salad is usually made with crisped, batter-fried dtam leung. Bai Fern Restaurant was the only one that made it with the wilted greens. In fact, so many Thais complained that it is now made with the crispy-fried greens since that is what most Thai tourists prefer; Kasma has to specify that she wants wilted greens to get it made the way she likes.


The Second Five

Thai Muslim Goat Curry (Gkaeng Ped Pae)

Goat Curry

Thai Muslim Goat Curry

I have surprised myself by deciding to include this recipe in my Top Ten list. It is just so very tasty.

It’s not a very common dish in Thailand: we may have had it at a restaurant in the south once or twice. The time I remember having goat curry in Thailand was when we rented a longtail boat in Krabi and the owner’s wife made the dish for us. Kasma came up with her version of the recipe for her Advanced Set H Class.

It’s another dish where I despair of my descriptive abilities. Kasma’s version utilizes a curry paste made from scratch from many of the usual ingredients: dried chillies, salt, lemon grass, turmeric, garlic, shallots, shrimp paste – kapi, and, an absolutely critical ingredient for the taste of this dish, krachai, called, in English, lesser ginger or “rhizome.” Add in roasted coriander and cumin, some pea eggplants, various flavorings (including fish sauce and palm sugar), kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil and make sure you use bone-in goat: the marrow from the bones will provide thickening and flavor.

The dish has an excellent mouth feel. The various flavors, including a certain amount of heat from the chillies, in combination with the goat meat, are very pleasing, indeed. Another dish that must be eaten with rice.

Bitter Melon Stir-fried with Egg (Mara Pad Kai

Bitter Melon & Egg

Bitter Melon & Egg

Bitter Melonmara, in Thai – has long been one of my favorite foods; I don’t know why. Many people find it too bitter but I’ve always enjoyed the flavor.

This is the simplest to make of my top ten dishes; it is also the one that I make the most. It consists of bitter melon stir-fried with eggs and has four ingredients: oil (I like duck fat or lard), bitter melon, eggs and fish sauce.

Served over rice, it’s a perfect one-dish meal: you’ve got your protein source (egg), vegetable (bitter melon) and healthy fat (lard or duck fat), all served over carbohydrates.

We do have a recipe for this dish: Bitter Melon & EggMara Pad Kai. I also make it with chorizo, though you can also substitute naem sausage for the chorizo if you want to stick with Thai ingredients: see my blog, Bitter Melon, Chorizo & Egg.

Northern Hunglay Pork Curry (Gkaeng Hunglay)

Hunglay Curry

Northern Hunglay Pork Curry

It’s hard not to put this curry in the top five dishes, where it usually resides.

According to Kasma, this curry originated with the Shan people in Burma and was adapted into Northern Thai cuisine. The restaurant Kaeng Ron Ban Suan in Chiang Mai has a good version (as shown in this blog’s 4th picture, above left). The picture to the right is Kasma’s version, made with a combination of fat-laced pork butt and pork belly. It’s a fairly standard curry paste (lemon grass, dried chillies, galanga turmeric, garlic, shallots, salt, shrimp paste) with the addition of hunglay curry powder: Kasma gets hers at the fresh market in Mae Hong Son. Additional flavoring comes from ginger and flavor seasonings such as fish sauce, tamarind and palm sugar. The result is a rich, delicious tasting dish that is immensely satisfying. Kasma teaches this recipe in Advanced Set C-4 Class.

Poached Basa Steaks Cooked Ruen Mai-Style in Choo Chee Curry Sauce (Choo Chee Bplah Sawai)

Choo Chee Fish

Choo Chee Fish

Choo Chee curries are red, coconut-based curries. Kasma developed her version of the dish (shown to the left) after enjoying a meal at Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi several years ago. It’s a rich red curry made more distinctive by the addition of roasted spices: peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin.

Kasma’s version is made with meaty basa (also called swai) steaks. A very filling and satisfying dish. She teaches this recipe in Advanced Set H-4 Class.

Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Mixed Fruit Salad (Dtam Ponlamai)

Fruit Salad

Hot-and-Sour Fruit Salad

I first had this dish at Kaeng Ron Ban Suan restaurant in Chiang Mai, where it was the inspiration for Kasma’s version. I prefer Kasma’s version mainly because I like the combination of fruits available in U.S. in the summer, when we typically make it.

I love the unexpected flavors in the salad: garlic, chillies, and dried shrimp. I would never think of using those ingredients with fruit in a salad. When you bite into the chilli and garlic it is startling and, yet, somehow it all blends together, pulled together by a sweet (palm sugar), salty (fish sauce) and sour (lime) sauce.

Everything but the fruit is prepared using a mortar and pestle, hence the name – dtam (meaning to pound – the word found in Som Dtam – Green Papaya Salad) and ponlamai (meaning fruit).

Kasma teaches this recipe in Advanced Set G-4 Class.


Honorable Mention

Golden Yellow Turmeric Sticky Rice with Sweet-and-Savory Shrimp-Coconut Topping (Kao Niow Leuang Nah Gkoong)

Turmeric Sticky Rice

Turmeric Sticky Rice

I feel somewhat badly that I’ve failed to include a dessert in my Top Ten list. I want to give this kanom an honorable mention because it illustrates much of what is good about Thai kanom and, indeed, about Thai cooking. (See Michael’s blog Thai Sweet Snacks – Kanom Wan.)

This dish consists of a sweet (with a bit of salty) sticky rice that has been colored with turmeric. It is completed with a slightly salty coconut cream sauce and a topping made from shrimp (head-on), shredded coconut, garlic, finely slivered kaffir lime leaves and the seasonings; it’s a sauce that is shrimpy, savory and sweet, all at the same time. All colors are natural: the yellow from the turmeric and the startling red from the goop in the shrimp heads.

What I like about it, is the way it lights up the palate. The sweet and salty together is heavenly; then add in the savory-shrimpy-sweet topping (so unexpected in a dessert), and accent it with slivered kaffir lime leaf. It is just a delight.

Like the best of Thai food, it includes distinct harmony groupings (sweet, salty), that both call out for individual attention and also delightfully blend together. Add in the unexpected, the delightful way it feels in your mouth, and it can be hard to stop eating.

Kasma teaches this recipe in Advanced Set I-4 Class.


Slideshow of Current Favorite Thai Dishes

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Tofu Dish
Pork & Tofu
Eggplant Salad
Eggplant Salad
Drunkard's Noodles
Stir-fried Black Eggs
Wilted Green Salad
Thai Salad
Goat Curry
Bitter Melon & Egg
Hunglay Curry
Hunglay Curry
Choo Chee Fish
Turmeric Sticky Rice

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee)

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee) from Ruen Mai Restaurant

Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad with Roasted Peppers and Shrimp (Yam Makeua Yao)

Roasted Eggplant Salad (Yam Makeua Yao) from My Choice restaurant

Hot and Spicy Drunkard's Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Ground Pork, Thai Chillies and Holy Basil (Gkuay Dtiow Pad Kee Mao)

Spicy Stir-Fried Preserved Black Eggs with Crisped Holy Basil and Chopped Pork (Kai Yiewmah Pad Gkaprow Gkrawb)

Wilted Greens Salad with Coconut-Lime Chilli Sauce, Fried Chinese Sausage, Crisped Garlic and Crisped Shallots (Yam Dtam Leung)

Wilted Greens Salad (Yam Dtam Leung) from Bai Fern restaurant

Thai Muslim Goat Curry (Gkaeng Ped Paeh)

Bitter Melon Stir-fried with Egg (Mara Pad Kai)

Northern Hunglay Pork Curry (Gkaeng Hunglay)

Hunglay Curry (Kaeng Hunglay Moo) from Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant

Poached Basa Steaks Cooked Ruen Mai-Style in Choo Chee Curry Sauce (Choo Chee Bplah Sawai)

Golden Yellow Turmeric Sticky Rice with Sweet-and-Savory Shrimp-Coconut Topping (Kao Niow Leuang Nah Gkoong)

Tofu Dish thumbnail
Pork & Tofu thumbnail
Eggplant Salad thumbnail
Eggplant Salad thumbnail
Drunkard's Noodles thumbnail
Stir-fried Black Eggs thumbnail
Wilted Green Salad thumbnail
Thai Salad thumbnail
Goat Curry thumbnail
Bitter Melon & Egg thumbnail
Hunglay Curry thumbnail
Hunglay Curry thumbnail
Choo Chee Fish thumbnail
Turmeric Sticky Rice thumbnail

Written by Michael Babcock, November 2013

Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #2

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Kasma Loha-unchit’s 4-session Intermediate Thai Cooking Series takes up where her Beginning Thai Cooking Series leaves off. It’s a chance to learn new ingredients, techniques and Thai recipes. This blog is about the second Intermediate Cooking Class.

Roasted Rice Flour

Roasted Rice Flour

I’ve already blogged on the first class in the series:

(Click images to see larger version.)

As always, the class begins with a snack and with an explanation of the recipes.

Although most of the main ingredients were previously introduced in the 4-session Beginning Series, there are more to come in the intermediate classes. In this second class, students learn about roasted rice powder, kaffir lime peels (they’ve already been introduced to the leaves), and shrimp paste (kapi or gkabpi).

New ingredients are covered extensively. When introducing toasted rice powder, kasma shows the students a couple of locally available packages and talks about where to buy them. In the picture above, the package shown to the left is an imported Vietnamese brand; that on the right is a more coarsely ground roasted rice powder that is made locally at a Cambodian market. The products are passed around so that students can taste them. She also goes into how to make the powder, should you be unable to find it or should you want to do so. (You can read how in her article on Roasted Rice Flour – Kao Kua.)

Soaking Red Chillies

Soaking dried red chillies

Roasting Chillies

Roasting dried Thai chillies

In this class, dried chili peppers are an important ingredient in three of the recipes. Kasma explains the two types that will be used this evening and explains how to prepare them: by seeding and soaking in one instance, and by roasting stove-top in another.

Pounding Ingredients

Student using a mortar & pestle

Chilli Paste

Chilli paste in a mortar (with pestle)

Students use the mortar and pestle extensively in this series. Three of the recipes in this class, involve intensive pounding so Kasma goes into the basics of how to go about it. The mortar and pestle are essential tools in Thai cooking: they crush the fibers of herbs and release the essential oils, giving a greater breadth and depth of flavor than can be obtained by using a food processor. You can read Kasma’s blog on The Mortar and Pestle.

After the recipes are explained, students volunteer (or are assigned) to one of the recipes and break into teams to do the preparation. Kasma supervises making sure everything is done correctly.

Cutting & Chopping

Students cutting & chopping

Cutting Lemongrass

Cutting lemongrass

Roasting Galanga

Roasting dried galanga

In this class, dried galanga is used in the Northeastern Chicken salad, after being roasted stovetop in a cast iron pan.

Once the ingredients are prepped, Kasma demonstrates new techniques. For instance, for the Fried Shrimp Cake recipe, there’s a certain way of forming the shrimp cakes and dropping them gently into the oil: although it may feel safer to drop them from a distance, because your hand is further away from the oil, doing that may cause a splash of hot oil whereas sliding the shrimp cake in from just above the oil is actually the safer method. (See slide show, below.)

Observing

Students observing

Of course, there’s the feast at the end of the class.

And after the feast, everyone helps to clean up.

One thing I appreciate about Kasma’s classes is that you learn how to prepare the food in a manner similar to how you cook in your own kitchen. Many cooking classes in Thailand assign a cooking station to each student and have them cook their own individual portion from already prepared ingredients. In Kasma’s class, students do every aspect of the meal preparation, from chopping, roasting and pounding to cooking, eating and clean-up, just as you will at home. Everyone gets to watch the final assembly of every dish, learning how to prepare every dish in the class, rather than just the single dish they’ve worked on.


Menu – Intermediate Thai Cooking Class Series #2

Spicy Thai-Style Shrimp Cakes with Kaffir Lime Leaves and Green Beans (Tod Mon Goong)

Shrimp Cakes

Spicy Thai-Style Shrimp Cakes

I recently read in a cookbook by a famous Thai chef that said “Thais appear to remain ambivalent about [deep-fried foods].” They certainly have a strange way of showing this: you find fried foods everywhere in many forms – fried fish, chicken, duck, pork leg, bananas, other desserts and, of course, Tod Mon – fried fish (or shrimp) cakes. Thais even deep-fry herbs such as Thai basil (as in this dish). Certainly Fried Fish Cakes (Tod Mon) are among the most common and beloved of Thai snacks and appetizers: you see them frying in open-air markets and sidewalks everywhere in the country; they are also found in many restaurants as an appetizer. This class showcases Kasma’s version of Tod Mon; her recipe is really a Tod Mon Pla (Fish Cake) recipe that is made, instead, with shrimp (goong).

Cucumber Relish

Cucumber Relish

It’s a recipe with lots of prep work (see the slide show at the bottom of the page) that produces a bouncy, tasty treat. It is served with:

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Relish

This is a relish that accompanies the Fried Shrimp Cakes and is sweet, sour and salty. It has a refreshing taste that forms a nice contrast to the fried cakes.

Be sure to see our slideshow on Tod Mon Goong below.

Sour Tamarind Curry with Fish and Vegetable (Kaeng Som Pla)

Fish Curry

Sour Tamarind Curry

You may be confused as to why this dish, without coconut milk, is called a “curry.” Actually, there are probably more Thai “curries” without coconut milk than with; for the Thais, the classification of what we translate as curry – kaeng – is really a broader classification. Read Kasma’s blog Thai Curries – Kaeng (or Gkaeng or Gaeng).

This is one of the classic Thai dishes, here in the central Thai version. Kasma’s version is thick from vegetables and broiled, flaked fish in the broth.

Kaeng Som is made in a different version in Southern Thailand and is often called Kaeng Leuang there: you have to get through to Kasma’s Advanced Set G to learn how to make her Southern version, delicious and spicy hot.

You may enjoy the Bangkok Post article ‘Kaeng Som’ A Thai culinary classic by Suthon Sukphisit.

Northeastern-Style Spicy Minced Chicken Salad with Mint and Toasted Rice (Laab Gai or Larb Kai)

Chicken Salad

Northeastern-Style Minced Chicken Salad

Balancing Flavors

Balancing Flavors

Larb (often transliterated as laab and pronounced “lahb”) is one of the two main types of Thai “salads” prevalent in the West. (The other would be yum.) They typically involve chopped (or ground) meat flavored with fish sauce, limes, a bit of sugar (to balance flavors, mainly to bring out the sour of the limes), lots of ground, roasted chillies and roasted rice powder. It’s served with a vegetable platter: you eat the salad with the vegetables to cut the heat.

In Kasma’s classes you learn all about balancing flavors to create authentic Thai tastes. Ingredients such as fish sauce or limes (for instance) can vary brand to brand or batch to batch, so Kasma’s tasting exercises teach you how to work with different ingredients to get the correct Thai harmony of flavors.

You can try out Kasma’s recipe for Northeastern-Style Spicy Minced Chicken Salad (Laab Gai).

Stir-fried Eggplant with Chillies and Thai Basil (Makeua Yao Pad Prik Horapa)

Stir-Fried Eggplant

Stir-Fried Eggplant

I find Asian vegetables so very much more interesting that American vegetables. Thais do wonderful things with eggplants and I love this stir-fried dish. It’s a simple dish, flavored with oyster sauce and fish sauce with just a bit of vinegar added to the end to provide a bit of sour. It’s a wonderful dish and relatively easy to prepare.


Slideshow – Spicy Thai-Style Shrimp Cakes with Kaffir Lime Leaves and Green Beans (Tod Mon Goong)

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Kaffir Lime Leaves
Long Beans
Processing Shrimp 1
Processing Shrimp 3
Ready to Pound
Students Pounding
Pounding Ingredients 1
Pounding Ingredients 2
Mixing Everything
Making Cucumber Relish
Cucumber Relish
Frying Basil
Fried Holy Basil
Fried Holy Basil
Frying Shrimp Cakes 2
Frying Shrimp Cakes 3
Frying Shrimp Cakes 4
Frying Shrimp Cakes 5
Frying Shrimp Cakes 6
Removed Shrimp Cake
Shrimp Cakes 1
Shrimp Cakes 2
Shrimp Cakes 3

Slivered kaffir lime leaves for the Tod Mon Goong

Long beans, cut in thin rounds, provide texture

Processing shrimp in a food processor

Shrimp reduced to a smooth, sticky, gray paste.

The shrimp will be mixed with a paste in a mortar & pestle

Two students using the mortar & pestle

Starting to combine the ground shrimp and the chilli paste

Making a well-blended paste in the mortar & pestle

Finally, all the ingredients are combined in a bowl

Adjusting flavors for the accompanying Cucumber Relish

Cucumber Relish, ready to serve with the Tod Mon Goong

Holy basil (bai kaprao) is fried crispy in a wok

The crispy fried bai kaprao (holy basil) is removed from the wok

Kasma holding a shrimp cake above the wok

Kasma, about to drop a shrimp cake in the hot oil

Shrimp cake successfully dropped into the oil

Three shrimp cakes, puffed up and frying

Turning a shrimp cake over in the hot oil using long chopsticks

A wok full of frying shrimp cakes

Shrimp cakes are placed on a wired implement to drain

Savory Fried Shrimp Cakes (Tod Mon Goong) with Cucumber Relish

Serving of Tod Mon Goong with crispy-fried holy basil

Individual serving of Tod Mon Goong with Cucumber Relish

Kaffir Lime Leaves thumbnail
Long Beans thumbnail
Processing Shrimp 1 thumbnail
Processing Shrimp 3 thumbnail
Ready to Pound thumbnail
Students Pounding thumbnail
Pounding Ingredients 1 thumbnail
Pounding Ingredients 2 thumbnail
Mixing Everything thumbnail
Making Cucumber Relish thumbnail
Cucumber Relish thumbnail
Frying Basil thumbnail
Fried Holy Basil  thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 1 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 2 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 3 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 4 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 5 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 6 thumbnail
Removed Shrimp Cake thumbnail
Shrimp Cakes 1 thumbnail
Shrimp Cakes 2 thumbnail
Shrimp Cakes 3 thumbnail

Don’t miss:

Here are the next Intermediate Class Blogs:

I’ve already blogged on Kasma’s Beginning Thai Cooking Series:

You can find out all the necessary details about class times, dates and policies on our website.


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2013

Grilled Eggplant Salad

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, September 4th, 2009

Grilling Over Mesquite Adds a Rich Smoked Flavor to Spicy Eggplant Salad

One of my husband’s favorite salads of all time is Grilled Eggplant Salad (Yam Makeau Yao).

Prepping roasted eggplant

Prepping roasted eggplant

The hot tropical climate of Thailand lends itself to outdoor cooking. In fact, the kitchens of most traditional homes are in open shacks behind the main house. In the countryside, farmers still live in airy wooden houses on stilts, their kitchens in the open area beneath, or on the verandah. Besides making cooking more bearable in the heat of day, the openness of the kitchens and their separation from the main living quarters keep the fumes from charcoal stoves from smoking up the house.

Charcoal was the primary source of cooking fuel while I was growing up in Thailand. I remember the heaving call of the “charcoal man” as he pushed his heavy cart of black logs through our neighborhood each week. Mother would buy her load for the week, keeping the charcoal in a wooden bin in our kitchen behind the house and breaking the logs into smaller chunks when needed to fit into the different size burners. She trained me to be the fire starter, a duty I most enjoyed and learned to do with great proficiency. When we eventually converted to natural gas, our family enjoyed the cleanliness of the new convenience but missed the wonderful flavors that charcoal cooking added to food – whether grilled, boiled, or stir-fried.

Prepping roasted chillies

Prepping roasted chillies

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Modernization has brought cleaner gas and electric cooking to urban areas, but country folk and the poorer of the urban population still rely on less expensive charcoal for their cooking. The charcoal is not highly processed and does not come in uniformly square briquettes as most Americans know charcoal to be; rather, they are irregular charred logs that, like mesquite, impart a delightful smoked flavor to food. Because of this, grilling and roasting over hot coals continue to be popular cooking techniques in Thai cuisine. Fine restaurants around the country know well to keep a section of their kitchens fueled on charcoal, and along city streets, sidewalk food vendors grill all kinds of food over wood coals – from chicken, pork, meatballs, squid on skewers, fish and sausages to bananas, corn, sweet potatoes and yams, coconuts and even whole eggs.

Assembling the salad

Assembling the salad

One of my vivid memories from childhood is helping Mother skewer and sizzle large green chillies over hot coals. These were followed by succulent eggplants, roasted and charred to perfection. Both were then skinned, cut up into bite-size strips, arranged beautifully on a serving plate and dressed with a limy hot sauce.

On those Indian summer days this fall, as you fire up your barbecue kettle or hibachi, grill up some eggplants and chillies along with your chicken and meat for a spicy, lip-smacking dinner.

Note: This recipe is one of my husband’s (Michael’s) all-time favorites. I teach it my weekend Series Set A (class 1). The pictures here are taken from the one of these advanced classes

See our website for more in Thai recipes.


This recipe is also available on our website (Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad).

Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad – Yam Makeau Yao

  • Mesquite charcoal and a small handful of mesquite wood chips
  • 4 long Asian eggplants
  • 4 jalapeno or fresno peppers
  • 10-15 Thai chillies (bird peppers), finely chopped
  • Juice of about 2 limes, to taste
  • 2-3 Tbs. fish sauce (nahm bplah), to taste
  • 2-3 tsp. sugar, to taste
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb. small fresh shrimp, shelled and butterflied
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, cut into small wedges (6-8 pieces)
  • A small handful of short cilantro sprigs
Dressing the salad

Dressing the salad

Start a batch of mesquite charcoal in a barbecue kettle and soak the wood chips. While waiting for the coals, trim the tops off the eggplants and the peppers. Make a hot-and-sour sauce by mixing together the chopped Thai chillies, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Let sit for the flavors to blend and mingle.

Prepare the remaining ingredients. Blanch shrimp in boiling water for 30 seconds to cook. Drain well and set aside.

Grill the eggplants and peppers whole over the hot mesquite, turning occasionally until they are slightly charred on the outside and have softened. For a stronger smoked flavor, add damp wood chips to the red coals and cover the barbecue kettle after each turning.

Place the grilled eggplants and peppers in a paper sack for a few minutes to steam. When cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skin and thin outer membrane. Cut each eggplant crosswise into segments about 1 1/2 inches long, each segment in half lengthwise, and each half in 2-3 strips, depending on the size of the eggplant. Arrange on a serving platter and spread the sliced shallots over the top.

Cut the skinned peppers into long, thin strips. Do not remove the seeds if you want an extra spicy salad. Arrange in an attractive design over the eggplants and shallots and top with the cooked shrimp.

Taste and adjust the spicy lime sauce so that it is equally sour and salty with a hint of sweetness. Spoon evenly over the salad. Garnish with egg wedges and cilantro. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6-8.

Eggplant salad detail

Eggplant salad detail


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, September 2009.