Friday Five: Ingredients

Friday Five: Thai Cooking Ingredients

So, here we go with the Friday Five! This week, the focus is on Thai cooking ingredients. The list isn’t necessarily of ingredients unique to Thailand (though a few are) as it also just includes popular ingredients or ones that I think make Thai food awesome! This list is solely my own opinions – you’re not going to find this as a formal list anywhere else! And the information doesn’t come from any encyclopedia or reference. It’s simply what I have learned through my travels in Thailand and my journey learning to cook Thai food.

Sorry I was unable to take pictures of the ingredients for you; time just didn’t permit! I’ve included links for you to check them out, but I promise to change it out as soon as I can get a few pics of my own! Bad blogger, I know.

#1 Galangal

I absolutely love this ingredient (and btw, this links to a great blog to check out too)! Also known as khaa in Thai, this ingredient looks very similar to ginger. I’ll admit, the first time I attempted to cook with it, I accidentally purchased the ginger instead (they put them right next to each other!). It’s didn’t make for the best meal.

Galangal has a peppery flavor and is far bitterer (that’s a weird word) to me than ginger. However, it is delicious to cook with! In Thai cuisine, galangal is used as a seasoning in things like soup, chili paste, and some meat and seafood dishes.

It is available fresh from Asian markets, but also comes in dried and powdered forms. I much prefer the fresh, but the others are useful as well if you don’t have fresh available. Dried galangal needs to be soaked in water before use.

#2 Thai Chilies

Talk about spicy! Thai chilies, also known as Bird’s eye chilies, are used in pretty much every dish in Thailand. Thai people love their food spicy and this is the primary way that they find that heat. Rightfully so! The Thai chili is one of the hottest chilies in the world!

To give you a little perspective: The jalapeno has a Scoville heat rating of 4,000. The Thai chili? Bump that rating up to between 80,000 and 100,000! Yikes!

Not only are these chilies spicy, but they also have a unique flavor and are used in all types of Thai cooking. You’ll find them in anything from curries and meat dishes to soups, Pad Thai, and side dipping sauces.

These chilies are available at almost all Asian markets (at least around here in the Pacific Northwest) and are very inexpensive. Eat up!

#3 Coconut

Thought not specific to Thailand, coconut (in its many forms) is a key ingredient in many Thai recipes. Seeing as though Thailand is a tropical country, coconuts are readily available to Thai people and they use them freely in their cuisine.

The most common part of the coconut that is used is the milk and cream. These parts of the coconut are used most often in curries and soups as well as in desserts. My favorite two Thai dishes happen to have coconut milk – Green Curry and Mangoes with Sticky rice … in case you were wondering the keys to my heart!

Thai people also use the coconut meat in deserts and sometimes in entrée dishes. If you ever get over to Thailand, definitely try out some of their many Thai desserts, especially the ones with this awesome ingredients! To whet your appetite, here’s a little Google search I did. Enjoy!

#4 Lemongrass

This is another one of my favorite ingredients in Thai cooking! A stalky plant, this lemon scented plant is readily available all over Southeast-Asia. Obvious by the name, this plant brings a lemon flavor and incredible aroma to whatever dish it is added to. It’s a lighter flavor so it is most often added to soups and salads, and also curries.

This ingredient is available in some general markets (I’ve purchased it from QFC and other grocery stores) but it’s super expensive. You’ll find much better prices at an Asian market, though not all of them carry fresh stalks. If you can’t find fresh, there is an option to go with powdered though it isn’t nearly as tasty! It is an easy substitute in curry pastes, but when it comes to soups and salad dressings, the extra time or effort to find fresh will be greatly rewarded!

#5 Basil

There are two different types of basil that are used in Thai cooking – bai horapa (Thai Sweet Basil) and bai gkaprow (Holy Basil). Both types of basil are used freely in Thai cuisine, but for two very different flavors.

Thai Sweet Basil is used more commonly in Thai cuisine. It is added into any type of dish – curries, meat, poultry, vegetable, etc. It is also eaten on its own with dipping sauces such as nahm prik.

Holy Basil, used less often, provides a completely different flavor. It is usually added to stir fry dishes and brings a spicy, almost peppery, basil flavor. The most popular dish using this ingredient is pad gkaprow gai (or moo), a stir fried dish with chicken (or pork) with holy basil and vegetables. This is one of my absolutely favorite dishes and one I have made often! Check out the recipe here!

Honorable Mention: Rice!

Okay, okay, I know these are supposed to be the Friday FIVE, but I make the rules and today I’m adding in an honorable mention. Obviously, that mention goes to rice. As is common in Asian cultures, rice is the foundation of any meal. Breakfast, lunch, dinner – it doesn’t really matter. A meal is not complete without a bowl of rice.

One of the reasons for this is because rice has always been a common crop and thus it became the popular compliment to meals. When I was living in Thailand, my family made the parallel that rice is like bread/carbs to Americans. We always want a roll or bread with our meals. It’s the same way with rice for Thai people!

If you want to read about the day a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer attempted to revolt against the rice, click here. It’s pretty hilarious, but absolutely accurate!

Now, if you want to take all of these elements today and make a really fantastic dish, I recommend the Tom Ka Gai soup – a coconut based chicken soup with chilies, galangal, basil, and lemongrass. We’ll leave the rice out of this one – but if you’re feeling Thai, you can definitely have a bowl of it on the side.

Happy Eating!

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