Gaeng Kiao Waan Gai (Green Curry with Chicken)

Green curry (gaeng kiao waan) is probably my favorite Thai dish of all time. Prior to moving to Thailand I stuck to some pretty simple dishes. I didn’t venture into anything exotic and at the time the idea of eating a big bowl of what looked like split pea soup did not appeal to me. So, upon moving to Thailand I had never tried it. Thankfully, when you live in Thailand and are working very hard to follow traditional customs (and not offend people in the process) you eat whatever is put in front of you.

My mae and neighbor, Pii Mem, during my stay in Thailand. Kitung mak mak.
My mae and neighbor, Pii Mem, during my stay in Thailand. Kitung mak mak.

During my first few days with my host family in Ayutthaya I was presented with a large bowl of green curry at breakfast. Fantastic. I’d only been there a few days and I was already being tested. Maybe I can just avoid it and eat everything else. I quickly dished myself some rice and a portion of the kai diao (fried egg omelet) consciously steering clear of the green goop.

I should have known better.

My mae (mother) noticed the absence of curry on my plate almost immediately. She grabbed the serving spoon and threw a big pile of it onto my plate nearly covering my entire mound of rice. Oh great. Now what do I do? I had just learned about proper Thai eating etiquette in my Peace Corps training classes and the first thing they tell you is to eat everything on your plate. It is rude not to. I had done well to avoid the curry when it stayed in the bowl, but once it made its way onto my rice I was out of luck.

I took a deep breath and scooped up a large pile of rice onto my spoon, smiled at my mae, and dipped the very edge of my spoon into the green pile. She nodded vigorously. “Gin, gin!” Eat, eat! I looked down at the spoon and grimaced. You signed up for this.

I put the spoonful of rice and green in my mouth and slowly started chewing. It wasn’t terrible but I couldn’t really tell if I liked it because I couldn’t really taste the flavors. I’d only taken a tiny dip, remember? I took another spoonful of rice, smaller this time, and added a bit more green curry including an actual piece of meat – I think it was chicken (another thing I learned, never ask what protein you’re eating)?

My mae preparing dinner in our home in Ban Heep.
My mae preparing dinner in our home in Ban Heep.

This time when I put the bite into my mouth I was completely sold. The flavor was indescribable at the time but now I can distinctly characterize it as a combination of sweet and salty with just the right amount of spice (even for me who, at the time, did not do anything spicy). The chicken was tender, the sauce was thinner than many curries with a bit more oil, but still creamy and savory and absolutely delicious.

I smiled back at my mae and nodded my head that I did in fact like it. She grinned and continued to eat. I found green curry on the breakfast table every day for the next week.

I didn’t mind.

I tell that story because many people often have the same experience with Thai food, or any ethnic/exotic food for that matter. They find one or two dishes they like and stick to those because they are delicious but also because all the others are way out of their comfort zone.

I’m here to tell you, feel free to eat whatever suits you but do not discount weird looking, smelling, or sounding dishes simply because they push your boundaries! Some of those dishes will end up being your favorites – I promise J . If the ones you decided to try are yummy, who is to say the other ones aren’t yummy too?

Side note: When my mom reads this she is going to laugh hysterically … this little pep talk coming from her daughter who has always been the pickiest of eaters. Oh, the irony.

My paw and mae on a tour of the wats in Ayutthaya.
My paw and mae on a tour of the wats in Ayutthaya.

Anyway, back to the gaeng kiao waan. If you’re a Thai food fan and you’re looking to branch out past the few dishes you usually try then this would be a great place to start. It doesn’t have too many crazy ingredients, it doesn’t have to be super spicy (though there is usually at least a little bit, which I’ll explain here in a minute), and it’s great with nearly all types of protein. Let’s call it a gateway dish if you will.

Before I get to the recipe though, I want to clear a few things up with you regarding this particular dish. First, there is a misconception that green curry is sweeter than other curries when in fact, it isn’t. Yes, the word waan is in the name, which can be a little confusing (it means sweet in Thai) but it isn’t actually any sweeter than the other curries. By nature it is also the spiciest of all Thai curries because it is made from fresh chilies rather than dried ones. However, I will say that I can handle the higher spice in this dish better than other curries but that might just be a personal thing. If you don’t like spicy foods, you can always use less green curry paste (though you may lose some of the vibrancy of flavor) or you can make your own paste with less spicy chilies (no, making chili paste isn’t super difficult!).

Additionally, there is a big difference between authentic green curry in Thailand and the green curry you are served at restaurants around the states. I find that there are two distinct differences:

A bowl of traditional Thai green curry served with Thai eggplant and eggplant peas.
A bowl of traditional Thai green curry served with Thai eggplant and eggplant peas.
  1. Green curry in Thailand is much thinner and slightly less creamy. The ratio between the amount of broth and the amount of protein/vegetables is much larger. Most bowls of green curry I received in Thailand were heavily broth-based with some meat and veggies swimming around. In the states, green curry (as with most curries) are served a bit thicker with a lesser amount of sauce. You will either receive a plate with both rice and green curry on it or you’ll still receive a bowl/plate of the curry but it will be protein/veggie heavy with just enough sauce to compliment the dish. This isn’t to say the curries here aren’t delicious, they just aren’t the same consistency or ratios.
  1. The vegetables that are used in authentic green curry are very different. In Thailand, the only vegetables you usually find in green curry are Thai eggplants and eggplant peas. It may also be topped with Thai basil. In the states, they add numerous other vegetables like bamboo shoots, bell peppers, and regular eggplant. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of Thai eggplants so the Americanized version with different veggies often appeals to me, but when I’m going for a traditional bowl of green curry I’ll always use the Thai eggplants.

So I think that’s about it. Willing to try it yet? If not, I’d be happy to continue rambling about how amazing it is and regale you with more stories of my gaeng kiao waan experiences in Thailand. I have another particularly good one that involves a little restaurant across the street from MBK mall in Bangkok. Probably the best bowl of green curry in my life. I can’t wait to go back.

Gaeng Kiao Waan Gai (Green Curry with Chicken)

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: intermediate to advanced


  • 4 TBSP green curry paste, depending on how spicy you like things (start with less, then add more if you need it)
  • 1 pound chicken, sliced into 1 inch strips (you can substitute with beef, shrimp, fish, or tofu)
  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • 2 cups vegetables, cut into strips (traditionally Thai eggplants but you can use bamboo shoots, bell peppers, eggplant, carrots, etc)
  • ½ cup Thai basil leaves
  • 1 TBSP palm sugar (can sub with light brown sugar)
  • 2 TBSP fish sauce, more to taste
  • Water


  1. To prepare your paste, cook 1 cup of coconut cream over medium-high heat. After a few minutes, you’ll begin to see a layer of film begin to form and your cream will start to break (the cream and the oil will begin to separate).
    1. You can also use coconut milk. If you do, add a TBSP or so of coconut oil as well as many milks will not break appropriately.
  2. Lower the heat to medium and add your curry paste to the coconut cream. Stir-fry your paste for 2-3 minutes. If it gets too dry, continue to add a tablespoon or two of coconut cream to the pot. This will stop the paste from burning.
  3. Once the cream has broken a little more and the color of the paste looks rich, add your chicken. Stir-fry the chicken until the outside has been seared and all pieces are coated with the paste mixture, approximately 1-2 minutes.
  4. At this point you can either continue in your wok or transfer to a large pot. Add the remainder of your coconut cream and your vegetables. If you are using multiple vegetables, only add the ones that need a longer amount of time to cook. Save the quick-cooking vegetables for the end.
  5. Add a bit of water to your mixture depending on your preferred consistency. Start with a small amount and add more as needed (I typically add about 1 cup of water). Allow your mixture to boil for a minute or two. Season with fish sauce and sugar to taste.
  6. Add second set of vegetables if you have them. This should include quick-cooking vegetables . Allow to cook until tender.
  7. Remove curry from the heat and top with Thai basil leaves.
  8. Serve this curry in a bowl separate from your rice. Enjoy!

Summer Thai Cooking Classes … are we crazy!?

What is an American doing hosting Thai cooking classes anyway?
You’re not Thai.
You only spent ten months in Thailand.
You don’t have any formal training.

What are you thinking?

The voices go on in my head until I wake up in a cold sweat and question everything I’m doing!

Okay, not really. I’m playing the drama card. But, don’t think those same thoughts didn’t run through my head when I decided a few months ago to hold my first Thai Cooking class. At that point, it was just a creative way to solve a funding problem. The dog rescue that I volunteer with was in need of medical funds and recently a few of my friends had mentioned wanting me to show them a Thai recipe or two sometime. In order to kill two birds with one stone I decided I’d hold a charity cooking class with all proceeds going straight to the rescue.

*Note: If you’re a dog lover like me (specifically boxers), check out Northwest Boxer Rescue and see how you can help or get involved.

One of the class participants mixing the laab gai.
One of the class participants mixing the laab gai. Note the wine.

It wasn’t anything spectacular – a group of 10 dog lovers came together for a night of Thai cooking and some wine. Lots of wine. I had an opportunity to teach something I’m passionate about, they had a chance to learn, and a few dogs were helped in the process. It was a win, win, win!

A few weeks later I decided to host another one. There were a few people who couldn’t make it to the first one that still really wanted to attend so we did it all over again. The first one had been my solo endeavor, but for this round Cory decided he wanted to be more involved. Gladly, please, and thank you! It’s tough instructing a bunch of adults!

He helped me pick out the recipes, plan the order of events, instruct, and even clean up (gotta love the man). Our group was smaller this time, only six, but it worked out well. We made a few tweaks to the way we went about the class and everything seemed to work; everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

We have our third charity event scheduled for the end of this month, this time for Cory’s brother. He is attempting to complete all 16 Tough Mudder events in the UK and Ireland this year to benefit Hope for Heroes. Can’t wait to raise some money to donate to his cause.

Getting ready to prepare the Panang curry paste.
Getting ready to prepare the Panang curry paste.

*Note: To learn more about Aaron’s challenge or to donate to his cause visit Aaron’s Tough Mudder Challenge.

Anyway, I’m getting a bit off track.

Somewhere in the midst of these charity classes and the planning, the execution, and the debriefing Cory and I had a thought.

Why not do these more often?

Everyone we invite over for Thai dinner parties asks us to teach them some of the recipes. We’ve received compliments on our food and how much better it tastes than many of the restaurants they visit (well it’s authentic, of course it’s better)! The participants we’ve had in our classes so far have all talked about how they’d love to come to them again.

So why not?

That’s where those questions of doubt come in though.

We aren’t Thai. I only spent 10 months in Thailand and Cory only spent three weeks. Neither of us have any formal training. And I’ll repeat in case you weren’t clear … we’re not Thai.

So what are two Americans doing hosting Thai cooking classes?

Plain and simple, we’re having fun!

We both have an incredible passion for this culture and this food. We work hard to learn and practice traditional cooking techniques.  We study the ingredients, we try recipes again and again. We immerse ourselves in the culture as much as we can … even as Americans.

So why not?

Why not share this passion with those around us? If people are interested in learning then who is to say we can’t be the ones to teach them?

Bottom line, we’re extremely excited about this summer. We are thrilled to take what we love and share it with family, friends, and hopefully new acquaintances. It’s one thing to explore a passion on our own; it’s another to share that love with others.

If you are interested in learning a little bit about Thai culture, exploring the ingredients and dishes of Thailand, and getting some hands-on experience cooking delicious Thai food, then give our classes a try. We’d love to have you.

Visit the Cooking Classes tab at the top to view our class schedule.

Regional Thai Cuisine: Part 2 of 4 – Southern Thailand

I can’t tell you the number of people who, when I tell them I lived in Thailand, respond with, “ooh, I’ve heard Phuket is nice!” It’s pretty typical for people to think about Phuket, Krabi, “that awesome beach where the movie The Beach was filmed” when they think about visiting Thailand. And why not? It’s the most tropical part of Thailand with the sandy beaches, clear blue water, and endless sun.

The view from Ko Phi Phi
The view from Ko Phi Phi


For me though, what’s even more wonderful about these places and the surrounding region is that it brings a great deal of variety and deliciousness to Thai cuisine. Extremely different from the northern region of my last post the southern region brings new flavors, ingredients, and even different brighter colors!

Located closest to the equator, the southern part of Thailand receives a steady amount of sun throughout the year along with eight rainy months which allows for very fertile growing conditions. (Check out the pictures; it’s a lush jungle over there!) This fertility means that crops such as coconut and rubber can grow more abundantly and thus become some of the key outputs from this region. Thais use this abundance of coconut to their advantage when cooking by using the milk to thicken soups and curries, the oils for frying meats and fish, and the meat as a grated accompaniment. As a coconut fiend I kind of love the food of the south for this very reason.


Thai bird's eye chilies
Thai bird’s eye chilies

Unfortunately, southern Thais also like their food incredibly spicy. I mean really spicy. Their use of chilies is far beyond my tolerance so when traveling in the south I have to act a bit more like a farang (foreigner) and ask for things mai pet (without spice). It’s okay though, the rest of the amazing flavors make up for it!

Additionally, the climate also allows for a wealth of fruits and nuts to grow, most commonly pineapple and cashews. These crops can be found in a number of different delicious dishes including gaeng massaman and gaeng saparot. If you haven’t checked out my Gaeng Saparot Gai recipe you definitely should. It’s aroi mak!

Another important geographical feature is the bodies of water that surround southern Thailand. Thais use what is available to them thus making seafood a popular protein of the region. Whether it is fish, lobster, crab, mussels, squid, prawns, or scallops, Thais consume far more seafood in the south than they do chicken, pork, or beef – the popular proteins of the more northern regions. They also use a variety of cooking methods from steaming and frying to one of my favorites – baking in a clay pot (often accompanied by noodles) … yum!

So far I’ve only discussed how the geography and climate of the region define Thai cuisine of the south, but this area is also very heavily influenced by its neighboring country Malaysia. Islam is the largest practiced religion in Malaysia, and consequently, southern Thailand is heavily populated with Muslim Thais. The cuisine of this area is much more similar to Malaysian and Indian cuisine than other areas of Thailand.

Specifically, food in this region relies heavily on turmeric, a brightly colored root that is found often in Indian cuisine. The color of this root is what makes some curries of Thailand a brighter yellow color (including the recipe below). Muslim influence also makes roti – a round flat wheat bread – a very popular accompaniment in place of rice. Rice is grown far less copiously in this region so this delicious bread product is used at both normal meals and as a dessert.

Okay, a little tangent here.

I am absolutely obsessed with Thai roti!
I am absolutely obsessed with Thai roti!

Roti as a dessert is delicious.

I mean absolutely, insanely, mind-blowingly, “I would fly back to Thailand just to have a serving of roti” delicious.

Think sweet crepe but more fried and crispy lathered in butter and most commonly (at least where I was living) served with bananas, cinnamon and condensed milk. I guess you could say it has some similar features to an elephant ear but 150 times more delectable.

Alright, that’s it; I need to post a recipe for that ASAP. Be on the lookout.

Okay, back to business. There also happens to be a large Chinese population in southern Thailand which brings regional specialties like khanom jin (or chin or jeen or however else you want to spell it). This is a dish of rice noodles cooked in one of a number of different curry soups and often served with fish. This isn’t one of my favorite dishes, but maybe I just haven’t had the right stuff yet. I know of quite of few people who love it and I’m open to keep trying until I find one that suits me!

So there you go … southern Thai cuisine.

In the spirit of adventure and trying new things here is a southern Thai recipe for you to try! This is another yummy curry but very different from other curries you’ve probably had. However, give it a shot. It’s tasty and you just might find your new favorite recipe!

Gaeng Som Goong (Sour Shrimp Curry)

  • Difficulty: intermediate

Paste Ingredients:

Thai sour curry with shrimp
Thai sour curry with shrimp

  • 3 large dried guajillo chilies
  • 1-2 Thai bird’s eye chilies, fresh
  • 1 large shallot (or approximately ¼ cup)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (1.5 – 2 TBSP), sliced
  • ½ cup cooked shrimp

Curry Ingredients:

  • 4 cups water
  • ½ cup shrimp (or fish)
  • 2 cups vegetables (ong choy, cabbage, kale, pumpkin, long beans, daikon, or any vegetables you’d like)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TBSP fish sauce
  • 3 TBSP tamarind paste
  • 1 TBSP palm sugar


  1. To make the paste, soak dried chilies in warm water for 20 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  2. Roast shrimp paste in a foil packet (wrap paste in foil) on element for 2-3 minutes on each side.
  3. Place all ingredients into a food processor with a small amount of the chili soaking water and puree. Add more liquid if it seems too dry.
  4. To make the curry, put the water in the pot with the curry paste and set over high heat. When boiling, lower heat to medium and let simmer for 5 minutes. Do not shorten this time as cooking the paste is required for a yummy taste!
  5. Add all the seasonings to taste. Add more or less depending on your preference.
  6. Add the vegetables and let the soup boil again. If the vegetables cook quickly, add them after the shrimp.
  7. Add the shrimp and cook until they are done and the water is back to boiling again.
  8. Serve with rice and other accompaniments like a fried omelette  or fried vegetables.

Pok Pok Cookbook and First Recipes

This past weekend I was introduced to heaven in a cookbook. No lie, I have a ton of cookbooks but this particular one is my new obsession.

Within my collection I have quite a few Thai cookbooks – everything from the printer paper string-bound book handed out during my cooking class in Chiang Mai to Thai Street Food, a nearly 400 page, five-pound, oversized book best known for the incredible photographs found inside. I’m constantly looking for new books to add to my collection and awhile back a follower of my blog informed me that I should look into the Pok Pok cookbook.

Do yourself a favor and visit Pok Pok in either Portland or New York. Aroi maak!

Pok Pok has a cookbook, you say? You mean all of the amazing recipes from the Pok Pok restaurant can be made at home? *swoon*

In that very moment I died and went to heaven … and immediately ordered the cookbook of course.

The day it arrived was like Christmas. I curled up on the couch with a grin on my face like a giddy school girl and started slowly working my way through the recipes. How could so many amazing recipes be found in one place? And more importantly, how had I gone this long without knowing about it?

No matter; I have it now and that very first night I pulled out at least a dozen recipes that I want to try … right now … today … this minute. Unfortunately, that’s not possible *grumble, grumble* so I settled for one to start with that sounded off the charts.

Sii Khrong Muu Yaang – Thai-style Pork Ribs

Can we say delicious?

I couldn’t just make the ribs on their own so I selected a second dish that I absolutely loved in Thailand but haven’t had since coming back to the states – Pak Boong Fai Daeng (Stir-fried Morning Glory). I can’t even begin to explain to you how excited I was to make this meal.

And let me tell you, it turned out INCREDIBLE. A few comments from my fiancé as he ate:

“These are some of the best ribs I’ve ever had.”

“This sauce is so freaking good.”

“You can make this meal every day if you want to.” *No thanks, it takes a lot of time, but nice compliment anyway!*

Let’s just say I was super proud of the results and SO excited to have found this cookbook. If you have the time I would definitely recommend giving these recipes a shot. We plan on making this again very soon, hopefully this time out on the grill with some beer and good company!

Let’s Cook: Sii Khrong Muu Yaang (Thai-style Pork Ribs)

“Some of the best ribs I’ve ever had.” – My wonderful fiancé who really really likes his ribs.

If you’re like my fiancé and truly appreciate a delicious plate of ribs then this recipe is for you. No joke, he actually said that these were some of the best ribs he has ever tasted … excuse me!? Can you say that again? Put it in writing? Billboard? Please, and thank you.

In all seriousness though, I really don’t think the success of this recipe had anything to do with the fact that I made them … as much as I’d like to think so. The recipe is just that good. The combination of the savory marinade with the honey glaze and the sweet and spicy dipping sauce make this recipe exceptional. It takes a bit of time, but if you’re willing to put in the effort I really think this recipe is so perfect that it’s fool proof.

A few notes on my own experience with this recipe.

  • It calls for spare ribs. The Asian market I visited only had baby backs so I went with those. They worked great!
  • The recipe recommends the ribs being cut across the bone into 2” strips. I highly recommend this as well. I was able to purchase them this way from the Asian market.
  • Don’t disregard the recommendation to serve with the jaew sauce. It is so good! I didn’t think it tasted very good when I first made it but after it sat in the fridge overnight and I added the cilantro it really came together. It really made this dish pop.

So, here it is – Chok dii!

Sii Khrong Muu Yaang (Thai-style Pork Ribs)

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: intermediate


Served with Pak Boong Fai Daeng and Jaew dipping sauce (recipe below)
Served with Pak Boong Fai Daeng and Jaew dipping sauce (recipe below)

  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoon Thai thin soy sauce (I just used the bottle I picked up at the grocery store)
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (original recipe called for Ceylon cinnamon)
  • A pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 pounds (1 kg) pork spareribs, cut lengthwise across the bone into 2-inch-wide strips
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) Jaew dipping sauce (recipe below)


  1. In a bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of honey with the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, ginger, sesame oil, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg until the honey has dissolved.
  2. Put the ribs in a large resealable plastic bag and pour the marinade over the top. Close the bag, expelling excess air. Massage the bag to spread the marinade around. Refrigerate for 2 hours or as long as overnight.
  3. Before cooking the ribs, mix together the remaining 4 tablespoons of honey with 2 tablespoons of hot water. Set aside to use as a glaze during the last hour of cooking.
  4. Preheat the oven to 250F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  5. Put the ribs on the rack leaving at least one inch between the racks. Bake for 2 hours, flipping the ribs and rotating the baking sheet once or twice.
  6. After two hours, increase the heat to 300F and continue to cooking for 30-40 minutes, brushing on the honey every 10-15 minutes. The ribs should have a dark lacquered surface when they are finished.
  7. When finished cooking, remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Let the ribs rest for a few minutes, then slice into individual ribs and serve alongside the jaew dipping sauce.

This dish is not complete without the recommended jaew dipping sauce. Give it a shot!

Jaew (Spicy, Tart Dipping Sauce for meat)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy


  • 2 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced (tender part only)
  • 2 TBSP Thai fish sauce
  • 1 ½ TBSP Thai thin soy sauce (I just used my grocery store bought sauce)
  • ¾ tsp Thai seasoning sauce (Golden Mountain works)
  • 3 ½ TBSP lime juice (preferably Key limes)
  • 1 ½ TBSP Palm sugar simple syrup (or any simple syrup)
  • 1 ½ tsp Toasted-chili powder (made from dried guajillo chilies roasted in a dry wok until black and then ground up)

To Finish

  • 1 TBSP Toasted-sticky rice powder (I did not add this)
  • 1 TBSP coarsely chopped cilantro


  1. Pound the lemongrass in a granite mortar until you have a coarse, fibrous paste. You can also use a mini-processor but this will not break up the fibers as well. You can also buy lemongrass paste instead.
  2. Scrape the paste into a medium bowl and add fish sauce, soy sauce, seasoning sauce, lime juice, simple syrup, and chile powder.
  3. Let sit at room temperature for at least one hour or in the fridge for up to two days. It really does get better with a little time!
  4. Right before serving, let it come to room temperature and stir in toasted-rice powder and cilantro.

Let’s Cook: Pak Boong Fai Daeng (Stir-fried Chinese Morning Glory)

There are a lot of stir-fried vegetable dishes in Thailand … like a lot a lot … but if you’re looking for just one that is super easy and crazy delicious then pak boong fai daeng is the one for you.

  • Pak: Thai word for ‘fried’ and is used for dishes stir-fried in a hot wok.
  • Boong: Thai word for morning glory, otherwise known as Ong Choy in Chinese (often labeled this way at the Asian market).
  • Fai daeng: literally means ‘red fire’.

So basically this dish is Chinese morning glory fried over a really hot fire. Sounds delish, count me in! You too, right?

Thought so.

In Thailand this was one of my favorite vegetable dishes. Sauteed vegetables, cooked just right with a crisp crunch and covered in a delicious sauce – a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, and a lot a bit salty. Just the way I like it! I’ll admit that until I made this dish a few days ago I had never tried making it before. For some reason I thought it would be super difficult because of the enchanting combination of flavors on my palette.

I’m happy to admit that I was wrong. This recipe takes the cake for ease of preparation and is a great starting place for anyone just starting out with Thai cooking at home.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few unique and sometimes difficult to find ingredients. There is the traditional oyster sauce and fish sauce that can be found at nearly any Asian market, but also yellow bean sauce (also called soy bean paste) that might be more difficult to acquire. One of my local Asian markets has it, one does not. But, there really isn’t a substitute for the flavor this ingredient brings so try your very best to find it. You can also order it from ImportFood. Have I mentioned how much I love that site?

Also, the morning glory (Chinese water spinach or Ong Choy) can sometimes be difficult to find. Most Asian markets should have it, but if you aren’t familiar with the market you may pass right over it. And, be careful when asking for help. Try all possible names for the product. I started with morning glory, went to water spinach, and it wasn’t until calling it Ong Choy that the clerk said, “oh that, no we don’t have any today.” Darn.

However, if you do find yourself in this predicament as I did, broccolini (the thin, long stemmed broccoli) is a great substitute. It cooks up the same way and the taste fits well with this particular combination of flavors … plus the color is spectacular!

A few other recommendations after making this recipe:

  • Make sure your wok is super hot. If you don’t, you’ll miss out on the smoky flavor that is added when the vegetables actually fry (not just cook).
  • As stated earlier, do not substitute the soy bean paste with anything else. It really makes this dish.
  • Do not overcook the vegetables. It may seem like two minutes is a really short cook time and that’s because it is. But, anything longer (or any time left in the pan before moving to a serving dish) will overcook the morning glory and leave you disappointed.
  • If you use fresh Thai chilies, just bruise them with the flat side of your knife. This allows some of the spice to come through but it won’t overpower the entire dish.

Chok dii!

Pak Boong Fai Daeng (Stir-friend Chinese Morning Glory)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy

Recipe pulled from Pok Pok cookbook


Served with Thai-style Pork Ribs and Jaew dipping sauce
Served with Thai-style Pork Ribs and Jaew dipping sauce

  • 2 TBSP Thai oyster sauce
  • Scant TBSP Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tsp Thai yellow bean sauce (soy bean paste)
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 1 TBSP garlic cloves, cut in half and lightly smashed
  • 6 ounces water spinach (broccolini is an easy substitute)
  • 3-4 fresh red Thai chilies (calls for dried but I prefer fresh!)
  • ¼ cup reduced sodium chicken broth


    1. Combine the oyster sauce, fish sauce, bean sauce, and sugar in a bowl and stir well. Set aside.
    2. Heat a wok over very high heat, add the oil. When it begins to smoke lightly, add the garlic. Let garlic sizzle, stirring often, until it turns light golden brown. If the garlic starts to brown too quickly, remove the wok from the heat and continue browning.
    3. Put the wok back on the heat, add the morning glory/water spinach, and stir until the leaves begin to wilt, about 15 seconds.
    4. Add the oyster sauce mixture (plus a splash of water if necessary) and the chilies. Stir-fry, constantly stirring and scooping, until the leaves have fully wilted, about 45 seconds.
    5. Add 2 tablespoons of the stock and stir-fry until the stems are just tender with a slight crunch, about 45 more seconds.
  • Remove immediately and transfer to a plate to serve. Do not leave over heat or you will overcook the greens.

Regional Thai Cuisine – Part 1 of 4: Northern Thailand

If you’ve only eaten Thai food at restaurants here in the U.S., you’ve barely scratched the surface of the unbelievable variety of fare available in Thailand. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the majority of Thai restaurants here in the states have very similar menus. You’d be hard pressed to find a place that doesn’t serve Pad Thai, green curry, tom yum soup, or mangoes with sticky rice. It just doesn’t happen. Pick a favorite Thai dish and you can probably find it no matter where you choose to eat.

For someone who has lived in Thailand, this can be very frustrating. I can’t tell you the number of times I have walked into a Thai restaurant here in Seattle and been disappointed that some of my favorite dishes were not on the menu. Why is it so darn hard to find a bowl of khao soi?

The fact of the matter is that most Thai restaurants in the U.S. serve what is considered central Thai cuisine, or Thai food that comes from the central region of the country. Unfortunately, the other regions of Thailand bring some amazing flavor profiles, ingredients, and specialty dishes that no one includes on their menu!

Okay, I better not say no one. There are some delicious region-specific Thai restaurants out. There are also some restaurants that do a fantastic job compiling a variety of fare from all over the country, but generally speaking the majority of the US population has only experienced central Thai food.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a crying shame. You are being deprived.

Because of that, I’ve decided to do a blog series on the four regions of Thailand and the specific cuisine native to those areas. No one should have to miss out on all that yummy goodness!

First up, mainly because I want to share a phenomenal khao soi recipe with you, is the Northern region.

Northern Thailand Cuisine

Geographically speaking, the northern region of Thailand is actually the northwestern region. It centers around the city of Chiang Mai and spans outward to the western border shared with Myanmar (previously Burma) and the northern/northeastern border shared with Laos.

It is a beautiful area.

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand

I took a trip up to the north with Cory when he came to visit. We rode an overnight bus so we went to sleep in Bangkok and woke up in Chiang Mai and I absolutely could not believe the difference in climate and topography when we arrived.

The climate in the northern region is much cooler than other parts of the country. It is part of the temperate zone and therefore has an abundance of vegetation. Green trees everywhere! And not just trees but all kinds of crops. Many of the northerners are agriculturists and because of this, northern cuisine is heavy in vegetables and fruit. They also have a large variety of roots and herbs that brings a sour and bitterness to dishes of the north. These flavors also show a heavy influence from the bordering countries of Myanmar and Laos.

The cool weather also makes it very difficult to sustain the growth of coconuts so instead of making dishes based on coconut milk, food in this region is broth or water-based making curries and soups thinner and less creamy. Less creamy isn’t a bad thing though. Northern cuisine has a fantastic flavor profile and brings some unique characteristics to the table.

Another regional specialty of the north is spicy pork sausage which you can find just about anywhere in that region. I’ve only had it once but it was delicious! It’s often served with some north specific chili pastes like nam prik noom and nam prik ong. Pork in general is popular and often substitutes for chicken and beef that are used regularly in other parts of the country. That doesn’t mean you can’t find chicken and beef though – they do still use a variety of meats and proteins.

Finally, the preferred rice of this region is glutinous rice, otherwise called sticky rice. It is often eaten with the hands by rolling it into small balls and dipping into dishes or a variety of delicious sauces. Delish!

So, there you have it – northern Thai cuisine. Interested in giving some of these dishes a try? Next time you’re at a Thai restaurant order from the list below.

  • Miang Kum – an appetizer dish of leaves (traditionally betel but commonly spinach in the states) filled with a variety of chopped up ingredients and topped with a sweet sauce.
  • Laab – ground meat (traditionally pork or chicken) flavored with lime, shallots, mint, cilantro, red pepper flakes, and roasted rice powder.
  • Khao Soi – a delicious curry noodle dish with chicken and crispy egg noodles on top.

There are tons of additional northern Thai dishes but they can be difficult to find in restaurants. In order to try these you’ll probably have to find a region-specific restaurant such as Pok Pok in Portland (and New York) or Pestle Rock in The Ballard area of Seattle. Pok Pok specializes in northern and northeastern Thai food and while Pestle Rock is technically an Isaan (northeastern) restaurant they have a number of dishes that would be considered northern as well.

That last one on the list, khao soi, is one of my all-time favorite Thai dishes. I searched far and wide for an amazing recipe, one that captured the intense depth of flavor that I found in a tiny little restaurant on a street corner in Chiang Mai … and I’ll happily say that I found one!

I can’t take credit for this recipe in any way. It’s from the March 2013 issue of Bon Appetit magazine and after finding it, making it, and trying a few tweaks to see if I could adjust it to my personal liking (more than just the typical variance in fish sauce or sugar) I just couldn’t do it. This recipe is exactly the way I like my khao soi … hearty, filling, and aroi mak!

It takes a bit of prep but it is absolutely delicious and you’ll find yourself wanting to make it over and over again.

Khao Soi Gai

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print


Khao soi paste:

  • 4 large dried guajillo chilies, stemmed, halved, and seeded
  • 2 medium shallots, halved
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 2” piece ginger, peeled, sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro stems
  • 1 TBSP ground coriander
  • 1 TBSP ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp curry powder


  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 2 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 ½ lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs, halved lengthwise
  • 1 lb Chinese egg noodles
  • 3 TBSP (or more) fish sauce
  • 1 TBSP (packed) palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • Sliced red onion, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, crispy fried onions or shallots, chili oil, and lime wedges (for serving)


For khao soi paste: 
Place chiles in a small heatproof bowl, add boiling water to cover, and let soak until softened, 25-30 minutes.

Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Purée chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and 2 tablespoons soaking liquid in a food processor, adding more soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls, if needed, until smooth.

For soup: 

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add khao soi paste; cook, stirring constantly, until slightly darkened, 4-6 minutes. Add coconut milk and broth. Bring to a boil; add chicken. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fork-tender, 20-25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool slightly; shred meat.

Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.

Add chicken, 3 tablespoons fish sauce, and sugar to soup. Season with salt or more fish sauce, if needed. Divide soup and noodles among bowls and serve with toppings.

The Thai Mortar and Pestle

During my first three months of service in the Peace Corps I resided in Tambon Ban Hip in the district of Uthai and our OTOP product (see below for explanation of OTOP) was the krok saak, or mortar and pestle. I had never used a mortar and pestle before; there had never been any need. In the states we can purchase all of our sauces and pastes and mixed goods premade on the shelves of any grocery store. Aside from adding a few spices here and there, most of the work is typically done for us … at least the way I used to cook!

My mortar and pestle, a gift from my mother in Thailand.
My mortar and pestle, a gift from my mother in Thailand.

So when my mae introduced me to the process of making curry paste in her granite mortar and pestle I definitely felt like a farang. She took time to teach me the appropriate techniques; she spoke no English so I relied solely on her actions to learn. She pounded the ingredients into the deep crevice of the mortar – dragging the pestle along the bottom to break up any fibers or large chunks of chilies, lemongrass, and shallots.  I watched her closely, taking in every movement of her hand and every turn of her wrist. When she finally handed me the pestle I attempted to duplicate her movements and I assume by the reaction I got – a clucking of her tongue, shake of her head, and snatching of the pestle to show me again – that I did not do well.

Each time she handed the pestle back to me I would try again and each time she clucked and laughed. Okay let me be a little more accurate. She, and the rest of the villagers that had decided to swing through to watch the phenomenon of an American trying to cook authentic Thai food, laughed at me. I was a little embarrassed (okay, a lot) but kept on trying and by the end of our lesson she had either given up on me or decided that we had reached the “about as good as it’s going to get” stage.

From then on when I offered to help with dinner she would point to the mortar and pestle, giggle, and hand me the knife to chop vegetables. Point made.

Which is why I was thoroughly surprised at her reaction a few weeks later when I approached her with a question. We were a few days away from my departure to my final work site and I had just found out that our local OTOP product was in fact the mortar and pestle. That same evening I came home and asked her who in the village made our OTOP product – that I would like to buy one to take with me … to keep practicing of course.

She smiled widely and pointed to the mortar and pestle sitting, recently used and  still covered in paste remnants on the edge of our kitchen table. I nodded, “yes, the mortar and  pestle, where can I buy one?” She pointed again, smiled, and then walked over to retrieve the mortar and pestle. Frustrated, I began to ask my question a third time but she interrupted me, held the mortar and pestle out in front of her and said “kongkwaan.”


Granite mortar and pestle
Granite mortar and pestle

She was giving  me her mortar and  pestle, the very one she had taught me on just weeks before … the one handmade by the residents of my community and stained with the colors  and smells of hundreds  of batches of curry paste made by my Thai mother … and one by me.

I was speechless.

This same mortar and pestle sits in my kitchen today, a constant reminder of my love for Thai cooking, Thai culture, and most importantly, my Thai family and friends who took care of me during my time in their country.

Not to mention, it’s a pretty handy-dandy tool to have in the kitchen!

I find myself using it quite often when I make curry paste (which is not nearly as often as I’d like to). I’ll admit that I rarely make the entire paste by hand anymore. I have a mini-processor that makes the job a million times easier. But even with that there are always a few ingredients that need a bit of prep prior to making it into the mixer. For example, lemongrass has a very fibrous texture that does better when broken down. Some of the seeds and spices in the paste don’t quite get chopped by the blades of the processor and do better when made into a powder first.

Of course I could skip this step and just buy the fresh lemongrass in a tube or coriander powder in a bottle, but what’s the fun in that? That takes away one of my direct connections to my Thai life and my very first lesson with Thai cooking.

And with that, I think I’m off to make another batch of curry.

OTOP — One Tambon, One Product
OTOP is a sustainable development program in Thailand that promotes local entrepreneurship and the marketing of handmade products all over Thailand. The word tambon means sub-district and under this program, each tambon selects one product to make, market, and sell on the local and international stage. Each area excels in a different unique product. Food items, household goods, pottery, silk clothing, woven mats, textiles, and wood carvings for you are just some of the products you can buy.


Product Review: Lobo Kao Soi and Thai and True Hot Chili Oil

Khao soi made with Lobo brand Kao Soi seasoning and seasoned with Thai and True Hot Chili Oil
Khao soi made with Lobo brand Kao Soi seasoning and seasoned with Thai and True Hot Chili Oil

Earlier this week I posted this quick pic of a bowl of khao soi, a delicious curry and egg noodle dish coming out of the Chiang Mai area of Thailand. After visiting the region, this dish quickly become one of Cory and my favorite dishes and we often make it at home. Unfortunately, khao soi (as with many Thai dishes) takes a lot of preparation and we don’t always feel like putting in the effort. It’s on these nights that we sometimes decide to use prepackaged ingredients.

I won’t lie, when we choose to go that route we are often sorely disappointed. No matter how “authentic” these types of products claim to be, they rarely meet that standard and typically lack a vital flavor, spice, or ingredient. Huge bummer.

This time around though we were extremely pleased by our final product! We used two new products that I can honestly say will become a regular star player in our kitchen.

Kao Soi seasoning mix found at
Kao Soi seasoning mix found at

Lobo brand Kao Soi Seasoning

As I said, khao soi is one of our favorite dishes and I have a pretty great recipe to make this from scratch.  Unfortunately, while it’s a fairly simple dish to ‘get right’ it does take quite a few ingredients and a lot of time to prepare. That’s why I was so thrilled to find a product that takes out the preparation time and still makes a delicious final product.

All we had to do was add the seasoning packet to a can of coconut milk, add chicken and let it simmer, and then tweak at the end with lime juice and fish sauce to get our preferred flavors.

And the end result? Fantastic!

This seasoning created exactly what we love most about khao soi – a mouthwatering bowl of Thai-style comfort food. This seasoning has that perfect mix of curry flavors including a hint of cardamom that you usually find in Massaman curry and adds a new depth to the flavor. When mixed with a little lime, cilantro, and fish sauce you have that ideal combination of sour, sweet, salty, and spicy that every authentic Thai dish contains.

The only thing lacking was that bit of extra heat Cory and I love in all our Thai dishes. That’s not to say there isn’t a good bit of heat to this product, but Cory and I like things spicy!! So, that brings us to the second ingredient up for review.


We purchased this product from our favorite Thai product website,, though you may be able to find this product in other local Asian markets. We haven’t looked yet but I’ll update if/when we find it!

Thai and True Hot Chili Oil found at Whole Foods
Thai and True Hot Chili Oil found at Whole Foods

Thai and True Hot Chili Oil

Oh my goodness … what an amazing product this is!

I first discovered Thai and True on a visit to Whole Foods. They had a string of Thai and True products on their shelves and while I didn’t purchase any of them, I did read the back of the jar and learn a little bit about the Thai and True company.

Talk about awesome! Thai and True is a company based in Oregon that hand-makes a wide variety of GMO-free, gluten-free, and Vegan products. They are stocked in various stores around Oregon and Washington and work hard to retain that ‘local’ company feel.

I recently made a trip back to Whole Foods and decided to purchase two of their products including Hot Chili Oil. Hot Chili Oil is often used as an add-on sauce found on tables at Thai restaurants (similar to how we serve ketchup). This particular product is a combination of rice bran oil, Thai chilies, vinegar, fried garlic, and sea salt – a very simple combination that packs a big punch!

While it is described as an oil, it’s actually more of an oily paste of ground up chilies and garlic. With a very well-rounded base of flavors, this chili oil can be added to nearly any Thai dish (or non-Thai dish) to up the spice level. One teaspoon of this product bumped our entire batch of khao soi from a “one star” dish to a “two star” dish. I have a feeling we’ll have this single jar of oil for quite some time!

We look forward to trying this product in many of our other favorite Thai dishes and will make this product a staple in our kitchen going forward.


Thai and True is only sold in select stores across Oregon and Washington though you can order the products directly from their website as well.

Friday Five: Fruit in Thailand

Earlier this month I vacationed in Hawaii for two weeks. It was a wonderful trip overall (who wouldn’t enjoy two weeks of relaxation?) but one of my favorite parts of the trip was traveling to the local grocery store for produce and seeing an array of fruit I haven’t seen (at least in fresh form) since living in Thailand.

Oh how I miss the fruit over there! Continue reading “Friday Five: Fruit in Thailand”