Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tom Kha Gai | Thai Coconut Galangal Chicken Soup

When it comes to Thai soups, Tom Yum Kung and Tom Kha Gai are like sisters with polar personalities - the former fiesty and hot-headed, the latter sweet and mild. Tom Kha Gai (ต้มข่าไก่) has long been a personal favorite, why with its seamless pairing of creamy coconut milk and an array of Thai spices and seasonings, resulting in a light, silky, and fragrant soup that is well balanced in flavor, and heat. In Thailand, Tom Kha Gai is typically served with rice as part of a whole meal ensemble, although this soup can very well be a meal all in one, if you will.

Whenever I visit Bangkok, I always come home loaded with fresh lemongrass, Thai chilis, limes and pea eggplants, to name just a few. When out of stock, I turn to my petite Thai and Indonesian grocery shop at the wet market - a godsend, really - that stocks up on the essentials, catering mainly to expats and domestic helpers.

Savory, sweet, silky, loaded with Thai herbs and a hint of heat
Most restaurants use boneless, skinless chicken breast in Tom Kha Gai; though I prefer chicken thigh meat for its succulence and tenderness, and a lesser chance of overcooking. As always, season the soup to taste; the measurements below are meant to be taken as a reference.

This Tom Kha Gai was served as part of my four-entree Thai-themed dinner party earlier this month. Check out Larb Moo (Thai Spicy Ground Pork Salad) for a simple, tasty "starter"! Happy Thai New Year!

To prepare...
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced
2 cup coconut milk
2 cup water
2 stalk lemongrass, sliced at a bias
2 inch galangal, sliced at a bias
4 kaffir lime leaves
2-4 Thai bird's eye chilis (to taste)
1 medium onion, or 3-4 shallots, sliced into wedges
3 Thai tomatoes, cut into wedges, or 7-8 whole cherry tomatoes
A handful of Thai pea eggplants, sliced (optional)
A handful of fresh oyster mushrooms, split into smaller pieces as desired
A handful of fresh straw mushrooms, cut into wedges as desired
2 tablespoon fresh lime juice (or to taste)
2 tablespoon fish sauce (or more, to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar (to taste)
Pinch of salt
A small bunch of cilantro, reserving some for garnish
A light drizzle of chili oil, for garnish (optional)

1. On medium heat, add coconut milk and water to a pot, add galangal, lemongrass, and onion, gently cook until fragrant. Just before the mixture comes to a boil, add in chicken, and lower heat to a simmer.

2. Lightly crush the chilis with a few gentle whacks using a knife, then add directly to the soup. Go ahead and tip in the mushrooms and Thai eggplants, if using. Give the soup a gentle stir.

3. As the soup is just about to boil, add in the tomatoes and continue to simmer. Take the kaffir lime leaves, break and loosely tear them with your hands, and drop directly into the pot. Doing so will help release the fragrance.

4. Season with a pinch of salt and sugar, then season with fish sauce to taste. Gently stir on a low simmer, 5-7 minutes, to ensure that the ingredients are fully cooked, without overcooking the coconut milk.

5. Turn heat off. Squeeze in the lime juice and taste test until the seasoning is just right. Finally, add cilantro to the soup and finish with a scant drizzle of chili oil (optional).

[Any comments? Write to me! Check out my Facebook Fan Page and follow me on Instagram @alvinckl]

Friday, April 10, 2015

Larb Moo | Thai Spicy Ground Pork Salad

Just in time for the Songkran Festival in Thailand - known to many as the water festival stretching the span of three days in welcoming the Thai New Year - I decided to throw a themed dinner party featuring some of the most loved Thai dishes.

At once exotic as it is now familiar to almost every part of the world, Thai cuisine is a profusion of complex flavors and fragrances, guided by the intricate balance of sweet, sour, spicy, and pungent. I have long had a love affair with Thai food, but it wasn't until I enrolled in my first ever cooking school experience in Chiang Mai have I gained such insight and respect for this truly sensational realm of cooking.

The shimmering golden stupa of a Wat, my solo trip to Chiang Mai | 2012
Having a blast at the Thai Farm Cooking School!
It is hard not to fall in love with Thai food. Fortunately, creating some of the most iconic dishes can be just as easy at home.

Larb (ลาบ) is a classic Isaan dish originating from Northeastern Thailand, and is typically prepared with pork or chicken. Enjoy it with a ball of warm, fresh sticky rice, or wrap it in a luscious lettuce leaf for a delicious starter or a light lunch. Not unlike many Thai dishes, larb takes its flavors and aromas from fish sauce, lime, chili, and sugar, in addition to shallots, abundant herbs, and - most importantly - toasted sticky rice, or khao kua (ข้าวคั่ว).

Although hardly visible once mixed into the pork, the toasted rice imparts a roasted fragrance and crunch that is characteristic to larb. Just like toasting nuts, toasting and grinding rice is SIMPLE, so don't skip it! All the measurements for seasonings below are approximate, as ultimately it is the tongue that knows best (I second Rachel Ray in that I clearly do not swear by precise measuring in the kitchen).

To prepare...
1/4 cup uncooked Thai sticky rice*
1 lb (460 grams) ground pork
1 tablepoon Thai ground chili^
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Pinch of sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus zest of the limes
4 small shallots, chopped
Handful of chopped spring onion
Handful of fresh mint
Handful of fresh cilantro
2 heads of little gem lettuce, rinsed, to serve




*Note: if unavailable, substitute with pearl rice. I used a Korean short-grain variety.
^Note: if unavailable, use crushed red pepper flakes and chili powder like I did!

1. For the khao kua... Heat a dry frying pan on low heat and toss in uncooked rice. Toast the rice until fragrant and nutty, shaking pan occasionally. Turn heat off as soon as the rice turns golden yellow and begins to brown. Set aside to cool slightly. Pound the toasted rice with a mortar and pestle the traditional way or give it a quick blitz in a blender. Be sure not to grind it into fine powder to keep some crunch.



2. For the larb... In a saucepan on medium heat, add ground pork, stirring frequently to break into small pieces until completely cooked. Tip in a heaping tablespoon of toasted rice powder and add chili flakes, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and zest.

3. In the same pot, mix in chopped spring onion and shallots. Roughly chop some of the mint and cilantro and add to pork mixture. Give the larb a good mix, adding more seasoning and toasted rice until it tastes just right. Be bold!

4. Scatter the remaining mint and cilantro over the larb and dish it out with a fresh bed of gem lettuce leaves. Enjoy!

[Any comments? Write to me! Check out my Facebook Fan Page and follow me on Instagram @alvinckl]