Thai food has long been one of our favorites due to the contrasts exhibited in their cuisine. Thai is known for the "salty - sweet - sour - hot" balance which must be maintained in order for all flavor notes to hit your taste buds and give you the expected response - and it does work!
The combination of these contrasts make for a very pleasing and attractive blending of ingredients - mostly fresh vegetables, since "crunchy" is also present as is quick cooking of ingredients which will conserve the nature of the fresh food you're using. If you think about this it makes perfect nutritional sense to safeguard quality as well as texture, lovely sauces and a lot of flavor.
In looking over some of my recipes for Thai food, I've selected some that stand out and make frequent appearances at our table.... I hope you will also make them regular visitors to yours...
It has been said that Spring Rolls are not really a "true" Thai dish. When you see them in Thailand, whether the spring roll wrapper is rice or wheat based, will depend on what ethnicity inspired or made them - rice for Vietnamese-inspired and wheat for Chinese. Spring rolls are very popular in Thailand, though maybe not quite as much as in Vietnam. In Thai versions, spring rolls can include more herbs and are a little bit crunchy from roasted peanuts and roasted sticky rice. This is a Thai vegetarian version for Fresh Spring Rolls which I love:
Thai Vegetarian Spring Rolls.- Full of veggies and flavors everyone will find very satisfying:
6 rice paper (spring roll wrappers) 8 1/2 inch diameter
2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
2 small cucumbers, seeded, cut into matchstick size pieces
1/2 tsp salt
8 lettuce leaves, torn into small pieces
20 fresh mint leaves, chiffonade (cut in very thin ribbons)
12 sprigs fresh cilantro
12 sprigs fresh sweet basil leaves or other fresh Thai herbs
2 tbl fresh lime juice
1/4 cup each, shredded daikon radish and shredded carrot, to garnish Noodles
10 oz vermicelli rice noodles
1 tbsp cooking oil (e.g. safflower, corn or soybean)
Tofu & Mushroom Filling
1 cup cup fresh oyster mushrooms, torn
1 cup firm tofu, cut in 1/4-inch strips
4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbl cooking oil
1 tbl fresh galangal, grated (you can use fresh ginger)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sticky (glutinous) rice, roasted and ground
Spring Roll Dipping Sauce
1 cup white vinegar
2 1/2 tbl salt
3 cups water
1/2 cup garlic, minced fine
2 cups white sugar
1 tbl fresh Thai red chillies, minced
Prepare filling: Put mushrooms and tofu into a mixing bowl. Add soy sauce and pepper and set aside for 20-30 min to marinate. Heat the cooking oil in a wok, add marinated mushrooms and tofu and stir-fry for 2 min. Then add the remaining filling ingredients - oil, galangal, salt and sticky rice powder - and mix together.
Prepare dipping sauce: Add vinegar, salt, garlic and water to a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Add sugar and fresh chilies, reduce heat and cook over low heat for 15 min. Remove from heat and let cool. Set aside.
Prepare vegetables: Julienne the cucumbers and carrots as directed. Place the cucumber in a colander and salt lightly to draw the water out. Allow to drain for 15 min. Rinse with water, drain and pat dry.
Prepare noodles: Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add the cooking oil, rice noodles and salt. Boil until the noodles are tender, about 2 min. Drain and rinse under cold water. Leave the noodles in cool water until ready to use so they won't stick together. Just before filling the rolls, drain the noodles and arrange them on a baking sheet, loosely covered with a damp paper towel.
To assemble: Set up a large shallow plate of hot tap water. Slip a spring roll wrapper into the water. When the wrapper becomes pliable and soft at the edges (approximately 45 seconds) remove it from the water and lay flat on a paper towel. Place a lettuce leaf on the bottom half of the wrapper. Arrange mushroom tofu mixture over the lettuce along with mint, cilantro and basil. Spread out about 1 heaping tbl of the noodles over the vegetables. Pour 1 tbs of dipping sauce in the middle. Roll the wrapper up, tucking in the ends as you roll, and rolling as tightly as possible. Cut each roll in half across the middle. Then cut each of the two halves into two pieces diagonally across the middle to make a total of four rolls. Stand the rolls flat on their ends and serve with dipping sauce and garnish with shredded carrot and daikon.
Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce.- A lighter version of the traditional Thai Peanut Sauce I use for Satays, but still pretty awesome! To create Thai peanut dipping sauce from scratch, place the following ingredients in a blender or food processor:
1 cup dry roasted peanuts
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp. dark soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbl brown sugar
2 Tbl fish sauce (OR Vegetarian fish sauce, OR 3 Tbl soy sauce)
1/2 tsp tamarind paste
1 tsp chili sauce
Process well. Now do a taste test for sugar and salt, adding more brown sugar or fish sauce as needed. If too salty for your taste, add a squeeze of lime juice.
Thai Lettuce Wraps.- This Thai lettuce wraps recipe is quick and easy to make. Lettuce wraps are also a fun dish to eat, either as an appetizer or as part of a main course. Serve the filling on a platter with whole lettuce leaves on the side, and let your friends and family wrap their own. They'll love the combination of crisp, cold lettuce with the warm, flavorful filling. This easy lettuce wrap recipes makes a low-calorie, low-fat treat that's also very nutritious. Lettuce wraps make a great party food too!
1 head fresh iceberg lettuce (this type works best for this recipe)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-size piece galangal (or ginger), grated
1 red chili, de-seeded and finely sliced (optional)
2 shallots, sliced finely
1/2 cup firm tofu, cut into sticks OR 1/2 cup cooked chicken or pork, shredded, OR 1/2 cup cooked baby shrimp
1 carrot, grated or cut into thin strips
4-5 shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 egg (omit if vegan)
1/2 cup shredded cabbage (red is very good, but any type will work)
3 spring onions, sliced lengthwise into stick-like pieces
2 cups bean sprouts
2 Tbl lime juice
2 Tbl regular soy sauce
2 Tbl fish sauce (if vegetarian, use vegetarian fish sauce)
1 Tbl oyster sauce (if vegetarian, use vegetarian oyster sauce)
1 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped if leaves are large
1/2 cup fresh dry roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
2 Tbl oil for stir-frying
Place oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, galangal (or ginger), chili, and shallots. Stir-fry one min, or until fragrant. Stir-frying tip: add a Tbl water whenever the wok/pan gets too dry instead of more oil. Add tofu (or meat/shrimp), carrot, shitake mushrooms, cabbage, and spring onions. As you stir-fry, add the lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce. Stir-fry about 1 min. Push ingredients to the side of the wok or pan, and crack in the egg. Stir-fry the egg quickly, breaking the yolk. Mix in with the other ingredients. Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry briefly (to mix). Remove from heat and do a taste test for salt, adding 1 Tbl more fish sauce if not salty enough. Cut off the stem part of the iceberg lettuce so it's easier to separate the leaves. Now place the lettuce, the sir-fried filling, and the toppings on your table, allowing family or guests to make their own wraps. To assemble wraps, take a whole lettuce leaf and place 1-2 heaping tbl of filling in the center. Top with a sprinkling of fresh basil and peanuts. Then wrap it up and eat. (For those who like it extra spicy, Thai chili sauce can be added as another topping.)
NOTE: I also use a Thai Chicken Salad or Ginger Ground Pork Stir Fry with these....MMmmmm
Thai Green Mango Salad.- This is usually a side salad but with the flavors in this dish it can easily be turned into a main dish just by adding chicken, shrimp or deed fried tofu.... but anyway you serve it you can count on raves from everyone.....
2 firm green mangoes
1/4 cup dry shredded unsweetened coconut (or use fresh and wring dry)
2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
3-4 spring onions, sliced
handful of peanuts or cashews, left whole or roughly chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil
1 cup cooked chicken (sliced), cooked shrimp, or fried tofu if vegetarian (cut into small cubes)- optional
1 fresh-cut red chili (optional)
3 Tbl fish sauce, OR vegetarian fish sauce, OR 4 Tbsp.soy sauce
3-4 Tbl freshly-squeezed lime juice<
2 Tbl (or more) brown sugar (to taste)
1-2 tsp Thai chili sauce
Place the coconut in a frying pan or wok (no oil required). "Dry-fry" the coconut (as if you were stir-frying it) for 2-3 min over med heat, or until it turns a light golden-brown and is fragrant. Set aside. Tip:Once the coconut is toasted, remove it from the pan right away and place it in a bowl, otherwise it will keep on toasting.
Peel the mangoes and discard the skin. The flesh of the mango should be firm and light yellow-orange. Using a med to large-size grater, grate the flesh of the mangoes into a mixing bowl.
Prepare the dressing by mixing together all the salad dressing ingredients in a bowl or cup. The dressing should be a mingling of sweet, sour, spicy and salty, but more sweet than sour. Set aside. To the bowl of shredded mango, add the bean sprouts, coriander, spring onions, cooked chicken, shrimp or tofu (if using), the fresh-cut chili (if using) plus half the toasted coconut. Toss well to combine. Add the dressing and toss again. Do a taste-test. Add more fish sauce or soy sauce instead of salt. If you prefer it sweeter, add a little more sugar (honey works too). If you prefer more spice, add more chili sauce. If too salty or sweet, add more lime juice. Place on a serving platter. Sprinkle the nuts over top plus the basil and remaining toasted coconut.
Do try these recipes, you'll be glad you did! They're healthy, perfect for a summer evening and once you've prepped the ingredients, come together easily and definitely worth the work.... Take a look at the ingredients you will need and prepare as many as you can in advance so when it's time to eat, everything can be put together quickly... You can have veggies cut up in zip lock bags; sauces done, etc. You won't believe the flavor contrasts these dishes give and you too will become "addicted".... plus they easily adapt to most diet regimens...... this isn't your regular diet food either!