Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nailing Thai

Before you accuse me of nailing some Thai guy…let me specify that I mean the elusive Thai cuisine. As I had blogged here and here, I absolutely love Thai food. To me, savoring Thai red curry is pure ecstasy. I had made several attempts to try this at home. Although the results were satisfactory, I was not pleased at all. I wanted to nail the exact flavor as you get in a good Thai restaurant. Every time I went for dinner, I would savor every morsel and try to discern individual flavors and make mental notes. Flavors rendered to a dish due to ingredients such as lemon grass are easy to discern. It is extremely difficult to discern other subtle flavors and ingredients that are not common to Indian or western cuisine. One should also have proper recipes along with some explanation regarding the procedure.

Last week my coworker who is a gourmand told me about her unsuccessful attempt at Thai food. She thought that as an Indian and more eastern than she, an American with very a Waspy background, would be able to give her pointers. I told her that although my preparations are edible, I haven’t been able to nail the exact flavor. She came to work with fresh Thai basil from her garden along with lemongrass and handed them to me. She said that they could be of use to me. I took the ingredients with me and decided that I would once again attempt Pad Thai and Thai red curry over the course of the weekend.

I informed K about my plans, who was pleased as a punch and refrigerated a bottle of Reisling for us. The recipe for Pad Thai calls for rice noodles. I cooked it the way I would cook egg noodles or pasta, BAD IDEA! Rice noodles disintegrate fast and less is more in this case. So the dish was a big flop. I aborted my plans to attempt the red curry and drowned my sorrows in the Riesling. K said that I was being too hard on myself and that I should accept that Thai is not my cup of Thai iced tea!

The one thing I will not accept is defeat. I mentioned that to K. K’s response was that if we have access to great Thai restaurants why on earth would I torture myself to try all these dishes from scratch? K will never be able to understand the artistic pleasure I derive from my culinary endeavors. Yesterday I was in a great mood and decided to try one more time Thai Red curry and Pad Thai for dinner. On my way from work I stopped by at the Chinese store to get all the authentic ingredients. I do realize that there is a difference between Thai and Chinese cuisine, but this store is a one-stop shop for all things Asian! I was trying to locate red chili peppers. I approached one of the store workers and asked him in English, “Please can you tell me where I can get chili peppers?” The guy kept on staring at me and then said, “No English.” I saw a Chinese shopper in the aisle and requested him, “Please can you ask him on my behalf?” The Chinese man looked at me and responded in Hindi, “Do you think he understands Hindi?” I looked at the man completely embarrassed, as I guessed that he was either from Nepal or the eastern states of India that border China! I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me! I blushed and apologized and ran to the cashier with the store worker running after me. He asked rapidly in Mandarin (I am guessing, could have been Cantonese) and the cashier said matter of factly to me “Go Aisle 3.” It sounded more like a football warcry, similar to "Go Blue!"...who knows perhaps she was preparing in anticipation of the football season. The Nepalese or Eastern Indian guy was grinning from ear to ear. I just hope I never see the guy again.

I came home and made myself a coconut mojito and started cooking. You know ingredients are important but what is far more important is the procedure. I have to thank my mother for this, because my previous attempts at making Thai curry I heated oil in the wok. My mom advised that I should cook in coconut milk without oil. This was an invaluable word of advice as that was the procedure which gave it the flavor I was looking for. Also typical to Indian food, I would grind lemongrass in my red paste. That made the paste very stringy. My mother advised that I should tie a bunch of lemongrass stalks with a string and insert it in the wok and let it sit during the course of cooking the thai red curry dish. Once the dish was cooked, to remove and discard the lemongrass before serving!

The preparation and cooking time was about two hours but the results were outstanding. I FINALLY NAILED IT!!!! I will share both the recipes tomorrow. Right now I have only the photographs that I took from my Blackberry to share.


Lotus Reads said...

Waiting for the recipes Sai! And...your mom sounds like a brilliant cook...please ask her if she would be willing to share some traditional Marathi recipes with me! BTW, if you're cooking rice noodles the best way to do it is to put them in hot water and keep them covered for 25 mins, after which you drain and serve. Never boil.

Sai said...

Hey Lotus...learnt the hard way that you dont boil them. In fact with the flat rice should soak them in lukewarm water for 6-8 mins. I have managed to get it right. It inspired me to try out new recipes.

Also for my birthday my indonesian dutch friend gave me a indonesian and malay cookbook.

Lotus Reads said...

What a lovely gift Sai!!! I absolutely enjoy Indonesian food. Do post some recipes when you have the time and inclination...thanks!

Anali said...

Hey Sai! Looking forward to the recipes. The coconut mojito sounds good too! ; )