A THAI COOKING GLOSSARY
It’s a common site on the web: a bunch of cooking terms in another language that have very little to do with either your needs, command of the language or product availability. So here’s a cooks take on items you should be able to find in most major cosmopolitan Asian/Thai food stores. The purpose of this Thai food and recipe blog is the production of Thai food that taste pretty much like what you’ve experienced in your local Thai restaurant. In most cases you don’t need to know what the ingredient is called in Thailand since we’re not in Thailand. Furthermore then are literally thousands of Thai food ingredients you’ll never see, taste or experience unless you’re living in Thailand and in that case you’d certainly have a maid/cook to help you along.
There are at least fifty known varieties of culinary basil. The so called sweet basil used in Italian cooking can and is used in these Thai recipes especially since the other more sought after varieties may not be available unless you live in a area with a large south east Asian population. If you’re fortunate enough to live near a Thai food market you should be able to purchase purple/holy basil and perhaps some other varieties but it’s really a limited boutique market in the US. You can sometimes get jarred holy or purple basil that has been mixed with chilies and other amendments, and I’ve also seen a yellow basil paste but the well known sweet basil available in the states and if you’re really Thai food intense you can attempt to grow your own exotics.
A longer grain aged Indian rice grown in the Himalayas that cooks up twice the size of other rice’s. It has a great bouquet and a wonderful mouth feel that, because of its size, picks up lots of sauce.
Brown Rice Powder
White rice that has been roasted to a light brown color then ground. You use this condiment as a topping that ads a nice toasted crunchy element to any dish it’s sprinkled on. Usually available in your local Asian market. You can also just brown up some raw rice and then pulverize it in a coffee grinder, small bowl processor or mortar and pestle.
Thai Chicken Chili Sauce
My favorite “little secret” is this red viscous sugar, garlic, vinegar and chili sauce that I use in place of a pitch of sugar, a touch of garlic or a splash of vinegar. By adding other vegetables you have a signature dipping sauce that will impress all your friends and it makes an exceptional base for Thai cucumber sauce as used with tod mun.
There are numerous varieties used in Thai food but just remember any highly spiced pepper in your Thai food rendition will do. I met a Bocuse medal winner from Beijing who, when he moved to Fresno, CA, used all kinds of locally available chilies in addition to the well know dried “Jap”. The little fiery red erect chilies used in Thai food are called prick e noo and are readily available in most Southeast Asian markets and you can use a variety of different bottled chili pastes as a viable substitution.
Known to most of us as cilantro is a stalwart of Thai cuisine and the entire plant, roots, leaves and stems, finds it way into Thai food. Culantro, a broad leaf cousin grown in Vietnam, also works well if it’s available.
One of the most important components of Thai cuisine and recipes. It’s important to note that coconut/cream is not the sweetened bar variety but comes from pressing the coconut meat to yield the milk. The resultant liquid has a both cream and a milk element that can readily be seen when you open a can.
As describe above under Chinese parsley this herb is of singular importance to Thai cuisine and food.
Thai Curry Pastes
Manufactured in Thailand and a key component of Thai curries. Most US restaurants use the packaged variety with only the most upscale making their own pastes. These Thai wet curry pastes come in four different colors each with its own heat levels. They’re sweated in a pan then thinned with coconut milk and you add the selected protein or vegetables. They invariably seem to be marketed as grandma’s or auntie’s what ever name and come in a range of sizes that when refrigerated last for months those listed below are the most common US types
Green ……………………………………………………. The Hottest
Red ………………………………………………………. Medium Hot
Yellow ………………………………………………….. Mild
Musaman, Masaman or Muslim ………….. Medium
Ba mi are egg and flour noodles of different configuration and size and you can easily substitute almost any pasta
Pea, purple and Thai varieties
Sliced garlic cloves that have been deep fried until they’re crispy. You sprinkle these on your plate to add a little contrasting texture and flavor and might find them on as a featured item of the condiment carousel at your local Thai restaurant and a staple at most Thai markets
Fried Red Shallot
Same type of construct as fired garlic and used in the same manner and available in the same place.
Nam Pla is the fermented essence of either fish or shrimp, it is a ubiquitous ingredient in Thai food and in it’s straight out of the bottle mode or mixed with spices, sugar and lime juice is found on virtually every table. You can find it in most US markets although it might be from the Philippines.
usually available dry as Ka or Laos in its powdered form or dehydrated state in its sliced whole state. Galangal is a tuber or corm much like ginger but with a much different flavor. You can also sometimes find it frozen whole. You may have seen it, and tried to eat it, floating in your bowl of chicken and coconut milk soup.
Available every where
The preferred rice of Thailand unless you’re making a dessert. It’s usually pricey at your local round eye supermarket but quite affordable at any Thai or Asian market.
Am indigenous Asian lime that is making inroads to urban areas with large Southeast Asian populations. Used for garnish, peel, and juice.
Kaffir Lime Leaf
The leaf of the above used much like we Westerners us bay or eucalyptus leafs or ground and sprinkled on a plate as a condiment.
Used as a flavoring agent and as a garnish any of the many varieties from your home garden will work quite well but only fresh will do
Mung Bean Threads
Noodles made from mung beans, the same one used for bean sprouts, that resemble glass or cellophane before they’re boiled in water or stock. They are an important ingredient of Thai fried egg rolls.
A unrefined sugar from several different palm trees, some of which also yield hearts of palm and palm oil, that comes in a solid form of varying colors. You certainly can substitute our over processed health damaging processed whit sugar if you wish or try a little Mexican brown or Vietnamese rock types in its stead. You may have seen a crushed type of this sugar in the condiment carousel of your local Thai restaurant.
Well known in the US, but unless you shop in a Asian market, not in its green form which is what you need for mainly salads and desserts. You can’t swap ripe papaya for green so don’t bother to try.
Various sizes used for various dishes. Prevalent in Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese cuisines and known as chow fun and ban pho in the latter two. Simply made from rice and water although some can be flavored.
One of the many Chinese salted vegetables and fruits used to flavor stews and in making sauces
Kapi a construct of ground shrimp and rice used as a flavor enhancer much like, or in lieu of, fish sauce. It smells really bad to the westerner but taste much better after all it’s fermented.
Ground dried shrimp used as a condiment, flavoring agent and texture garnish.
A US success story that tells of a Vietnamese immigrant who began manufacturing and selling a table sauce in Southern California that’s now known around the world. It comes in a clear plastic bottle with a roster as a logo and can be found in a surprising number of main stream Western markets. This Asian equivalent of salsa is made from chili peppers salt, sugar and vinegar and it seems to be in almost every Asian restaurant
Readily available usually in cans for soups and stews. You can substitute almost any other Asian mushroom dried, fresh or canned in your recipes.
Soybean curd that is available fresh, canned, fermented, pressed and fried