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Thai Recipes & Commonly Used Ingredients in Thai Food Recipes

The following ingredients are essential for Thai Cooking.
Most of them are available at Asian grocery stores.
--- Ron Cannell

  • Bamboo Shoots: These are the edible shoots of certain bamboo plants, more widely available in cans. Rinse them under cold water after opening the can and store leftover shoots in the refrigerator in water that is changed daily. Keeps about 2 weeks.


  • Basil Leaves: There are many varieties of basil. The most common are sweet and hot basil. Hot basil is stronger in flavor and very popular for stir frying with meat. Sweet basil is used in curry dishes and is easy to find fresh all year-round in many supermarkets.


  • Chili Peppers: Fresh chili peppers come in red, green, and yellow; available in various sizes. The hottest are the very small chilies, and the larger ones are usually milder. Mature chilies are always red. Dried chili and ground dried chili are also used in some recipes. All chilies, fresh or dried, need to be handled with care. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching them and do not touch any part of your delicate skin since it can cause a great deal of discomfort.


  • Chinese Leeks or Chives: are mainly used in Pad Thai and in some Chinese appetizers. Available in most Asian grocery stores and last only for 1 week in the refrigerator. Scallions can be substituted, if necessary.


  • Chinese Parsley (also known as coriander or cilantro): The leaves, roots, and seeds are used, and each part has a unique flavor characteristic and use. The leaves are usually used for garnishing sauces, soups, and salads. The roots are simmered in clear soup broths and used in marinating meat by mixing with other spices. The seeds have a very strong taste and are usually mixed in curry pastes.


  • Coconut: Coconut milk is used in curries and in seafood dishes, as well as in desserts and other sweet dishes. Available in cans, desiccated, powdered, and frozen. To make coconut from fresh coconut, crack the coconut into small pieces with a hammer, then remove the white meat with a small sharp knife. Place the pieces in a food processor with 1/2 cup of hot water. Blend well, then pour the mixture through a cheese cloth into a container. Gather up the corners of the cloth and squeeze out the remaining liquid. This is thick coconut milk and will usually be used first in many recipes. Repeat the same process by adding hot water over a given amount of coconut required by the particular recipe. This is the second coconut milk, which is less thick and creamy and is usually used after the thick coconut milk is used. The easy way out is to buy canned or frozen coconut milk at Asian food stores.


  • Dried Black Mushrooms: available in small packets. The flavor of these mushrooms is distinctive. Before using, soak in warm or hot water for 15 to 20 minutes, then chop off the stems. Some dried mushrooms contain much sandy grit and need to be checked carefully after soaking.


  • Fish Sauce (Nam Pla): This thin, translucent, salty brown sauce is a must in Thai cooking for which there is no substitute. Nam means water and pla means fish. It is made by salting down small fish that are packed in wooden barrels. The liquid that "runs off" is collected, cooked, and bottled as fish sauce. Although the odor is strong when uncooked, the flavor mellows upon cooking.


  • Garlic: Thai garlic is smaller and more tender than in the West. It is usually peeled and finely chopped before use in most of Thai dishes. Chopped fried garlic can be purchased in Asian food stores.


  • Jasmine Rice: supposed to be the most expensive rice in Thailand, it looks like long grain rice, has a sweeter taste and is more fluffy. To cook jasmine rice, rinse it, place in a pot, and fill with water to the top of the rice, plus one knuckle's length above (or 1 cup of rice with about 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups of water). Boil over high heat (cover almost completely) until the water is level with the rice and little tunnels appear on the surface. Cover completely with a lid and turn the heat down low. The rice needs to be cooked 8 to 10 minutes more.

  • Kha (also known as galangal or laos): looks similar to ginger, but has lighter, flesh and a different flavor than ginger. It is available fresh in selected Asian grocery stores. Fresh kha can be frozen to make it last longer. It is also available in dried slices and in powder. Dried kha should be soaked in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes before using.


  • Lemon Grass: has a distinctive lemony flavor. The usual preparation method is to bruise the lower parts of the stalk or finely chop it. Fresh stalks will last for 2 to 3 weeks in a refrigerator; they can also be frozen in a plastic bag. Chopped dried lemon grass is available in small packets.


  • Magrood Leaves (also called Kaffir lime leaves): are roughly the same size and shape as the common lime, but have dark green, glossy leaves. They are used for flavor in soups and curry dishes. Fresh magrood leaves are not available in many markets, but dried leaves can be found in most of the Oriental grocery stores. Fresh leaves last for 2 to 3 weeks and can be put in a plastic bag in the freezer.


  • Mung Bean Threads: Also commonly referred to as cellophane noodles, these are fine-dried noodles made from mung bean flour. They should be soaked for 15 to 20 minutes in warm water before using in a recipe. They have a transparent look after being soaked.


  • Preserved Radish or Turnip: are often found whole or in slices in packages. They are salty and need to be rinsed before being finely chopped.


  • Roasted Chili Paste (Nam Prik Pao or Thai chili in oil): is widely used in many recipes to enhance the spicy taste. It is made from dried chilies, dried shrimp, roasted shallots and garlic, tamarind juice, and vegetable oil. Available in small jars in Asian grocery stores. It can be kept in the refrigerator for a long time. Be sure that the spoon used to remove the paste is clean and dry.


  • Rice Noodles: in a variety of sizes, it is sometimes referred to as rice sticks. Before being used in a dish, rice noodles are usually pre-soaked in warm or hot water.


  • Shallots: are a small, brown-skinned member of the onion family. They taste different from onions and should be used when recipes specify shallots.


  • Straw Mushrooms: available in cans, they need to be rinsed in cold water before used. Look for "whole", not "broken", on the label. They need little cooking and can be cut in half if needed.


  • Sticky Rice: Also called glutinous or sweet rice. A short grain rice, quite sticky when cooked, used in a number of Thai dessert recipes. This rice needs to be soaked in water overnight or for at least 3 hours, then cooked in a steamer.


  • Tamarind: a tropical fruit which provides a subtle, sour flavor. Tamarind paste is available in small packages. To make tamarind juice, place the paste in a small bowl, then soak in hot water for 10 minutes. Squeeze by hand or a spoon and strain. Rice or white vinegars can be substituted in lesser amounts than ordinarily required for tamarind.


  • Thai eggplants: vary in size and shape from a pea to a cucumber or grapefruit. Small ones are bitter and are used mainly in green curry dishes. Green peas can be substituted for these eggplants and may appeal more to Western taste.

Recommended Thai Recipes from Ron Cannell:

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