How To Prepare Thai Food With These Key Ingredients

Collage of thai food - How To Prepare Thai Food With These Key Ingredients

First Posted on February 24, 2016 – Updated October 30, 2021

Thai food is internationally famous. Thai cuisine is essentially a union of centuries-old Eastern and Western influences harmoniously combined into something uniquely Thai.

A prepared dinner table with a Thai meal placed on it, consists of a spicy or non-spicy soup, a curry dish with condiments, a dip with accompanying fish and vegetables, and there could also be a spiced salad.

Thai food has evolved much like Indian food, meaning the cooks or chefs take great care so there is a harmony of flavors and textures with each individual dish.

One dish must compliment the other dishes positioned at the dinner table.

What is needed in your kitchen to make a great Thai dish?

You need to know the “Key Ingredients.”

Key Ingredients Needed To Prepare Thai Food

When you dicide to make a Thai dish, the following is what you should find in your refrigerator or pantry.

Banana Leaves

Banana leaf-wrapped food, either it be meat, fish or a savory mixture can be grilled, steamed or roasted.

In the cooking process, the leaves add a unique herbaceous flavor to the dish.

Food cooked in a banana leaf

Photo credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Thai cuisine also used banana leaves as a cooking vessel, folding them into a shape that will hold and cook the food. They are also used as “to-go containers.

 Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a culinary herb that is produced from the stalk of the lemongrass plant and it has a lemony scent.

It is a primary culinary herb in several Thai dishes.

The flavor of the herb tastes almost like a mix of lemon and lemon mint.

Lemongrass tied laying on grey weather wood

The flavor is light and does not overpower other flavors in a dish.

It also adds a slightly sharp and tangy taste without the bitterness of lemon.

It is commonly used in soups, teas and curries.

If you can’t find lemongrass at your local market or Asian market, you can substitute lemon juice in its place.

But keep in mind that the citrus juice won’t be able to fully take the place of the flavor of lemongrass.

RecipeLemongrass Basil Thai Chicken

thai lime leaves

Thai Lime Leaves

Lime Leaves

The leaves are a glossy dark green color, and are used to flavor curries, soups, fish cakes and even teas for its fragrant herbal notes.

Thai and Holy Basil 

Thai basil and holy basil are related to each other and both are both used in Thai cuisine.

Thai basil has a subtle sweet anise flavor. Whereas, holy basil has a more spicy flavor.

The flavor of holy basil is more like a combination of black pepper and clove than like the sweeter notes of Thai basil. It tends to get even spicier as it is cooked.

Both can be found at your local Asian markets.

Recipe: Thai Chicken Stir-Fry with Holy Basil

Fish Sauce 

Fish sauce is a liquid condiment made from fish or krill that have been coated in salt and fermented for up to two years.

fish sauce container at a fish sauce factory

A fish sauce container at a fish sauce factory in Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

The flavor is savory and the color is red-brown. Fish sauce is used as a staple seasoning in Thai cooking. Such as this Pad Thai Noodles with Chicken recipe.

Green Papaya

A green papaya and an orange papaya are actually the same fruit picked at different stages of development.

Immature green papaya has crisp white flesh with very little flavor.

It is prized mostly for its crunch and used primarily as a base for salads, most notably in Thai salads. Green papaya is used in salads much like cucumber or jícama is.

Tamarind Puree

When purchasing the tamarind puree, you can find it in sticky 14 ounce blocks.

In Thai cuisine the puree is used by diluting 1 ounce pureed pulp with 1/3 cup warm water, and then strained.

You can also buy it ready made and jarred with no need of diluting it.

The concentrated tamarind is said to have a sour taste that can be overpowering in Pad Thai.

Thai Chili Peppers

These peppers are small in shape, come in green, red, and orange color, and fiery in taste.

Though as spicy as the chili maybe, it is said the chili gives a subtle fruity flavor when used in Thai cooking.

If Thai chilis are too much for your palate, you can use Serrano peppers instead.

Dried Shrimp

Small little dried shrimp add salty flavor to noodle dishes and salads.

Dried shrimp can keep indefinitely in a cool dark place within an airtight container.

Having these key ingredients used in authentic Thai cooking in your pantry or refrigerator, will always be at your reach in a moments notice.

If unable to find them at your favorite grocers, try looking for them in an Asian market.

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Thailand or officially known as the Kingdom of Thailand and formerly known as Siam, is a country located at the center of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia.

Thailand is the world’s 51st-largest country in terms of total area, approximately 198,000 square miles, and is the 20th-most-populous country, with around 64 million people. Bangkok is the capital and largest city, and also is center of Thailand’s politics, commercialism, industrialism and culture.

It is also interesting enough to mention Thailand has been called the Golf Capital of Asia. It is a popular destination for golf. The country attracts large numbers of golfers from Japan, Korea, Singapore, South Africa and Western countries who go to play golf in Thailand every year.

Thai cuisine also uses ingredients that are commonly known to us in the Western world or more industrialized countries. Knowing how Thai recipes prepare these food items might give us more of an appreciation for such food.

Bamboo Shoots are used in many Thai recipes. To use bamboo shoots in cooking requires them to be peeled to get to the white inner stalks and then boil them for 30 canned bamboo shootsminutes in water. If using canned bamboo shoots they only need to be boiled for 10 minutes. There is no need for boiling them if they are part or if they are part of a soup or curry dish.

There are three (3) types of basil used in Thai recipes. They are Sweet, Holy, and Lemon Basil. If you use basil in your cooking, it is most likely sweet basil as that is the most commonly sold in the local markets.

Basil typesHoly basil has a spicier flavor and has slightly purple leaves. Lemon basil for its name gives away what it tastes like. It has a lemony flavor and also has a distinct lemony scent.

If you can’t find Lemon basil at your local market, you can use sweet basil by adding finely chopped chili peppers or a bit of lemon rind.

Bergamot is a small tree with long, oval green leaves with white flowers. The small tree originates in Asia but can found in Italy, Morocco and the Ivory Coast. The tree bears small round fruit that is yellow when ripe. The preparation of some Thai dishes use the rind or zest of the fruit.

It is hard to find this small fruit, so granted lime zest can be used in its place, though it can be a poor substitute.

Lots of Thai recipes use Chili paste, which is used for adding spice and flavor to the dish. A particularly popular version by Thai cooks is burnt mild chili paste. You can buy the chili paste in bottles or tubes at almost any market in the Asian food section.

Chinese mushrooms are also an addition to Thai cooking as well as coconut milk. Coconut milk can be bought in cans almost anywhere. If the recipe calls for coconut cream scoop, that would be the harder white substance that has formed at the top of the can. If it is coconut milk that the recipe calls for, than just stir the can thoroughly before using.

Curry Paste: While some people prefer to prepare their own curry pastes, many bottled curries are available at the supermarket. Most recipes use red, green or yellow curry.

Fish sauce: Made from collecting the liquid off of fermenting salted fish, this pale, watery brown sauce is sometimes used to replace all the salt in recipes. It is very flavorful and compliments all Thai food. It is called for in many recipes but you can also use your imagination with it, as it is very versatile.

Galangal is also used in many curries and soups. It is similar to ginger. Galangal is hard to find fresh, but can be purchased dried. It will need to be soaked in water for 1 hour before using.

Thai garlic is a must when preparing a dish. Thai garlic should be available in Asian markets, but if not then the common garlic we see can also be used.

When using the Thai garlic the smaller, tighter cloves are the best to use because they are more flavorful and will not be over powered by the other herbs and spices used in the dish.

Ginger used quite often in modern cooking is easy to find, and ginger is extremely healthy and flavorful.

Lemon grass is one of the most commonly used ingredients in Thai cooking. It looks much like a small leek. The hard outer portion is removed, and the lower bulbous part is used.

The lemon grass is sliced into pieces and added to the food while cooking, and then removed before serving the dish, or it can be blended in a food processor before adding to the cooking process and then consumed with the dish giving it more flavor.

Palm sugar is used in some Thai recipes, but if it is not unavailable you can substitute with dark brown sugar or real maple syrup.

Rice is a main staple for the Thai people and they prefer long-grain white Jasmine rice which is flavorful and aromatic rice that cools and compliments spicy Thai dishes.

Rice paper is used to make fresh Thai spring rolls, which are prepared with vegetables and meat if desired.

Sesame oil is the preferred oil to use in Thai cuisine. It’s a very flavorful oil and works well with Thai cooking.

Preparation and cooking techniques:

The vegetables used in Thai cooking should be cut as finely as possible. The idea behind the thin cut vegetable is that the smaller they are chopped, the less time they will need to be cooked, which retains most of the nutrients as possible.

Most of us have cooked a stir fry before. This method requires a wok and oil. The vegetables are when the oil and wok are hot and then stirred constantly. The vegetables should only be stir fried for a couple of seconds so they remain crisp and brightly colored.

stone mortar usewd in Thai cookingMortar and Pestles are used in making sauces, and curry pastes. Anyone who loves Thai food and is animate about cooking it needs a mortar and pestle in their kitchen. It should be preferably made out of clay or wood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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