January 6, 2010

Stir Fried Chicken and Cashew Nuts

This one is a great little recipe for those of you who don't have easy access to an Asian food market or shop as the ingredients are readily accessible down your local Tesco's or similar. It's also a really tasty number that is easy to prepare and cook, and takes no time at all.

Serves 2

6-7 garlic cloves (small, or around 4 large)
4-5 baby corns
1/2 small onion
2 round pieces of chopped carrot (about 1/2 cm thick)
Rat ear mushroom (not available in Europe, alternative is Enochi mushroom)
1 cup fresh cashew nuts (unsalted)
1 large dried red chilli
2 spring onion (stalks)
100g chicken (chopped into thin, one inch lengths (roughly))

For the seasoning

2 tbsp cooking oil (vegetable oil, not olive or sesame etc)
1 tsp sugar (caster is fine)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce

To serve

Bowl of rice for 2 people

First things first, you need to prepare the vegetables. The baby corn needs to be chopped into small round pieces and set on a plate. Next, chop 1/2 a small onion in half again, and separate the layers using your fingers and put on the plate. The mushroom should be chopped roughly into medium sized pieces, and the carrot sliced into thin pieces.

Next the spring onion; you only need to use the stalk here, not the bulb, so cut that off first. Now chop the stalk in half, and half again, until you have pieces about 1 inch long. Finally for this part, the garlic; an easy way of chopping garlic is to use the side of your knife and bash the garlic against the chopping board - this will split the seams of the skin, and make it easy to peel. Chop up into nice small pieces and put all the ingredients on the plate.

If your chilli is not dried, the best thing to do is leave it in the sun for a few hours. Do not try and dry it out in the oven - trust me, the neighbours will not appreciate it! Once dry, chop diagonally into pieces of equal size (about a cm in length) and put in a bowl along with the cashew nuts.

Now for the cooking bit. Place your wok over a high heat and add the vegetable oil, along with the cashew nuts and dried red chilli. Cook until the cashew nuts turn a light brown (keep stirring to avoid burning) and the chilli starts to give off some flavour.

Once cooked (only takes a couple of minutes), remove the cashews and chilli carefully to a bowl, leaving the oil in the wok; this is to retain the flavours of the ingredients for the recipe.

Next, add the garlic and chicken and cook for one minute, until the chicken turns white.

Now add all the vegetables except for the spring onion (carrot, onion, baby corn, mushrooms). Finally, add all the seasoning (sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce) and turn up the heat, cooking for one more minute and stirring continuously. Turn the heat off, add the spring onion, cashew nuts and chilli, stirring one final time.

Remove to plate along with portion of rice, et voila!

Mango and Sticky Rice

Ok, so when it comes to desserts, you probably don't have rice up there, unless you love rice pudding, which I have to admit is way down at the bottom of the list along with the rest of my boarding school dining experiences.

Mango with sticky rice, however, is a definite turn out for the books. Although it takes a little while to prepare, it's well worth it. Sticky rice itself is different to basmati or white rice for example, and to get the texture right, it needs to be pre-soaked in water for at least 6 hours (or overnight), with the water level just above the rice, before cooking.

Other names for packet sticky rice you may see include glutinous rice or sweet rice.

Serves 4
2-3 cups of sticky rice
1 cup of thick coconut cream
2 tbspn palm sugar (maple syrup is an alternative)
2 pinches salt
2 mangoes

After having left the rice to soak for a few hours, drain using cold water. Place in a steamer over a medium heat for around 20 minutes, until it turns almost translucent, then remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, on a medium heat pour the coconut cream into a saucepan, and when hot, add the sugar and salt.

This is just a little video that I didn't know was being taken, but is a nice change of pace to photos I guess!

Now mix in the rice, keeping the stirring going at a nice gentle pace to avoid burning. When mixed nicely, remove from the heat and put into a heat-proof dish, leaving to stand for around half and hour.

Serve with a mango, sliced into a chunks (1/2 per person). For a nicely little extra, sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top of the rice.

January 5, 2010

Green Curry with Chicken/Beef

Green curry paste is made very similarly to Red curry paste, the only difference being small green chillies are used instead of large red ones...

So for the curry paste:

Lemongrass stem
Kaffir lime skin
Galangal (1 slice)
Turmeric (3 round slices - similar to carrot thickness)
Dried large red chilli (chopped)
Coriander seed (tspn)
Garlic (3 cloves)
Shallots (2)
Small green chillies (small bowlful)

Firstly, you need to chop up all those ingredients really nice and small (lemongrass, gingseng, kaffir lime skin, galangal, turmeric, garlic) as you'll be the one pounding it into a smooth paste. (Ignore the red chillies in this pic, you will be using the green ones obviously!).

Add to the mortar along with the chopped chilli and coriander seeds, and get cracking!

This definitely takes a bit of leg work so if you have a willing assistant then it's definitely worth sharing the load. Otherwise, maybe whip out the blender for a nice smooth paste.

You'll need about 1 teaspoon of paste per person for an averagely spicy curry (obviously you can add more or less as you prefer).

Ingredients for Green curry (serves 2)

2 tsp Green curry paste
100 g chopped chicken/beef (small)
1 bowl coconut milk
2 kaffir lime leaves - thinly sliced
1 large red chilli - thinly sliced
Sweet basil leaf - torn from the stem
1-2 eggplants (aubergines will also work) - chopped into quarters (bite size pieces)
1 tsp palm sugar (maple syrup is an alternative)
2 tsp fish sauce

Ok, so to start with make sure you have your ingredients to hand. We were told to keep them on a plate in the order you'll be needing them - just makes it that much easier.

Start by bringing 2 cooking spoons worth of the coconut milk to the boil over a low heat, until oil begins to appear on the surface.

Add the curry paste and stir for one minute or until fragrant.

Add the chicken and cook until it turns white, followed by the rest of the coconut milk and bring the the boil.

Add all the vegetables, palm sugar (or maple syrup) and fish sauce and remove from the heat. Continue to stir until the palm sugar has dissolved.

Serve with plain rice.

Panang Curry

If you've had a look at the Thai Curry Paste post, you'll see that Panang curry is actually just Red curry with peanuts, so really you can kill 2 birds with 1 stone here. Easy peasy.

The ingredients here for the paste is enough to make a few separate curri
es, as you only use a small amount of paste as the curry base (for those who like it averagely spicy, 1 large teaspoon per person is enough). The great thing about these curry pastes is they can be sealed and kept refrigerated for up to a month without losing any flavour.

Ingredients for curry paste

Lemongrass stem
Kaffir lime skin
Galangal (1 slice)
Turmeric (3 round slices - similar to carrot thickness)
Dried large red chilli (chopped)
Coriander seed (tspn)
Garlic (3 cloves)
Shallots (2)

This is the base for Red curry. For a tasty Panang curry, add a small cup of peanuts. Comes highly recommended :)

First things first, as you can see from this absolutely rubbish photo, you need to chop up all those ingredients really nice and small (lemongrass, gingseng, kaffir lime skin, galangal, turmeric, garlic) as you'll be the one pounding it into a smooth paste.

Add to the mortar along with the chopped chilli and coriander seeds, and get cracking! Once it starts to smoothen a bit, add in the cup of peanuts and pound until the texture is smooth.

You can see the difference between the Panang (on the left) and the Red curry here - just a bit lighter in colour.

Alternatively, you can probably shop around and buy the paste pre-made, but I think this way is more fun.

Ingredients for Panang curry - serves 2

50g chopped chicken/beef (into small strips)
1 bowl coconut milk (see photo for reference)
1 tbspn Panang curry paste
1 tspn palm sugar (maple syrup can be used as an alternative but not honey)
2 tspn fish sauce

To serve

2 kaffir lime leaves
1 large red chilli or red pepper as preferred
Bowl of cooked rice

As you can see, you literally have 3 main ingredients to add in here - the paste, coconut milk and chicken. Coconut milk usually comes quite thick, and sometimes you can add half/half water:coconut milk ratio to thin it down, but for Panang curry you need to keep it more as a cream.

Add 2 big cooking spoons (about 8 tablespoons) of coconut milk to a wok over low heat, until it begins to sizzle. Add the curry paste and stir for one minute, or until it becomes fragrant.

Add the chicken and cook until it turns white, then pour in the rest of the coconut milk and bring to the boil. Add the palm sugar (or maple syrup alternative) and fish sauce, and leave it to condense until thick. Do not stir.

Remove from the heat and serve with kaffir lime leaves cut into thin strips and sprinkled over the top, along with thin strips of the red chilli or pepper as preferred. Serve with rice.

Pad Thai

I've done it! I'm very excited because I've actually cooked a great tasting pad thai, after all my 'nearly there' attempts back in the UK.

Ok ok, I had some help thanks to my cooking class with Asia Scenic, but I'm now ready to spread the word to the masses. Hopefully I can retain my pad thai masterfulness on my return to the UK, but for now I'll just put it down in writing...

Serves 1-2

4-5 garlic cloves - NB spring onions are not an alternative; they create a completely different flavour so please avoid.
1 piece of tofu
2 stalks of garlic chives
100g bean sprous
50g chopped chicken (can substitute for prawns or tofu)
200g pad thai noodles:

These are best cooked from fresh. However, mostly dried noodles are available outside of Asia - if this is the case for you, get your noodles in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes before cooking. Pull them out when they are almost al dente. Drain under cold water and wait until most of the water has dripped off before using to cook.

1 egg
2 tbspn vegetable oil (avoid sesame, olive etc as these will alter the flavour)
1 tspn brown sugar
2 tbspn fish sauce
3 tbspn oyster sauce
1/2 cup water

To serve

Dried chilli flakes
Chopped peanuts
Lime quarters

First things first, some essentials, a chopping board and a sharp knife - in this case a meat cleaver, but it did the job really well!

As you can see, you only need a slice of tofu, but for the vegetarians out there, add another slice or two.

Right, down to the recipe. Start with the garlic chives by lining them up together. Chop in half, and then half again, until you have pieces that are about an inch long.

Next, chop the garlic. This is a great time saver - use the side of the knife to bang the garlic on the chopping board. This will crush it and cause it to burst out of the skin, making it 100 times easier to peel. Once done, chop it up nice and small. The tofu and chicken need to be cut into really thin pieces, about an inch long. Finally, take a handful of the beansprouts and stick these all on a plate in order, so you know which goes in when.

Next, put a wok over a low heat, and add the oil. After a few seconds, add a piece of garlic. When it starts to sizzle, chuck in the whole lot and keep moving around to avoid burning. After a few seconds, throw in the chicken and tofu, cooking for about a minute.

Next, using your spatula, remove the chicken mix to the side of the wok, leaving the oil at the bottom. Add the egg and the sugar, along with the fish sauce and oyster sauce. Mix together well.

Finally add the noodles and a small amount of water (1-2 tablespoons - more if needed) and keep mixing.

Serve on a plate, sprinkle the remaining uncooked beansprouts over the top and serve with the dried chilli flakes, lime and chopped peanuts:

Noodles, Rice and Veggie Alternatives

Just a quickie this one. If like me you struggle to perfect your rice or noodles even when you do exactly what the packet says (I know it's not our fault), here are a few tips I picked up from my teacher at Asia Scenic cookery school in Chang Mai.

Also thrown in at the bottom are a few veggie alternatives.

Glass Noodles

Unless you're using these in a soup, sometimes they just seem to all stick together, no matter how hard I try.

To cook, boil some hot water in a pan and then transfer to a heat proof bowl. Leave for a couple of mins to cool slightly and then add in the glass noodles. You should leave them in for around 10 minutes - not enough that they are completely cooked, but still just a little bit hard.

Next, drain them under cold water, and leave to drip drain for a while. If you're adding them to a stir-fry or a soup, they will finish cooking by soaking up the liquid ingredients.


A steamer is the best option here, but if you've only got a pan to hand, start by adding enough water to cover the rice by about 2 cm and just leave it to do it's job. Avoid stirring until cooked through.

I've been told old rice is better to cook with than new, so if you've got a packet that's bit hanging around the back of the cupboard a bit too long, that's probably the best option.

Sticky Rice

Sticky rice is different to other rice, for example you have different categories like Basmati, Jasmine etc, and thus you can't make sticky rice from the regular stuff.

Sticky rice needs to be soaked for at least 6 hours (better overnight). Drain the water, put into a strainer and drain with clean water. Cook in a steamer for 20 - 30 minutes, then remove to a heat proof dish and cover for up to 30 minutes before dishing up or cooking with.

Check out the Mango and Sticky Rice recipe for something delicieux!

Veggie Alternatives

For stir fries, soy sauce can be substituted for fish sauce, and mushroom sauce can be substituted for oyster sauce.

For soups and curries use 1/2 teaspoon of salt instead.

For meat, use tofu or mushrooms.

NB If you come across yellow tofu, don't be put off, it has merely been dyed with tumeric for aesthetic purposes, and does not taste any different to the usual white stuff.

Thai Curry Pastes

Wowzers, I've really been bitten by the Thai curry bug since being here, especially a fan of Green, Panang and Massaman curry.

Most curries made in Thailand actually use either Green or Red curry paste as the paste base, adding extra ingredients to give it a more unique flavour. For example, Panang curry is actually just Red curry paste with crushed peanuts. To really draw out the flavours for the paste, a pestle and mortar is an essential, grinding until the ingredients turn into a smooth paste. However, if you're wanting to avoid muscle cramp, you can always whip out the blender.

Important ingredients for fresh curry pastes include:
  • Lemongrass
  • Kaffir Lime (skin of)
  • Galangal
  • Tumeric
  • Garlic
  • Coriander seed
  • Gingseng
  • Chilli (which is dependent on curry)
Green curry

Contrary to popular belief (mine as well), Green curry paste is actually spicier than Red curry paste, as it utilises fresh chillies, as opposed to being fried for the red curry. Have a look at Green Curry with Chicken for a nice recipe number.

Red curry

As above, Red curry is actually not as spicy as it's Green relation, but doesn't mean you can't get a sweat on (mm, lovely)! If you're starting from scratch, you can just adjust the amount of paste you use to get the right spiciness you're after (in this case, more definitely = spicy!). Check out Panang curry to see how the Red curry paste is made.

Massaman curry

A favourite in Vietnam, and a good one for curry sceptics. Massaman is similar to Indian curries in that it uses a lot of the same ingredients,for example cumin, garlic and cinnamon, although is a little bit sour from the tamarind paste - but in a good way.

Panang curry (the one on the left)

Exactly the same as Red curry paste, with a good handful of peanuts thrown in. This ones a winner in my eyes - check out the recipe here.

Khaw Soi curry

Similar to yellow curry, this one is native to Northern Thailand. I haven't had the pleasure of a taste test, but if I'm going by the last four, you won't be disappointed.

January 4, 2010

Thai Herbs and Spices

I know that sometimes it is a pain to get hold of certain ingredients for cooking Asian food, especially if you don't have access to markets etc. However, I've been told that England is the best place outside of Asia to get hold of ingredients, albeit a bit more expensive. If you're struggling, perhaps check out your local Chinese or Thai restaurants to find out where they source their stuff...

Anyway, here are a few pointers about the different herbs and spices used for different Thai cuisine - plus a couple of pics for your reference - so you can check out what you're looking for and some possible alternatives.

This is basically a mix of everything you'll find below...

Betle Nut Leaf

Used mostly for chewing (some variants can get you high so I'm told), but also as an appetiser (see Mieng Kam).


A member of the ginger family, turmeric is used a lot in curries, but has also been known to sooth mosie bites and spots! If using powder form, double up quantities (for example half a teaspoon of fresh turmeric = 1 teaspoon powdered turmeric).

Ginger Root

Included in curries amongst other dishes, ginger root is good for getting rid of bloated stomachs.

A good tip I came across was if you are using a pan or wok which has perhaps lost it's non-stick surface, then begin by frying ginger in the pan before adding your fish or meat, as it stops it sticking to the pan.

Kaffir Lime

Mostly it's the skin that is used from the Kaffir Lime itself - it's amazingly fragrant and comes in many sizes. For this reason you only need to use a small amount when cooking.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

As you can see, the kaffir lime leaves grow as double leaves - I'm not sure why, but it is so. A good substitute if you can't find the fresh stuff, the leaves are usually used in curry paste and as decoration. NB As with ginger root, if using powdered form double the quantities.


Of course we all know there are many varieties of chilli around that come in powdered, dried and fresh forms. Common Thai chillies include 'Finger' chilli, which is often used for curry paste and 'Birds Eye' chilli, which is used for soups and salad. As the saying goes, the smaller the chilli the spicier the outcome!


Sometimes after chopping chilli you can forget that your hands are covered in the stuff and if like me you've ended up rubbing your eye afterwards, it is not a nice feeling! After preparing chilli, to get rid of the smell and spice, wash your hands with a teaspoon of salt and liquid soap.

If you do get some in your eye, don't use water to wash it out as this will just move it around. Instead use milk or oil, as the chilli will stick to the fat, removing it from the eye. I know it sounds weird, but I've tried the milk one myself, and it works a treat.


The leaves of the lemon grass are predominantly used for tea, flavours for soups and paste, as well as in marinades. The root however is used for everything else, and I mean everything! Use only the thick, bottom third of the root for cooking.


Another member of the ginger family, galangal is sometimes referred to as 'sweet ginger' because of its smell, when actually it still creates a spicy taste to your dish. Fresh is preferred to powder, and it can be sliced and kept sealed in the freezer for a few months.

Garlic Chives

I'm not sure how easy this is to come across outside of Asia, as I've not actually cooked with it before. It's used for spring rolls and pad thai (rather than spring onion, which alters the flavour of the dish and should be avoided).

Hot Basil Leaf

Used in stir fries to create a strong, sharp flavours.

Sweet Basil Leaf/Thai Sweet Basil

Often used as a garnish, as well as in curry pastes (red or green) or eaten fresh with salads.