THE HEALTH BENEFITS
Saiphin Moore, Rosa’s Thai Café
The Thai diet is definitely varied. We eat sharing style so everyone can have a bit of everything and a Thai spread is usually made up of lots of veg, small amounts of meat and fish, salads and carbs – usually in the form of rice. Our meals are quite balanced overall.
The Thai diet is also packed full of fibre. That’s because we eat a lot of fresh vegetables and usually have a salad with every meal. Some of my favourite salads are papaya, vegetable or yum yai salad, which uses lots of different vegetables: cabbage, celery, cucumber and tomatoes with boiled eggs, lime juice and pickled garlic for the salad dressing.
Fish sauce is another key part of Thai cooking. Rich in calcium, it’s made from distilled anchovy paste and is used as a natural food enhancer. Instead of refined sugar, we use palm sugar, which comes from the palm flower and is a natural source of sweetness. Tamarind, the main ingredient in pad thai, also contains lots of vitamins and fibre, and helps stimulate your metabolism. We pad out our curries with vegetables and use coconut milk, rather than dairy, so you’re getting a healthy fat.
Finally, we use lots of herbs, roots and lemongrass, all of which have healing properties. Lemongrass and galangal, a root herb similar to ginger, are also used in Thai medicine for this reason.
Sebby Holmes, Farang
If you want to regularly cook Thai food, there are a few essential condiments and ingredients that you will need for almost every recipe. You should have these in your cupboards or fridge at all times, as you would salt and pepper. They are:
Fish sauce: A liquid condiment made from fermented fish and water, this is intensely salty and fishy, yet savoury and umami. Many people swap soy sauce for fish sauce and although very different in flavour, it is essentially a meat-free, liquid salt alternative, so it is a convenient replacement.
Chillies: Chillies are used as a seasoning in Thai food, not just to add spice but to bring sweetness, bitterness, colour and vibrancy. To remove the chillies from a recipe is like taking out the salt, it will affect the overall balance and flavour of the dish.
Garlic: Garlic is fundamental to Thai cooking; it has been a common seasoning for thousands of years and appears frequently in my recipes, so it is another essential.
Galangal: Galangal is a rhizome and, like ginger, it is woody in texture and spicy, intense and fragrant in flavour.
Palm sugar: Good-quality palm sugar is soft to the touch, almost toffee-like in consistency and is traditionally used in most Thai dishes that require sweetness. Its best characteristic is its subtle sweetness, so it does not overwhelm a dish but heightens the overall flavour. If you struggle to find palm sugar, light soft brown sugar is a good alternative.
Coconut cream: The best coconut cream you can buy tends to be anything packaged in cardboard, rather than in a can. The can taints the flavour, taking away from its naturally delicious sweetness. If you can only find cans, have a look at the ingredients and try to buy one that contains over 80% coconut – you will be amazed at how little coconut is in some cans.
Lemongrass: Lemongrass’s sweet, citrus aroma and flavour is vital to many Thai dishes.
Kaffir lime leaves: These leaves can get expensive when buying them fresh as they are normally sold in small amounts in most supermarkets. Your best bet is to buy them frozen from an Asian supermarket, and use as and when you need them.
Limes: Sometimes the sourness of fresh lime is part of the dish itself, or used in a dressing or marinade and in others a cheek or wedge of lime is served with the finished dish to add sharp hit.
Tamarind: Tamarind is sour in flavour with a natural sweetness and a thick, brown consistency and colour. It is mostly used in soups, stir-fries and dressings.
Inspired? Here are all the ingredients you need…
Saiphin Moore, Rosa’s Thai Café
The kitchen gadgets you might need to have on hand include…
A deep pestle and mortar: An essential for Thai food. We use it to crush curry pastes, mince chilli and garlic for stir fries, and to toss salads.
A wok: Make sure it’s good quality and well-oiled, ready for quickly frying meat, noodles and vegetables.
The best Thai cookbooks are…
By Sangdad, which means ‘sunshine’ in Thai. The company is based in Bangkok and has a large range of books and themes, such as Cooking Thai Prawns, Thai Stir Fry Easy Cooking and Thai Curry Easy Cooking. They’re all targeted at Thai people, so you know the recipes are authentic.
I also have to say Rosa’s Thai Cafe: The Cookbook. It takes you through all the basics of Thai cooking, ingredients and all our bestselling dishes, along with some of my favourites. I’ve also published a vegetarian version, with lots of alternatives to fish sauce and oyster sauce. It’s easier to find vegetarian Thai food than people think, and you can always add whatever veggies you have available.
Jordan Moore, Senior Recipe Developer at Gousto
Thai food is all about balancing the flavours of spicy, sweet, sour and salty. You’ll be surprised at how much each one tempers the other, so don’t be afraid to add an extra splash of fish sauce, or keep those seeds in the chillies to make the flavours sing.
The key to a great Thai curry is in the flavour of the paste. Look to pack in fresh, fragrant additions such as lemongrass and galangal, along with plenty of ginger and garlic. You’ll get the green colour from chillies, and an authentic Thai curry has plenty of them. We recommend using Thai green chillies, but if you’re not a lover of spice, don’t reduce the quantity of chillies, but opt for the same amount of a milder chilli. This way you’ll still get that lovely green hue to your finished curry.
Take care when cooking your curry to make sure you don’t cook off those aromas. You won’t need to cook your curry for long to develop incredible flavour. Instead, fry off your paste, add in your coconut milk, cooked protein and vegetables and then simmer until the sauce reaches a single cream-like consistency, as you don’t want your sauce to become too thick.
Jaume Biarnes, Yondu Culinary Studio
If you have the time or are feeling adventurous, you can make your own green curry paste – and it can last for a while if stored correctly. Best if all, the act of buying everything for the paste will take you to interesting markets and open you up to a whole world of cuisine and different flavours. However, store-bought curry pastes can be fragrant and a great option if you can’t make your own. My favourite brand is Maesri.
If you want to make your curry plant based, my top tip is to use gnocchi instead of chicken. This may seem strange, but allow them to simmer in the curry for five minutes before serving for the ultimate satisfying bite. If you’re vegan, instead of adding fish sauce to your recipe, try adding Yondu in the same proportions. This umami plant-based seasoning will give you the same depth and enhance the fresh flavours while keeping it vegan friendly.
Not a big fan of heat? If you feel as though your curry has come out just a bit too spicy, try an extra drop of coconut milk for some added creaminess.
Curry is a great option to cook a big batch and freeze. Simmer your coconut milk, paste and protein but before you add your fresh herbs, cool it down and freeze it. Next time you’re short for time and toast isn’t going to cut it, you can reheat the curry and add some fresh herbs. It will keep its fresh taste and taste as delicious as it would if you made it fresh.