Whether you’re ordering Thai food at your local takeaway restaurant, making a Thai recipe at home, or planning an adventure to Bangkok, it’s good to know what goes into the delish food of Thailand. Let’s dive into the key ingredients in Thai cuisine!
Rice: As with most Asian dishes, rice is key. In general, Thai dishes call for long-grain white Jasmine rice. This fragrant and flavorful rice cools and complements spicy Thai dishes. If you are making a Thai dish at home and cannot find Jasmine rice, another standard rice will suffice.
Ginger: Ginger is extremely healthy and flavorful, and it is easy to find and use in modern Western cooking. Before it can be grated or chopped, it must be peeled. An easy way to peel it is with the edge of a spoon. This way also saves much of the useable ginger, only removing the rough exterior layer. Fresh ginger is preferred, although dried can be substituted if necessary.
Fresh Basil: There are three types of basil used in Thai cooking: sweet basil, holy basil, and lemon basil. Because it is commonly used in Western cooking, sweet basil is much easier to find in Western markets. Holy basil has a spicier flavor and is distinguished by its slightly purple leaves. Lemon basil has a lemony flavor with a distinct lemony scent. If you can only find sweet basil, add finely chopped chili peppers or a pinch of lemon rind for the holy or lemon basil.
Bergamot: Bergamot, also known as kaffir lime, has a slightly limey flavor that complements all Thai dishes. Because this may be difficult to find in Western markets, grated lime rind can be used as a substitute.
Chili Paste: This ingredient can be found in almost any supermarket in bottles or tubes. Chili paste is used to add spice and flavor to a variety of dishes. Burnt mild chili paste is a particularly popular version among Thai chefs.
Coconut Milk: Coconut milk is available in cans in almost every major supermarket. If you're using coconut cream in a recipe, simply scoop the harder white substance that has formed at the top of the can. If you need coconut milk, thoroughly shake the can before using.
Bamboo Shoots: Bamboo shoots are used in a variety of Thai dishes. To prepare bamboo shoots for cooking at home, peel them and boil the white inner stalks in water for 30 minutes. If you use canned bamboo shoots, you only need to cook them for 10 minutes. If the bamboo shoots are going into curries or soups, they may not need to be preboiled.
Chinese Mushrooms: Mushrooms are commonly used in Thai cooking. Many people prefer to use dried mushrooms because they are less expensive and have the same flavor and nutritional value. Dried mushrooms must be soaked in warm water for 30 minutes before use, and the stems are usually discarded due to their toughness.
Garlic: Thai garlic may be available in some Asian markets, but if you can't find it, the Western variety will suffice. For Thai cooking, use the smaller, tighter cloves on your garlic head because they are more flavorful and will not be overpowered by the other herbs and spices in your dish.
Curry Paste: While some people prefer to make their own curry pastes, there are many bottled curries available at supermarkets. The majority of Thai recipes call for red, green, or yellow curry.
Fish Sauce: This pale, watery brown sauce is made by collecting the liquid from fermenting salted fish, and is sometimes used to replace salt in recipes. It has a strong flavor and goes well with any Thai dish. Many recipes call for fish sauce, but you can also use your imagination by adding it to other dishes because it is so versatile.
Lemon Grass: Lemon grass is a popular ingredient in Thai cooking. It has a long stalk that resembles a small leek. The hard outer portion should be removed, and only the lower, bulbous portion should be used. You can either add sliced pieces to your food while it is cooking and remove them before serving, or you can blend them in a food processor and then add them to the dish to add flavor.
Galangal: Galangal, a close relative of ginger, is used in many curries and soups. Because it is difficult to find fresh, you will most likely have to buy it dry and soak it in water for an hour before using.
Palm Sugar: Palm sugar is used in some Thai recipes and is available in some Asian markets in cellophane wrapped blocks. If palm sugar is unavailable, dark brown sugar or real maple syrup can be substituted.
Rice Papers: Rice papers can be purchased at any Asian food store and are used to make fresh Thai spring rolls. To use, soak papers (one at a time) in warmish water until soft and pliable, then dry with a paper towel and use right away.
Sesame Oil: Another Thai ingredient is sesame oil, a vegetable oil derived from pressed sesame seeds that originated in East India. This is a flavorful oil that pairs well with Thai cuisine. You can typically find it in most large Western supermarkets and in Asian markets.
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