This past weekend Rya and I tested out a new cookbook called Hot Thai Kitchen, written by Pailin “Pai” Chongchitnant, a blogger, Youtuber, and TV personality whose brand goes by the same name.
The book is both recipes and cultural study, teaching readers how to eat like the Thai, what to drink, what utensils to use, what types of dishes a meal is composed of. She lays out the categories: stir fry, soups, curries, salads, vegetarian and vegan, dips and sauces, and desserts. Rya and I were both struck by how different Thai desserts are from North American ones. Soup for dessert? Sounds unusual but looks delicious. We did feel that the recipe portion started a little late into the book. We would have liked more recipes plus all the information to start with. Pai includes a great section on allergies and Thai food. Most North American Thai restaurants are known for serving pad Thai and using an abundance of peanuts. She points out that this isn't "true" Thai cooking and not all dishes contain nuts. She also lists substitutes, for example, using sesame or sunflower seeds in place of peanuts when cooking at home. We both liked how she suggested the reader seek out a replacement. Think about what function the ingredient serves in the dish and then brainstorm an ingredient with similar properties (is it crunchy, liquid, sweet, etc.). Giving mention to a current, growing, dietary restriction made the book feel more modern and accommodating to those of us who have always felt they had to steer clear of this cuisine.
There were quite a few interesting spices, herbs, and flavorings used in many of the recipes, especially the curries. For example, galangal, finger root, and tamarind juice. These aren't flavors either of us use in our everyday cooking. Pai includes a chart to organize the category and function of each main ingredient. The dishes we chose used green onion, cilantro, mint, and lemongrass as main flavorings.
I have to thank Pai for introducing me to toasted rice powder. I cannot believe I had never made it before. We wanted to put it on everything! The taste and texture add so much to a dish. I'm already imagining how I can incorporate it into a chocolate dessert, or how I can blend it with coconut milk to make "ice cream" and then sprinkle more on top. You really must try it. I made about 6 tbsp of it and it was nearly finished by the end of the meal. Considering it was supposed to be a garnish I would say that's pretty impressive.
(From left to right: uncooked sticky rice, toasted rice, toasted rice powder, cooked sticky rice)
We soundtracked the night with some deep house music...
And then we got to cooking.
The recipes were selected based on our dietary restrictions (no dairy, nuts, peanuts, legumes, shellfish, sugar, or caffeine), the ingredients that were readily available, and what looked most amazing in the photos (because everything looked pretty kickass to us). We didn't make one item from each of the categories she talked about in the introduction, but we did choose a salad and a stir fry and served with sticky rice.
Grilled Beef "Waterfall" Salad
We made a couple amendments to the recipe, using honey instead of sugar, eliminating white pepper and black soy sauce which I strangely couldn't find in store, and leaving out the fish sauce to suit our allergies. I have a charcoal BBQ so we were able to get a great sear on the outside of the beef with that rich charcoal flavor.
This recipe was very simple to make and the beef could easily be marinated the day prior to enhance its flavor and save time before dinner. The dish was full of mint and cilantro, and crunchy from the shallots and rice powder. It was richly flavorful and abundant in portion. My boyfriend joined us for dinner (and did the barbecuing) and we still had a lot leftover.
Mixed Mushroom and Mint Salad
It was around the time that we finished chopping the herbs for the second dish that we realized we had chosen 2 recipes that were nearly identical in composition and flavor base, except one was made with mushrooms and one with beef. Oh well, we love mint and cilantro! And we sure ate a lot of it.
The flavors of lime and lemongrass came through more clearly in the mushroom dish, and the textures complimented each other well to make each bite meaty and crunchy. Beef and mushroom go really well together and these two dishes surely did as well.
Our bountiful meal, ready to consume with a cold beer in hand.
The next recipe from this book that I'm keen to try is the holy basil chicken fried rice with fried egg, and the fried plantains for dessert.
Rya and I felt that this book is ideal for anyone who is planning a trip to Thailand, interested in Thai culture, or wants to learn Thai cuisine. As a number of the ingredients were unfortunately difficult for us to find I would say it's maybe not ideal for everyday cooking unless you have a good Asian grocery store near you. The recipes require a moderate level of culinary skill so we would recommend it to the more seasoned home cook over a beginner.
The photos are tantalizing and rich in color and texture. Every dish looked delicious and the food in real life actually looks like it does in the photos. Shots of Thai markets, spice baskets, and closeups of chili's and other ingredients will make you fall in love with this cuisine. The tribute to her family in the intro made me feel a sense of homeliness about the food and enforced the feeling of food being deeply rooted in her culture and upbringing.
Our overall rating is 7 stars. Go buy your copy today
Another cookbook test success!