On our second visit we indulged in some Thai cooking classes at Time For Lime, a fabulous cooking school run by Junie Kovacs, a Norwegian who has dedicated her life to Thai cooking. I had always liked Thai food but learning about the flavour combination of spicy, sour, salty and sweet through the medium of mien kaam, in a training kitchen on a beach, turned a mild interest into an obsession.
Here in the UK it's not always easy to get hold of ingredients, although more and more towns now have good Chinese, Thai or more generic Asian supermarkets. And of course online shopping sites are very useful. I'm lucky enough to have a fantastic shop just 10 minutes walk from my house but as this is not the case everywhere this is a derivation of som tam (green papaya salad) using more readily available ingredients. Som tam is traditionally made in individual portions in a mortar and pestle. Not everyone has one to hand though so I suggest using a large bowl with a rolling pin to bruise and mix all the ingredients together.
Vegetarians can replace the fish sauce with light soy and leave out the dried shrimp. Bird's eye chilis can be found in most supermarkets and a good rule to follow is: 1 chili for moderately spicy, 2 chilis for spicy and 3 chilis for very spicy. As a time saver I tend to pre-roast an entire bag of shelled peanuts and store them in a large jar. I also pre-grind the dried shrimp. As skinning peanuts is a thankless task I recommend you buy large bags of shelled and unsalted peanuts from a health food shop like Julian Graves.
Spicy Thai Salad (serves 2 as a side portion)
- 100g grated raw carrot
- 50g green beans, cut into 2.5cm pieces
- 50g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 shallot, finely sliced
- 1 garlic cloves crushed to a paste
- 1/2 tbs ground shrimp (this can be omitted if you can't get hold of it)
- 25g peanuts, unsalted
- 2 red bird's eye chilis
- 1 large (milder) red chili
- 25g bean sprouts
- 3 tbs lime juice and a small piece of rind
- 1 tbs fish sauce
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- Roast your peanuts in a dry frying pan over a hot heat. This only takes about 2 mins in a hot pan so keep an eye on them and remove them from the pan the minute they are ready or will they will burn
- If you have whole dried shrimp use a food processor to grind them into a coarse dust. Don't worry if there are larger chunks left in, it adds a nice chewy texture.
- Combine the lime juice, rind, fish sauce and sugar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste is very important here, add more of any of these ingredients if you think the dressing is too sharp or salty etc.
- Slice the bird's eye chili into thin rings
- De-seed and slice the large chili length ways into long thins strips
- Mix all the ingredients except the dressing in a large bowl and lightly pound with the end of rolling pin or back of a large spoon. (Don't pound too hard unless you are using a real pestle and mortar as the bowl will not withstand too much)
- Now add the dressing to the salad and pound gently to thoroughly mix all the ingredients together. Add the dressing immediately before serving as the longer the chili sits in the dressing, the spicier it will become
Traditionally served with grilled or barbecue chicken and a bowl of sticky rice but it's also great with tod man pla (fish cakes) and sweet chili dressing (recipe posted soon).