Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thai Cooking Series#1-Pad Pak Luam-Stir Fried Vegetables (but with prawns!)

In this new series on my blog, I hope to share with you all recipes, notes, photographs, and vignettes from my study of Thai cuisine. This is rustic, simple, authentic Thai cooking straight from the kitchen of a Thai lady called Paa (aunt) Oot. These recipes and cooking methods are so interesting to me because, apart from looking so appetizing and tasting so aroy (Thai for delicious!) and being perfectly balanced nutrition wise, they take such a short time to cook and get ready on the table! Perfect for a blog named 'effortless cooking', don't you think?

This is my first post since I moved to Bangkok six months ago. Admittedly, settling down and getting used to the new place and language and food and people took time. We have taken to the food here like fish to water. There are a lot of elements that are common to the cuisine from our home state in South India, Kerala. These are true especially with the desserts which make use of coconut milk, bananas, etc. Bangkok is a place where it seems there is food at every nook and corner, so much so that I wonder if anybody even cooks at home when there is delicious, hygienically made food so easily available everywhere!

Of the many little places we have enjoyed eating, there is one place that stands out. This little eatery, run by an elderly lady at the side of her home, is remarkable for its food that is as tasty as it is a delight to the eyes. From the first time I ate there, I noticed that she took a lot of care in cooking and presenting the dishes, making sure there was a good balance of colors. She also made sure to balance out all the meat with a good dose of vegetables. Her vegetables are always cooked to just the right amount and retain their crisp freshness. Sometimes the medley of oranges, greens, yellows, reds is so pretty that I just have to stop and look before digging in! That she takes all this effort is all the more remarkable because it is a one-woman show. This invariably causes food to be slow in reaching your table sometimes, but I noticed that everybody waits patiently and she never does anything in a hurry, no matter how many people are waiting!

Over the last six months, I have been able to strike a rapport with her, beyond the language barriers that exist between us. Whenever I have time while waiting for my meal, I used to ask her permission to watch her cooking (since she has an open kitchen cum dining area). She was always gracious with her answers to my various questions and showed real interest in sharing her knowledge with me. I think anyone who is passionate about what they do will be only too happy to share their knowledge with others. Even when we met by chance at the local farmer's market, she took it upon herself to show me the different herbs and leafy vegetables and tell me their Thai names and uses.

So when I asked her (through a common friend) if she would teach me Thai cooking, I was delighted that she accepted. I was also surprised and touched when she refused to accept a single penny (or satang!) from me for this. In fact, she said I could come and observe her in her kitchen every Saturday afternoon, watch her cook, take photographs, write down recipes, ask her questions, the whole deal! Of course, I felt I had to make her time worth while somehow, so I decided every week to buy one dish that she makes to take home. When she said, looking at my son, that she would like to give him something "as a grandmother", it was a moment where I felt that we made a bond that went beyond all the differences in our language, culture, names, food, etc.

I am thankful to her for sharing her experience, passion, and knowledge with me and I hope I will do justice to her cooking through these photographs that were taken in her kitchen. She is the kind of cook that does not go by measurements, just cooks "andaaza se" (a little bit of this, a little bit of that) and that makes for the best cooks, don't you think? So I am not in a position to give exact measurements for these recipes, but have tried to approximate the ones she used. Hope you can wing it and learn, just like me!

This recipe, Pad Pak Luam means Stir Fried Mixed Vegetables. But you can add chicken, pork, shrimp to it if you wish. This was made with shrimp and served with rice.

1. Vegetable oil-2 tablespoons (usually palm oil is used for Thai cooking)
2. Garlic-3 fat cloves, chopped fine
3. Prawns-A handful, cleaned and whole
4. Cooking/Seasoning Sauce-1-2 tablespoons*(see Notes)
5. Mixed vegetables of your choice-1 cup (carrot sliced, broccoli florets, baby corn sliced, snow peas whole, etc). These should be soaked in just enough water to cover them, sprinkled with sugar on top, and left for a few minutes.
6. Oyster sauce-1 tablespoon* (see Notes)
7. Water-1/4 cup

1. In a wok, pour the oil and wait till it heats up.
2. Add the chopped garlic. Let is sizzle and the aroma waft through.
3. Add the prawns and stir till it turns a pinkish red.
4. Now add all the veggies along with the sugary water they were soaked in.
5. Tip in the oyster sauce and Maggi cooking sauce. Stir. Add 1/4 cup of water.
6. Wait (or if you can't wait, stir!) for 5 minutes or as long as you think the prawns and veggies are to be cooked for your liking.
7. Remove and serve on top of a bed of cooked rice.

You can, of course, use only mixed veggies or substitute the prawns for boneless chicken or pork mince.
*Cooking/Seasoning Sauce-This is a staple in most of the Thai kitchens I have seen. It is made of soybean sauce, vinegar, sugar, but has a flavor enhancer that gives it a savory taste. You may be able to substitute it with light soy sauce+vinegar+sugar. The brand used in this recipe is Nestle Maggi. Another popular brand here is Golden Mountain.
To buy or order, Nestle Maggi or Royal Thai Supermarket (and no, I don't get paid for this!)
*Oyster sauce-There are different brands, but if you are in Thailand and are interested, this seems to be the most popular one and used by Paa Oot too (again, I'm not getting paid for this publicity!)

So what are you waiting for? Try this out and give me your feedback and suggestions. Would love to hear from you about what you think about my new series. ..until the next recipe, Sawadeeka!


Rafeeda AR said...

oh... congratulations on the move! getting adjusted to an alien culture is difficult but then it's a part of life, right... the bowl of rice with those veges and prawns looks really yum...