Thai food, I guess

Nothing more to say about Thai food except that I LOVE it! Actually, there is plenty to say…

I remember once listening to a morning radio show during the Sydney 2000 Olympics and hearing a tourist ring to ask about Australian cuisine. The question basically was, “What is Australian food?”. Without hesitation, both hosts replied “Thai food, I guess…” I chuckled to myself in the car on the way to work and had to admit that they were perfectly right. With all the readily available Thai food restaurants, cafes and outlets, it is pretty much one of our national cuisines.

I like Thai food for many reasons, although I must admit that it doesn’t hurt that there are many low fat options. On my MANY and constant diets I often include Thai beef salad, Tom Yum Goung, Larb, etc etc to the weekly menu. My husband has inherited my love for this cuisine and we often enjoy one of its quick-to-prepare-meals.

Most of the foods I cook (Thai or otherwise) I learnt to make through cookbooks, internet searches, general common sense and the influence of some brilliant cooks I have met. Whenever I have the opportunity, I sign up for formal lessons covering a subject of interest.

So on a recent trip to Chiang Mai, I had the good fortune to attend a workshop run by Sompon Nabnian – a known Thai celebrity chef. Needless to say I had a ball… It was an eye-opening experience to make food from ingredients I picked myself from the garden.

The most important lesson learnt is that curry is not such a big deal to make at home. You can store it in portions (in an ice cube tray, for example) and thaw it for immediate use. It tastes MUCH better than the off-the-shelf product and never leaves an aftertaste of preservatives.

For small quantities made at home, use a mortar and pestle (although I must admit I have used my Ninja for this more than once). If you have a mortar and pestle sitting on your kitchen bench, you will automatically impress any visitor to your kitchen!

Red Curry Paste

Source: A Passion for Thai Cooking by Sompon and Elizabeth Nabnian

This makes 100-130g curry paste (about 4-5 Tbsp)

  • 1tsp galangal, chopped
  • 2tsp lemongrass chopped (only use white part)
  • 1 tsp kafir lime peel, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp coriander root, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp shallots, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste (*see note at the end of the recipe)
  • 10 small red chillies

Place all ingredients in your mortar and pestle and pound until you see a smooth paste. This should take about 5-10 minutes.

*Note: You can substitute 1 tsp shrimp paste for 1 tsp anchovy paste or 1 mashed anchovy fillet. Although note that anchovies are less pungent and flavourful.


Thai Beef Salad

Source: My own – note there is NO oil in this recipe…

Serves 2 (in my home – perhaps 3 in other homes, haha)

For beef:

Marinate a 400g non-fatty steak (fillet or sirloin) or 2 smaller steaks in a paste made of 2 tsp red curry mixed with 2 tsp soy and 1 tsp chopped garlic. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

For salad:

  • ½ young cos lettuce, leaves torn
  • 2 shallots chopped
  • 1 red pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 3 handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cucumbers sliced
  • ½ cup chopped coriander
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

For dressing:


  • 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 3 tsp fish sauce 
  • 2 tsp soy
  • 1 tsp water
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 150ml lime juice
  • ¼ large onion, finely grated

Mix dressing ingredients and blend well.

To make steak, preheat oven to 180C. Heat up a non-stick pan (make it SUPER hot). Brown steak on both sides, place in a baking dish and bake for 5-10 minutes (this is for medium done in our oven, so you’ll have to test this theory in your oven).

Assemble salad and mix with dressing. Cut thin strips of been and place on top of your salad.

My mouth is SERIOUSLY watering!

Salmon with Chili and Basil Sauce

Source: A Passion for Thai Cooking by Sompon and Elizabeth Nabnian

In this recipe (and at the workshop) we prepare a whole fish that was deep fried to a crisp – then we poured the sauce on top and ate it. I have not repeated this again, but have used the sauce whenever I grill or fry a fish fillet. This is especially delicious on salmon.

Oven Roasted Salmon Fillet

Preheat oven to 180C. Pat dry your salmon fillet and lightly brush with olive oil over both sides. Generously sprinkle with coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper and place skin side down in a generous dish lined with baking paper. Bake covered for 10 minutes per 300g of fish or until done. To know if your fish is done, place a narrow knife or fork into the thickest part of the salmon until you reach the center of the flesh. Remove the knife and immediately place (carefully!) against your lower lip. If warm, then your fish is cooked!

Meanwhile, make the delicious sauce.

Chili Sauce


This quantity is for 300-400g of fish.

  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 medium red chilies, finely chopped
  • 1 large green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 large red chili, seeds removed and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce (can substitute for soy and a squeeze of lime)
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 60ml good chicken stock
  • ¾ cup chopped sweet basil leaves
  • ½ cup coriander leaves, chopped

In a wok, place the oil and fry the garlic onion and chillies         until softened. Add liquids and cook for a further 5 minutes until almost at boiling point. Add basil and coriander, stir through and remove from heat immediately.

Pour the entire content of your wok over the fish and serve immediately.

Larb Gai – Minced Chicken Salad

Source: A Passion for Thai Cooking by Sompon and Elizabeth Nabnian

This is supposed to serve 4 but I make more and it serves 2-3 of us (depending on if we eat rice)… so up to you.

  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 300g or 1 ½ cups minced chicken (I use 400g finely shredded chicken breast)
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 2 slices galangal (or ginger), finely chopped
  • 3Tbsp fish sauce
  • 2Tbsp lime juice (I use 3 Tbsp)
  • 1Tbsp chilli powder (you don’t have to use the really hot stuff. A nice hot paprika will do the trick)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp glutinous rice flour (I use cornflour and it turns out just fine)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped coriander (this is up to personal taste, I can go a bit crazy here)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped mint
  • 1 Tbsp chopped spring onion

Assorted fresh vegetables for garnish (I use thinly sliced Spanish onion, cucumber slices and deseeded plum tomatoes).

In a bowl mix chicken spring onions, galangal, fish sauce, lime juice, chili powder and rice flour.

Heat the oil in a wok and cook the chicken mixture for a few minutes until cooked through – do not overcook or it will dry.

Add remaining ingredients and serve immediately.

We like to eat this rolled in fresh crispy lettuce or endive leaves (when in season) and some sticky rice.

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