Lemongrass

Waterfall Beef Salad (Neua Naam Tok) น้ำตกเนื้อ

Unless you are a Buddhist monk, you are unlikely to ever encounter truly vegetarian food in Asia and like most other regional cuisines, Thai food is no exception. Thai Salads (or “yam” as they are known locally) are often spiked with a sneaky portion of dried shrimps or the meat-to-vegetable ratio is often skewed in favour of the meat.  Ask for a salad in Thailand and chances are you’ll be served something as far removed from what you imagined a salad could, or should, be. That said, yams are utterly delicious and make an essential addition to any Thai-style meal.

Thai Waterfall Beef Salad (Neua Naam Tok) น้ำตกเนื้อAside from my obsession with the classic Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad), one of my favourite yam is Waterfall Beef. Often the first thing people ask about is the dish’s name. “Waterfall” seemingly conjures up evocative images of cascading falls in a topical paradise. Sadly, however, the truth is far less poetic, as the “waterfall” actually refers to beef juices that drip from the meat as it is cooked over hot charcoal. Traditionally Waterfall Beef is eaten with sticky rice, but it also offers a wonderful counter-balance to other, richer Thai flavours, especially when paired with a classic Thai curry like  mussaman or green curry.

Whilst simple to make, Waterfall Beef is not without its pitfalls. Firstly, the steak must never be done past medium-rare and must be afforded enough time to rest before being thinly sliced. Secondly, the salad must be served immediately as the acidity of the dressing will “cook” the beef if left to stand too long. Another thing to consider is the ratio of herbs to meat in the dish. Don’t be shy with the herbs as they are what makes this is a salad – they are not there as a token garnish. Aim for a 40/60 ratio in favour of the beef.

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Thai Green Chicken Curry (Kaeng Khiao Wan Gai)

Arguably the most famous curry in the world, Green Curry is, for many of us, the poster-child of Thai cuisine. Disarmingly unintimidating, delicious and rewarding to make, it is hardly surprising that Green Curry has the equivocal honour of being as synonymous with Thailand as Spaghetti Bolognese is to Italy.

Thai Green Chicken Curry (Kaeng Khiao Wan Gai)In spite of the fact that it is a true Thai classic, Green Curry is actually remarkably easy to make at home. The first thing to consider is your curry paste and the eternal debate between homemade or store-bought. Whilst there are a wide range of fantastic ready-made pastes available, many recipes and chefs wax-lyrical about the absolute necessity of making your own, insisting, “that’s how its done in Asia”. Poppycock!

Now I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t make your own, I’m just saying you mustn’t get too hung up on doing so. The truth is that the only Asians making their own curry pastes are those who’s job it is to do so.

Okay, so whilst I do concede that a homemade curry paste is almost always nicer than store-bought, they invariably require a long list of ingredients that are difficult to source and often impossible to substitute. As part of this recipe I have included a homemade curry paste and the final dish is all the more rewarding for it, but if you can’t be bothered making it or you don’t have the ingredients, don’t despair – there is no shame in using a store-bought paste instead (as I often do). Thankfully, as with most curries, the success of the dish actually relies more on technique than ingredients; so rather focus on how you make the curry and less on the provenance of your paste. The chances are your curry will still turn out great!

For more delicious Thai recipes please click here, or if you need tips on stocking your Thai Pantry please click here.

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Rendang Daging (Beef Rendang)

Beef RendangSome mornings I wake up with one word in mind: “rendang!”. I think it’s probably just a Malaysian thing, but this is a dish I literally dream about.

Beef Rendang is perhaps the most beloved Malay meal and is often the go-to main dish for many a family feast or special occasion. With its origins rooted in Indonesia, rendang is popluar throughout South East Asia, especially amongst the Malays in Malaysia and Singapore. Although not widely known outside the region, a 2011 online poll by CNN International chose rendang as the number one dish of their ‘World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods’. Yes, rendang really is that good!

Rendang, however, seems to appeal the most to expat Malaysians. In spite of its long cooking time, rendang is relatively easy to make and can withstand a certain degree of adaptation – something that is vital given the inherent difficulties in stocking a Malay pantry abroad. On a deeper level, though, cooking up a batch of rendang can sometimes feel like an affirmation of our shared cultural identity; a reconnection to our collective culinary memories, through taste. This is the real reason for rendang’s enduring popularity; for many of us it, quite simply, tastes of home.

Ostensibly a curry, rendang is in fact what is known as a dry-curry. Cooked over an extended period, the aromatic coconut sauce is reduced to the point until it clings to the tender beef. This prolonged reduction creates an intensity of flavour that can only be described as explosive. As with all curries, a rendang benefits immensely from being made the day before serving; a night in the fridge gives the flavours time to develop and mellow. Your rendang will be all the better for your patience.

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