Helpful Hints for Thai Cooking + Recipe for Curry Noodles with Vegetables
Wok vs. frying pan: no contest. Thai food is best prepared in a wok, say authors of Simply Thai, 3rd Edition, Wandee Young & Byron Ayanoglu. They have, however, allowed for a frying pan to be used instead, as long as the cook is prepared to face an important difference: the frying pan has a larger cooking surface than a wok. Things will therefore cook faster in it, and liquids will reduce more readily, which means that brisker stir-frying is necessary, and less time needed to stir-fry garlic (20 seconds instead of 30), or bring coconut milk to readiness (11⁄2 minutes, not 2).
Gas stove vs. electric: again, no contest. “Cooking with gas” is being on the right track, whenever one needs to reduce heat in a hurry, as often happens in these recipes. If one must use electric, it is prudent to employ two elements at once—one at high and the other at medium—and move the wok from one to the other, as the occasion warrants.
Timing: almost everything in this book needs to be “served immediately.” So how is that possible with a multi-course meal? The trick is in the preparation. Do all your chopping, slicing and measuring ahead of time, and cook the rice just before the meal begins. Then make a quick soup and/or a salad and start the meal. When the soup/salad are eaten, return to the kitchen, stir-fry and come back to the table with the warm rice and the newly created, piping hot dish (or two) for the main course.
Chopping/slicing: a sharp chef’s knife with a heavy handle and a sure stroke is the second most important piece of equipment one needs after a wok. There is a lot of fine-chopping and thin-slicing going on, as well as mincing of things like garlic and “rough-chopping” of onion (cutting it up to roughly 1⁄2-inch/1-cm pieces, that need not be uniform in size).
Processed vs. fresh: obviously fresh or homemade is always to be preferred. However, we in North America have neither the time nor the availability that one finds in Thailand. Luckily, we have a healthy economy that allows us to import whatever we wish. All major centers in this country boast markets (usually pan-Asian) which are well-stocked with the most labor-intensive and authentic Thai ingredients.
Curry pastes in cans; bamboo shoots in jars or cans (and already thinly sliced for instant use); a full range of bottled fish sauces, soya sauces and hot sauces; fresh tropical fruits; lemon grass, galangal root, long green beans and eggplants, lime leaves (in three versions: fresh, frozen and dried); packaged black fungus and dried shiitake; and a whole range of fresh fish and frozen, pre-cleaned seafood (which loses very little of taste or texture for having been frozen, with the proviso that shrimps should be purchased shell-on, and shelled at home after thawing, for best texture).
Mee Pad Pong Kalee (Curry Noodles with Vegetables)
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish
Rice noodles are very adaptable and here, Wandee offers her own version, a strictly vegetarian recipe that borrows concepts from Thailand neighbors such as Singapore, Malaysia and indirectly, India.
Thin rice stick noodles, akin to the Italian vermicelli, work best. They are easy to use because, like all rice noodles, they require only a bath in water and no other cooking prior to being stir-fried.
4 oz Thai rice noodles 125 g
4 tbsp vegetable oil 50 mL
1 tsp chopped garlic 5 mL
1 tsp curry powder 5 mL
1 cup warm water 250 mL
3 tbsp soya sauce 45 mL
1 tsp sugar 5 mL
20 snow peas
4 oz button mushrooms, quartered 125 g
1 cup cauliflower florets 250 mL
1⁄2 cup bean sprouts 125 g
2 stems green onion, cut into 1-inch/2.5-cm pieces
Strips of red pepper
Fresh coriander leaves
1. Soak noodles in plenty of cold water for at least 1 hour.
2. Drain noodles and reserve in the strainer. Immediately heat oil in a wok (or large frying pan) on high heat, until it is just about to smoke. Add garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add curry powder and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add warm water and stir. Immediately add drained noodles and stir-fry for 2 minutes, until they begin to untangle and soften.
3. Immediately add soya and sugar and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add snow peas, mushrooms and cauliflower florets and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes until vegetables are tender and everything is well distributed. Add sprouts and green onions and stir-fry for 1 minute.
4. Transfer to a platter, decorate with strips of red pepper and fresh coriander leaves and serve immediately.