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Spittoon or steamer?! A Thai culinary marvel. February 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. Fritzjambo has done it again. You may recall our friend Fritzjambo as the creator of “The BEST no-knead bread” ( see my earlier post of the same name for more on that, plus recipes), as well as the person who gave me a Swiss Army pot to bake my no-knead bread in.

Well, Fritzjambo and Mrs. F. were in the area this week and chose to host our weekly gathering of the Friday Night Supper Club at their place. When we arrived, Fritzjambo beamed at me and announced that he’d brought me something I was going to really love. Then he whipped out what appeared to be a matte silver spittoon with an inverted straw hat in the top.

“Uhhhhh…. ”

“It’s a Thai steamer. You put water in the “spittoon,” bring it to a boil, set your rice or veggies in the bamboo steamer, put a Revere-ware top over them, and voila!”


Fritzjambo was right: After recovering from my confusion, I do love my new steamer. I’m not sure I’d really be brave enough to steam rice (though, lacking a microwave, I have steamed cooked rice to rewarm it many times). But the possibilities for steamed veggies are right up there. I’d just bought a whopping package of snow peas on sale at my local store, as well as broccoli, green and yellow wax beans, asparagus… yum. Thanks, Fritzie!

Now, you all might not just stumble on a steamer like this; at least, I’d never seen one before. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help me celebrate my new acquisition by whipping up some wonderful Thai food at home. So I thought I’d dig up a few promising Thai recipes to share. After all, few things in life are better than Thai food!

Unfortunately, this proved to be a bit more of a challenge than I’d expected. I first reached for a cookbook I really love called simply Red Hot! (Hermes House, 2007) This book has almost everything: It’s beautiful, it’s helpful, and the recipes are delicious. Hmmm, here were two Thai recipes that sounded especially good: Thai Tempeh Cakes with Chilli Sauce and Thai Mixed Vegetable Curry with Lemon Grass Rice. But, er. When I looked at the bazillion ingredients and complicated directions for each dish, I decided that this was a really good reason to find a good Thai restaurant near you! (Our favorite, alas, is way up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in a bright-purple house on the main drag, in case you’re ever up there.)

Never willing to give up without a fight, I turned to another amazing cookbook in my collection, Global Vegetarian Cooking by Troth Wells (Interlink Books, 2001). Ah, much better! Mushroom Soup with Lemon Grass and Noodles with Basil leapt out at me. But, hmm, not everyone has a huge lemon grass plant growing in their greenhouse like we do, much less access to lemon grass, galangal, and lime or lemon leaves at the store. So let’s go with the noodles, shall we?

             Thai Noodles with Basil

1/2 pound flat rice noodles, fresh or dried

3 tablespoons fresh sweet basil, chopped

1 to 4 bird’s-eye chilis, halved and de-seeded

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon concentrated yellow bean sauce

1-2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon sugar

a little water


lemon juice

If using dried rice noodles, soak them in hot but not boiling water to soften them. Fresh rice noodles can be added directly to the wok or dipped in hot water to separate them before cooking.

Mix together yellow bean sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and water. Heat oil in a wok and fry the chilis for half a minute to make them less fiery. (Unless you know you can eat fire, it’s best to start with half a chili and work up from there.) Add the noodles (thoroughly drained if they were soaked in hot water), and fry for another minute or so. Add the sesame oil and 2 tablespoons basil. Combine well and then add the yellow bean sauce-soy sauce mixture. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, until it looks done. Add a splash of lemon juice, stir, remove freom the wok and keep warm. Heat a little more oil in the wok and fry the remaining basil for a few seconds ’til crispy; sprinkle over the noodles and serve. Serves 2.

Finally, here are two super-simple recipes from another favorite cookbook, Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books, 1997). (Non-vegetarians, note: Nancie also wrote a bestselling cookbook called Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking. Check it out!) The coconut rice goes beautifully with any Thai food, though the author especially recommends it with Thai curries, grilled vegetables, and green papaya salad. And of course, I have to give you a Thai curry!

           Coconut Rice with Cilantro and Fresh Ginger

1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk (about 1 3/4 cups)

1 3/4 cups water

6 quarter-sized slices peeled fresh ginger

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups jasmine rice (can substitute basmati or any long-grain white rice)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the coconut milk, water, ginger, and salt and bring to a rolling boil over medium heat. Add the rice and stir well. When the liquid boils again, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 25 minutes. The rice kernels will be tender and the liquid will be absorbed. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover the pan and remove and discard the ginger. Add the cilantro and, using a fork, toss gently to distribute the cilantro evenly. Fluff the rice kernels and serve hot or warm. Serves 4-6.

               Red Curry with Red Sweet Peppers, Snow Peas, and Tofu

1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk (about 1 3/4 cups)

1 to 2 tablespoons red curry paste

8 ounces tofu or tempeh, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1/4 cup vegetable stock

1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 red sweet (bell) pepper, cut into long, thin strips

4 ounces snow peas, trimmed

Shake the coconut milk can well. Spoon out 1/3 cup into a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden or bamboo spoon, until it thickens and releases its fragrance, about 3 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook for another 3 minutes, mashing, scraping, and stirring often to soften the paste and combine it with the coconut milk. Add the tofu or tempeh cubes and stir gently to coat with the curry sauce. Add the remaining coconut milk, vegetable stock, sugar, soy sauce, and salt and stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain at a gentle boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add the red pepper strips and snow peas to the curry and stir gently. (Note from Silence: At this point, I would also add a couple of tablespoons of shredded basil leaves and possibly a handful of cashews.) Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve hot or warm with rice. Serves 4-6.   

Yum!!! Are you feeling inspired? I certainly am! Clearly, a delicious Thai meal is in our immediate future. If you have any favorite Thai recipes, please share them with us! (Becca, I think you need to post that amazing Thai noodle recipe you shared with us over at BrightHaven Times. Talk about perfect timing!)

           ‘Til next time,