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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Norav's Adventures With Thai Food

As you know from my last post, The Red Carpet, I’ve been on an obsessive Thai food phase of late. It’s been a week now and all I ever want is Tom Kha Kai and Yam Ma Khuea Koong Pao and Choo Chee Koong Nang and Kai Phad Med Ma Muang Him Ma Parn. Like, all the time.

(By the way, I challenge you to say all that in one breath. Do it and you’re invited home to a Thai meal, cooked by Yours Truly. Scout’s honour!)

Anyhow, see - I’m usually not the kind to go on food phases. I don’t like phases. Phases are mucho-boring. Variety, on the other hand, keeps me on my toes. And it’s nice to be on my toes. I was born a little short.

But my Thai food kick? I just can’t seem to kick it!

So, naturally, I was beyond thrilled when, after weeks of hearing on the foodie-rumour-mill (yes, there is such a thing), that Norav had become a True Thai Masterchef, I finally got invited for an authentic Norav-cooked Thai meal! Yay!

I must confess, this was possibly due (in no small part) to the wistful look in my eyes every time I met Norav. Wistful eyes are an excellent strategy, by the way, if you’ve haven’t tried it. It is a strategy most subtle and ladylike. Much more effective than screaming in your loudest voice “When are you inviting me over?” That can (rarely) have the unintended effect of putting off your host for life.

Anyhow, before we go into Thai cooking and all its splendour,  in minute and excruciating detail, wanna know something funny?
Norav isn’t a person!
Now when I say Norav isn’t a person, I don’t mean Norav is a little green Martian with a big head. Or anything like that.
When I say Norav isn’t a person, what I mean is: Norav are two people!

Norav, the deserving protagonist(s) of this post are a wonderful soon-to-be-married couple, individually known as Nora and Gaurav, whose names have been lovingly (and inventively) united together by me.
So, Nora + Gaurav = Norav.

Beautiful.

Well, at least I think so. They don’t (incidentally). But that’s tough luck, because I won’t stop. Referring to them as ‘Nora and Gaurav’ when you can just use ‘Norav’ seems utterly wasteful to me. The only other alternative I will consider is ‘Gora.’
But you will all agree, I think, that Norav is infinitely more becoming.

Anyhow, this post is about the two of them, in unison, their joint culinary skills and their Adventures with Thai Cooking. And the two shall therefore, by decree, henceforth (and Till Kingdom Come) be referred to, as Norav.

Now, wanna know something else that’s funny?
Norav are not Thai. As in – neither Nora nor Gaurav is Thai.
Gaurav is Indian, and Nora is – Hungarian!
Would you ever in a million years have guessed it?

Which of course is what makes this all so exciting! Because cooking the kind of food you’ve grown up with is great. Because it’s familiar and comforting and nostalgic and it makes you think of your mother and your grandmother and there’s something rather special about that. I’d argue it’s perhaps what you do best.  But – venturing outside your comfort zone, this brave foray into unchartered waters, trying new, unfamiliar cuisines, testing your own boundaries - I love this!

And Norav are fantastic in this regard.
They are experimental and adventurous and worldly and interesting. They love to try new food and travel to new places and meet new people. I suppose the Indo-Hungarian combo says it all.  And I love this about them.

Sid and I and The Closet Gourmand (aka Pritam Basu) have spent many a memorable evening with this warm and welcoming and fun and loving (and fun loving!) couple over wine, cheese, Hungarian chorizo, Arabian dates (don’t ask), and the most divine chocolate coated cherries in the world (and I don’t even like chocolate). And we’ve sat down – in the garden under the stars on a warm summer evening, or cuddled up indoors under cosy blankets on a cold winter night – and talked. About everything. They are that rare combination of person that you can laugh with, uncontrollably, over things that you’d usually deem too childish to share, that challenges you intellectually, unafraid to question your preconceived notions and biases - all the while making you feel so completely comfortable .

Having you as friends, Norav, has been a pleasure.

And now, I think we’ve all had more than enough syrupy praise for a lifetime, thank you very much.

So zipping along to topics far more interesting...
(Not to say that Norav are not interesting. They are. Exceedingly so. But life, quite sadly, is relative.)

So, zipping along, then, I think it’s time to discuss the highly pleasurable, completely delectable, and mad-obsession causing meal that Norav created for us. I could pay a lot of good money for Thai food and not get any better that this. I mean, it was enough to set me off on a Thai phase. And I never go on phases. To my simple little brain, I think there is no higher praise.

So, here is what we ate:

We started off with a hot, spicy, creamy, coconuty chicken soup that they got just right. A harmonious coming together of the senses, it was the perfect balance of sweet and salt and spice and sour.  To follow, there was a shrimp and broccoli stir-fry – fresh, juicy, plump shrimp and perfectly cooked, broccoli - al dente and all. A bit of garlic and spring onion and chilli – and voila – a wonderfully light, tasty, satisfying dish. The final entre which totally blew me away, not only because it was so good, but because it was so maddeningly innovative, was a Thai stir-fried salmon. Alaskan salmon, soaked in flavours of lemon and olive oil and ginger, so fresh that it took me a few seconds to figure out that it was fish! Delicious!

Now, if I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to accomplish with this post, then by now, you’re all gagging to know how Norav made all this.  So, here are the recipes (and the tips) directly from the Chefs.

But before I reveal all - here’s the thing with Thai food: It presupposes an ingredient list more formidable than other cuisine I can think of. I mean, things like Galangal and Kaffir lime are enough to make your eyes glaze over. But relax. You can find perfectly acceptable substitutes or do completely without it.  Naturally, nothing compares to chucking in the authentic stuff, but you’re not cooking for MasterChef, you’re just cooking for yourself.  And for a bit of fun!

So I’ve taken the liberty of putting an E next to the ingredients I consider Essential. And the others? If you have them, or can easily get your hands on them – great. If not, use whatever you have. Believe me, no ones going to be able to tell the difference.

So, here we go, adventuring!

1) Thai Tom Kha Soup

Here’s what you need:

-          Coconut Milk , 400ml - E
-          Water, 2 cups - E
-          Lemon Grass, 1 stalk, cut to 1″ pcs (use lime juice, it’s fine) - E
-          Galangal, 6 pcs.
-          Kaffir Lime Leaves (use lime juice or rind) - E
-          Baby Corn (small size) – 5
-          Bamboo Shoots – 10-15 slices 
-          Straw Mushrooms – 5-6
-          Thai Basil, 2 sprigs - E
-          Tomato , 1, med, cubed - E
-          Mushrooms , 5-6 , sliced
-          Chicken breast, 400g
-          Spring Onions, 1 stalk, chopped - E
-          Lime, 1 good squeeze - E
-          Cilantro, 5 sprigs - E
-          Soy Sauce or Fish Sauce , to taste - E
-          Palm Sugar,  to taste (use any sugar) - E
-          Thai Chilli, to taste (use any chilli) - E
-          Salt , to taste - E

Method:

In a sauce pan, pour out the coconut milk from their cans. Add water and allow the mixture to come to a boil on medium heat. Add in the galangal, lightly bashed lemon grass, lime leaves or rind, and Thai chillies. Mix and allow the soup to boil for 15 minutes. Now, add in the palm sugar, soy sauce and the salt. Taste to get the right balance. When you are satisfied, add in the chicken and a few minutes later the vegetables you choose to add. Norav used baby corn, bamboo shoots, straw mushrooms, regular mushrooms and tomatoes – which worked perfectly, but feel free to vary it around as you like. Add in a few basil leaves to the soup for flavour. Once the soup is boiling, add in the lime juice and the spring onions. Switch off the stove and pour in a serving bowl. Garnish with some more basil and cilantro, and serve piping hot!

Chef’s Tip:
1. It is very important to get the right balance of the sweet, sour and salt from the palm sugar, soy sauce and lime, respectively.
2. Do not add too much soy sauce or it may ruin the colour of the soup.

2) Stir-fried Prawns with Broccoli

Here’s what you need:

-          King prawns, 100-150g - E
-          Broccoli, 1 medium size - E
-          Mushroom, few slices
-          Spring onion, 1 stalk, chopped - E
-          Garlic, 2 pods, minced - E
-          Thai Chilli (or any chilli) - E
-          Oyster Sauce, 1tbsp
-          Olive oil, 1 tbsp - E
-          (Light) Butter, 1tbsp
-          Black pepper, to taste - E
-          Salt, to taste - E
-          Soy sauce, to taste, E

Method

In a sauce pan or wok, sauté the broccoli for a few minutes. Remove quickly from the fire and set aside. Now, with all Asian stir-fry’s, as I keep banging on about (see my post on Vegetable Stir Fry, here), you really need your wok to be hot enough to add smokiness to the flavour. This makes all the difference in the world. You’ll see!

So, heat your wok and get it smoking hot first. Now add some olive oil and the chopped garlic. When the garlic starts to sputter, add in the prawns and season with black pepper, salt, and chilli. Stir-fry slowly on medium heat. Now, add in the vegetables (broccoli and mushroom, in this case). Pour in some oyster sauce and soya sauce and cook everything for approx 8-10 min. Stir in the broccoli at the very end. To complete, add in some (light) butter and stir it very carefully until the butter completely melts in your dish. Take it off the flame and serve hot!

Chef’s Tip:
1. Try not to over-cook the Broccoli, the crunch is great.

3) Salmon with soy sauce and ginger

Here’s what you need:

-          (I've used Alaskan) Salmon, 300g - E
-          Ginger, to taste - E
-          Soy sauce, to taste - E
-          Olive oil, 1 tbsp - E
-          Lemon, to taste - E
-          Salt, to taste - E
-          Black pepper, to taste- E
-          Green salad leaves, to serve
-          Jasmine rice, to serve

Method

In a wok or pan, heat the ginger in some olive oil on medium heat. Once the ginger starts to give off a delicious, spicy aroma, increase the heat to high and add the chopped salmon. Fry it for 5 min.  Once the fish is fully cooked, add in salt, black pepper, soy sauce, and lemon juice and stir together for another 5 min.  To serve, place it on a "nest" of green salad leaves with some Jasmine rice on the side.

Now, on the wonderful evening in question, when Nora brought out all this fantastic food and laid it on the table, she made a little announcement. In her usual sweet, shy, soft-spoken manner, she said, “I hope you all enjoy everything, because it’s been cooked with a lot of love!”

Love.  Aah, the most elusive ingredient of all.
I don’t know where you find it, but our Chef says you can’t do without it.

So I’m adding it to the ingredient list:  
Love – E.  Essential!

2 comments:

  1. Hey thanks for these recipes...I love Thai food too! Wanted to check on a couple of things....the chilli you mention is whole red chillies or chilli powder?
    And for cooking the fish...doesn't it get disintegrated if it is stir fried? Since fish cooks really fast, wanted to check how it could be stir-fried on high without damaging the pieces.

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  2. Hi Purva, thanks for writing in! Well, the best chillies to use are "Thai Chillies" also called "Birds Eye Chillies" - they are the small, really pungent, red ones. I use in a lot of Indian coastal recipes too (Kerala fish curry etc)...if you cant get a hold of them, then I would just use chilli powder. I tend to use the whole dried chilli (Kashmir chilli) only for Indian food and some Chinese, not Thai. As for the fish - yup - always the danger with fish. Thats why she used (and I agree) - salmon. Salmon (steak or fillet) is a good sturdy fish that will take the heat. Same with tuna or a thick fillet of cod is ok too. Ive stirfried Snapper and Monkfish as well in the past and been alright. Be careful of flaky fish (like Plaice or Tilapia), which I usually only cook in the oven because of the exact problem that you point out. Let me know how it turns out!

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