I thought I would share some of what I learnt at the Cooking School I attended in Chiang Mai regarding Thai ingredients. You can read about my experience at the cooking school here. Thai cooking it is ALL about the ingredients. The dishes themselves are actually quite easy to make but it is vital to have the key ingredients on hand so that you can get those fresh Thai flavours happening.
I am no expert on Thai cooking but this is a little of what I have learnt about essential Thai ingredients.
Chillies or in Thai prik are the indispensable in Thai cooking. May different varieties are used in Thai cooking depending on how spicy the food should be. Chillies are used both dry & fresh. On a western table we always have salt & pepper, on a Thai table they always have dried & fresh chillies. The one pictured is a free chilli, these are quite hot & used to make green curry paste or make dishes spicy
Kaffir lime or in Thai ma-grood is a small lime that has a wrinkly skin & is intensely fragrant. This little lime has virtually no juice. The skin is often added to curry paste or other dishes & the leaves are added in whole to soups & curries for flavour.
Lemon grass or in Thai bai takrai is a herb that is similar to a grass which is intensely scented like lemon. It is a very important ingredient in Thai cooking. The thicker base of the grass is the part that is used. Lemon grass is the stalk pictured in the above photo with the lime.
Turmeric or kamin in Thai is a member of the ginger family. I have only known turmeric as a powder, so it was interesting to see it in it’s natural state. Fresh turmeric is commonly used in Thai cooking.
Ginger is very common in Thai cooking. They also have a Thai ginger which is called Galangal or Kha. These are used fresh & add loads of flavour to Thai dishes.
Tamarind or mak-kaam is a sour frusit that comes in a hard pod shell. I saw a tree with the pods on it but did not take a picture as I didn’t realise the significance of this tree at the time. To make tamarind sauce the pulp is mixed with waters, mashed & then strained through a sieve to obtain the tamarind juice. This is commonly used in sweet & sour dishes as well as papaya salad.
Basil is often used in Thai cooking as a garnish or in local dishes. There are 3 types of basil that Thai people use most often in their cooking. Thai sweet basil which is similar to our sweet basil, this is used in red or green curry. Lemon basil, this is used in local soups or salads & hot basil which is mostly used in spicy stir-fries.
There is a lot of palm sugar used in Thai cooking. They add sugar to everything & I mean everything, every stir-fry & every soup has a touch of sugar. This was quite a surprise to me, especially since I have tried to cut sugar out of my life. Palm sugar is made from the sap of the Arenga pinnata (sugar palm) and the nip a palm. Palm sugar is made by making several slits into the stem of a palm tree and collecting the sap. The sap is then boiled until it thickens.
Fish sauce is also very common in Thai cooking. Just a dash of sugar & a dash of fish sauce! Fish sauce is made from the liquid extracted from the fermentation of fish with sea salt. You can buy it from most supermarkets & it really does add a lot of flavour to dishes.
Oyster Sauce is another ingredient commonly used, however I did not take a photograph of the bottle. The sauce is made from oysters or is flavoured that way. Thai cooking uses this sauce along with the fish sauce often in stir-fries.
Of course this list is not exhaustive & by no means am I an expert on Thai cooking. I have only been to a couple of cooking classes & I do like to dabble in my kitchen at home then put out my Thai table runner to give the meal an authentic feel! I am excited about what I have learnt & hope that you have learnt something new too.