Cooking in the backyard: Thai style Tuna Fried Rice

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Thailand, a country full of little family-owned café’s. These little café’s are usually set in a comforting, home-style environment. Here you’ll experience what I call ‘cooking in the backyard’. It is also how a lot of traditional homes are designed with a wet kitchen in the backyard. You’ll often see the young school going teenager lending a helping hand to his or her parents. During rush hour, the kids even help with the cooking. It’s inspiring to see these young chefs cook with such exuberating confidence.

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I stand there watching, as the man on my side of the counter passes a white slip over to the Cook. The Cook, a lady probably in her late 40s, has a very pleasant disposition. She smiles at me as she gently heats up the wok while taking a quick glance at the white slip of paper. She’s probably done it a thousand times over and over again. She looks like she could do this with her eyes closed.

As the wok heats up, she takes some garlic and chillies and gently pounds them using a mortar and pestle. The mortar and pestle is always by her side. She is extremely organised with each ingredient placed less than an arms distance away, just where it should be. She always has a big icebox next to her where all the chilled meat is kept. She opens it just a bit, takes out the required portion of the meat and closes it again until the next order comes in.

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An artist in her own right, she knows how to play with her tools – the mortar and pestle, the wok, the ladle and the fire. She uses the fish sauce, sugar, soya sauce, pepper and other herbs and spices to tell her story. She fires up the wok, turning and tossing the ingredients, adding them one after the other, all in good time, adjusting the heat as she deems appropriate. Within minutes, she creates food that is a treat to all your senses. A modest melamine plate in basic white, with or without patterns is placed right next to her. She plates her food and places a few slices of cucumber and a slice of lime, all in such an artistic manner.

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As the plate makes its journey from the wok to my table, my eyes see the color coordination including the Thai green chillies and the freshness of the lime. As it is placed in front of me, I get the smoky aroma that creates a suspense that I want to unfold, almost immediately. As I take the first bite, I know it has touched all my senses and a memory has just been formed.

 As the lady moves on to the next white slip where the orders are scribbled, a quick rinse and a scrub is all it takes to have her Wok ready to create the same brilliance all over again for the next waiting customer.

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Here is my version of a Thai style Tuna Fried Rice, a dish I had for many lunches during the years that I lived in Thailand.

For the printed recipe, click here.

Serves: 3

Ingredients:

Pre-cooked and cooled Thai Rice (preferably cooked the night before): 2 ½ cups
Red Onion: 1 Cup finely chopped
Thai Green chillies: 4-5, chopped fine (This makes it very spicy, adjust to your own tolerance)
Garlic, lightly pounded: 3 cloves
Olive Oil: 1 tbsp
Canned Tuna flakes in EVOO (use any other similar variety): 150 gms, oil drained.
Spring onions (Scallions), finely chopped (green parts): ¼ cup
Fish sauce: 1 Tbsp
Dark soya sauce: 1 tsp
Worcestershire sauce: 2 tsp
Black Pepper powder (coarsely powdered): ¼ tsp (or adjust to taste)
Salt: a pinch

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How I did it:

  1. The rice needs to be precooked and cold. This is important to ensure the grains of rice are separate and not lumpy when making the fried rice. When cooking the rice for fried rice, put a little less water than you would do normally.
  2. Heat a wok. When the wok is hot, add oil to it.
  3. Add the lightly pounded garlic. Reduce the fire and let the garlic cook for a few seconds without getting burnt. Add the chopped onions and green chillies. Let it soften while stirring continuously. Onions will change colour to a beautiful pink. Approx 3 mins on low heat.
  4. When the onions turn pink, add the cold and precooked rice and a tiny pinch of salt and increase the heat to high. Using the back of a ladle/spatula, push the rice towards the centre of the wok, removing any lumps while mixing it with the onions.
  5. Now add the tuna followed by all the sauces and the black pepper powder. Bring it together on high heat.
  6. Add the chopped spring onions. Give it one last good stir and serve it immediately with some sliced cucumbers and wedges of lime.

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Notes:

–        Fish sauce is quite salty. I would suggest that you add half the quantity of fish sauce first and adjust the taste as per your liking.
–        In my opinion, a fried rice cannot have the same texture and taste if it’s cooked with freshly cooked or hot rice. Therefore, try to cook the rice at least a few hours in advance.
–        If you don’t have spring onions, replace it with some finely chopped fresh coriander leaves or cilantro. That little bit of green is essential to provide a little freshness to this simple fried rice.
–        I had to cook for my 4 year old son, so I added the green chillies right in the end. If not, I would have added them together with the onions, or lightly pound them together with the garlic in the very beginning. Go ahead and do whatever suits your situation. If you are making this for kids, omit the green chillies.

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A beach vacation in Khao Lak | ..and Thai Green Curry paste

R & I are always looking for reasons to travel. Both of us love traveling but our motivations are different. Yet, one thing unites us : FOOD !

A well-planned but badly executed surprise holiday was in the making. It was R’s birthday last weekend.

At first, a dear friend spilled the beans – Phuket! I dodged that one somehow because we were going to Khao Lak, 1.5 hours drive from the Phuket airport. And then it was me – a terrible case of ‘slip of tongue’ 😦 So, just before the trip started, R knew exactly where we were going. And I cursed myself for it !

We landed very late that night. A prearranged car and driver was waiting for us at the Phuket airport. In my far-from-perfect-Thai, I explained to the driver that we were hungry! He took us to a small eatery nearby selling Khao Man Gai (Thai Chicken Rice). Khao Man Gai brought back memories of my university days in Bangkok. It was a standard meal for the times when I needed to have a quick lunch in between classes. Lost in nostalgia, I had an extra plate of chicken and two bowls of soup !

Our resort, Ramada Khao Lak, was a solitude by the beaches far from the madness of Phuket. The room was tastefully furnished with modern fixtures, a fancy jacuzzi indoors and sun-loungers in the balcony – perfect for a romantic vacation.

We were here to unwind and soak in every bit of sea, sand and sun.

The sun-loungers by the beach were highly sought after. We were almost always the last takers. As the boys played in the sun, I sat there listening to the sound of the sea. My mind drifting along with the whoosh-whash of the waves. I couldn’t help but imagine the plight of the many people who were here, just like us, more than 7 years ago when the giant Tsunami hit the Asian subcontinent. Khao Lak was one of the worst affected areas. I shuddered as images of those giant killer waves kept flashing in my mind…

After a couple of hours, we headed to the nearby shacks for lunch. What a treat that was! Tom Yam Prawns, Basil Chicken, Papaya salad, Spicy Noodles, and more – all phed phed (extra spicy). And some chilled Singha Beer to cool us down 🙂

As the sun went down, we strolled to the nearby local weekend market. What better way to experience a place than to shop and eat where the locals do ! One street dedicated to fresh spices and herbs, another to street food and yet another to the 199-Baht clothes and souvenir shops. The aroma of fresh basil, mint, coriander, lemon grass, galangal and lime leaves are enough to give anyone hunger pangs! As we just about managed to get past that, the most vibrant, innovative street food awaited us – Smoked pork balls, coconut pancakes, fried chicken, Stick noodles (Phad Thai) and much more! Needless to say, we kept sampling all the food as we walked along.

V chose an Angry Bird t-shirt for himself, which by the way he calls ‘bad birds’. Soon our little boy was getting cranky. It was dinner time. We were in the mood for something authentic, and not toned down for ‘foreigners’. A small Thai family restaurant down the road was the unanimous choice. They made a Stir Fried Prawn and Vegetable dish for V – Thai style but without chillies and he loved it! We had our share of everything spicy – fried fish, garlic chicken, stir fried prawns, stir fried vegetables and a yum load of sauces to go with it!

A little bit of pampering in the spa was exactly what we needed to end this long and tiring day.

More on the vacation in my next post for fear of exceeding the word count limit, if any!


To give myself a continued sense of that perfect beach vacation and to celebrate my love for Thai food,  I wanted to share one of my all time favorite curry recipes. I first made the curry paste and then used it to make a curry. I will share the curry recipe in the next post.

How to make Green Curry Paste:

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Shallots: 8
Thai Garlic: 15 cloves
Lemon grass: 3 stalks
Galangal: 1 ½ “ pc
Fresh Green Peppercorns: 10 pc
Kaffir Lime rind: of ½ a lime
Thai Green chillies: 15
Sweet Basil leaves: 1 cup
Coriander seeds: 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Shrimp paste: 3 tsp

How I did it:

Dry roast the cumin and coriander in a pan on low heat. This may take about 3-4 mins. Let it cool.

Finely slice the galangal (or Thai ginger) and shallots. Wash the Thai garlic thoroughly. If using Thai garlic, you can keep the skin. If using any other garlic, peel the skin first.

Smash the end of the lemon grass stalk with the back of a knife (white in color). Finely slice the white portion, discarding the green stalk.

Using a mortar and pestle, finely pound the dry roasted coriander and cumin seeds. Take it out and keep aside in a bowl.

Now pound the galangal and kaffir lime rind until smooth. Add the finely sliced lemon grass and green peppercorn and pound.

When done, add the green chillies, pound well until a smooth paste is formed. Next add the garlic and shallots and pound thoroughly. Finally, add the shrimp paste, sweet basil and pound until the mixture forms a fine paste.

Notes:

  • For a vegetarian version, skip the shrimp paste.
  • Alternatively, you could grind all the ingredients in a food processor instead of using the mortar and pestle. Though, I believe that the aromas and flavors that come out in pounding cannot be replicated by a food processor.

Destination: Bangkok [Vegetarian Thai fried rice or Khao Pad Chae]

August 1996, New Delhi.

I had left Delhi under very chaotic circumstances. No, Delhi did not get more chaotic, but my life on that day most certainly was! The courier company had screwed up my package with the air tickets. Apparently, they had sent it to Bombay! My dad was in Bangkok at that time and I was to fly to Bangkok at midnight. I could see the world conspiring against me.. It would be meaningless to take the next flight as I was flying just a day before my Uni entrance exams. I retired into my room after a very stressful day of angry phone calls and a never ending wait…

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I woke up rubbing my eyes.. Some one was banging on the door! It’s only 10:30 pm for heaven’s sake! Let me sleep, I mumbled..

I opened the door somewhat pissed off. It was my uncle. He had just returned from work. The tickets had arrived! But, it was 10:30 pm. I hadn’t even packed! I was leaving the country!  This can’t be happening!!

In the next 10 minutes, my mother dumped my essentials into a bag and we were on the road. It was a good 30 minutes drive to the airport. I went in to the check-in counter while the rest of my family waited outside the airport. It was closed. I pleaded, I almost cried. It had worked in the past. And, it did, again! A staff came back, opened the counter for me. Before I knew, I was through immigration!

My family was waiting outside the airport not knowing whether I am flying or not.. And I was running inside the airport with no sense of what was going on. I was going where I was meant to go, worried that my family must be waiting outside. In those days, we didn’t have mobile phones. I was desperate to send a message across to my family, that I am flying off.. and a hug.. and a good bye.. In all the rush, I saw an airline staff just before boarding the flight. There was something about her which made me trust her.. or may be I did not have any other option. I asked her if she could page my uncle to let him know that I am flying off. She agreed. I came to know the next day that she did:)

That evening, as the flight took off, I was sad. I was leaving my country for a long long time without saying good bye to my family and close friends…

I was out of the airport in Bangkok, all alone, expecting to see my Dad. But, there was no one. Not for the next 10 minutes. Not for the next 30 minutes. I decided to call him using a public telephone. And suddenly it hit me! I had no money!!! Nothing at all. Not even a coin to make a phone call. In all the mad rush of last night, everyone forgot about money! I asked someone for help, all in sign language. This stranger gave me a coin and told me how to use the phone, all in gestures. I could not have asked for more!!

Thanks to the time difference and chaos, my Dad wasn’t aware that I had eventually boarded the flight last night! In the next 30 minutes, my Dad arrived and I was on the way to my new home…

And now.. for today’s recipe. This one is my mom’s favorite! She is a vegetarian and one that loves all her veges nice and crunchy! If you love your veges, you’ve gotta try this out!

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

String Beans: 2 to 3
Carrot: 1/3 of a medium sized carrot
Capsicum: 1/4th of a big capsicum
Cabbage: roughly 5 to 6 leaves
Thai / Chinese green leaves: 4 to 5 leaves. I used Xiao Ban Cye (you can use any other locally available greens)
Thai Garlic (or any other garlic) – 6pcs if using small Thai garlic. 3 if using the bigger garlic
Thai Chillies: 2 red and 2 green (tone this down if you don’t like it extra spicy)
Lime leaves: 3
A Bowl of cold pre-cooked rice
1/2 medium sized Onion (optional)
Vegetarian oyster sauce – 1 tbsp
Light Soya sauce – 1 tbsp
Oil – 1 1/2 tbsp
Wok
Sliced cucumber for garnishing
2 chopped chillies with 3 to 4 tbsp light soya sauce (in case the 4 chillies were not enough like they weren’t for me!)

How I did it:

Cut the long beans, capsicum and carrot into 2″ long pieces. Carrots should be cut into thin and long pieces. Roughly cut the cabbage and green leaves into big chunky leafy pieces. Pound the garlic and chillies together in a mortar and pestle.

In order to make fried rice, as far as possible, use left over rice from the fridge. When freshly cooked rice is used, it does not turn out the same way as freshly cooked rice tends to stick together into lumps.

Heat a wok. Once hot, add the oil. When it gets smoky, add the pounded garlic and chilli mix into the oil. Stir fry for 30 seconds. If using onions, add sliced onions at this point. Let it turn translucent. Next, add the carrots and beans. Continue to stir on high heat. Reduce heat for 1 min to let the beans and carrot cook.

Now add the cabbage, green leaves, capsicum and the torn kaffir lime leaves. Increase heat to high. Add the soya sauce. The smoke adds a nice flavor to this dish. It is important to stir this continuously to avoid the veges from getting burnt. This may take 30 seconds to a minute.

Once the veges are crunchy and cooked, add the bowl of cold rice, basil leaves and vegetarian oyster sauce. Stir continuously and on high heat. Check for salt and add more soya / vegetarian oyster sauce, if needed. Combine all the ingredients (on high heat). This may take up to 1 minute depending on the heat.

Serve with sliced cucumber and chopped chillies with soya sauce. The vegetables lose their crunchiness if kept cooked for long. So enjoy it immediately after cooking! 🙂

Basil Chicken Spaghetti

Hello World!

I have always wanted to enter the world of blogging ever since I knew about it! I have made several attempts in the past… but, unsuccessful. This time, I am determined to start this whole new journey…

Here’s to a new beginning!

Although I was born in India and went to school there, I have had the fantastic opportunity to spend 5 years in Bangkok and live life as a local there. I believe there is no better way to know a place than to be and to do as the locals do. I spent some of the best years of my life there. When I arrived in Bangkok from Delhi, I was only 17. Bangkok was so different. I had a major culture shock. I had left all my friends back in India to start a new life. The first 6 months were depressing. I remember complaining to my friends about how much I hated the place and wanted to take the first flight back, if only it was possible!

There were many hurdles, language being the biggest. I had to learn how to order my food, how to give directions, how to take a bus to college and back, and a lot more. The smell of street food would drive me mad! I remember a particular street food vendor near our house selling deep fried chicken feet!! You read it right! Deep Fried Chicken Feet! It was the worst smell I could have ever imagined! There were many such street food vendors and I remember squeezing my nose past those stalls & running away as quickly as possible – or better still – take a Motorbike taxi home for 5 Baht from the Main Road to the house 🙂

It took a couple of months for me and I don’t exactly remember how or when… my love affair with Thai Food started. The same smells made me hungry! If you have been to Thailand, you would know that fish sauce with chopped chillies is a common sight. It is usually kept on the table just like salt and pepper. That fish sauce with chopped chillies just makes me drool now!

Therefore, it is no surprise that Thai Cuisine holds a special place in my heart. I love the spice and the herbs which combine together to get those unique flavors. I love cooking Thai food just as much as I love eating it! No, wait! I love eating it more than I love cooking it! errr… No! That’s not correct. Bottom line: I simply love Thai Food. So, my first post is dedicated to the cuisine that will always remain my first love.

Click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe.

Ingredients:

Spaghetti – 150 gms (enough for 3 people).
Minced Chicken: 100 gms
Button Mushrooms sliced – 1/2 cup
1/2 Capsicum – cut into long pieces
4 Long beans cut into small pcs (about an inch long)
Basil leaves – a generous bunch!
Garlic: 1-2 tbsp pounded (If you can get hold of Thai garlic, use that. Thai garlic is smaller and has very thin skin. The smell is absolutely out of this world and it adds that authentic flavor to the dish!)
Chopped fresh red and green chillies – 1 tbsp (I love my food spicy… so if you don’t like it spicy, reduce the number of chillies)
Cooking oil: 1 -2 tbsp
Fish sauce
Oyster sauce
A wok

Thai garlic

How I did it:

  • Boil Spaghetti al dente as per instructions on the pack.
  • Cool down under running cold water to stop the cooking process. Add a little oil to the spaghetti and keep aside.
  • Take a small pan and cook the mushrooms with salt. This may take a few minutes. Keep aside.

  • Add 1 tbsp of fish sauce to the minced chicken.
  • Add oil to the wok. Turn up the heat. Wait for the oil to get a little smoky.
  • Once it gets smoky, add garlic. Continue to stir or the garlic will burn. If it is too hot, reduce the heat.
  • Add the minced chicken seasoned with the fish sauce to the wok now. The heat should be high/medium at all times unless you feel that the food is burning. You will need to continue to stir the chicken very frequently to ensure it is cooked but not burnt.

  • Add the chopped chillies and keep stirring. With the back of the ladle, mash the chillies to make the spice go all the way into the chicken – if you like it really spicy! 🙂
  • This next step is optional. If you can get your hands on a packet of “mama” noodles (the Thai Tom Yum flavor noodles absolutely to die for!), this recipe can be spiked up by using the spice powder (masala) from the “Mama” noodles packet.
  • Now add the long beans. Stir fry for 2 mins on high heat.
  • Next add the capsicum. Remember to keep the heat on high once the vegetables are added to ensure they are stir fried and crunchy!

  • Add the spaghetti. Next add 2 to 3 tbsp oyster sauce. Stir continuously. Check for salt and spice and adjust accordingly. The balance (oyster sauce and fish sauce) is important and the amount will vary depending on your preference. Oyster sauce adds to the color of the dish and fish sauce adds that pungent & salty taste which I absolutely love!

  • Now add a generous bunch of fresh basil leaves. Stir well and serve immediately. Remember, this should be eaten absolutely hot ! Nothing like a glass of chilled beer with spicy basil chicken spaghetti 😉

Cheers! Enjoy;)

P.S: After my first few months in Bangkok, and when I could not resist the smell of that deep fried chicken feet any longer, I just had to try it! The result: a little disappointment, it wasn’t for me 😉