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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Khao Lak contd. | Thai Green Curry with Chicken and eggplants

As I begin to recollect my Khao Lak experience, reports of a strong earthquake and a Tsunami warning come flashing in all over the news media. A sense of panic struck. Considering I was there just over a week ago made matters worse. All I hoped for was the damage to be minimal and the tsunami averted.

I breathed a sigh of relief once the Tsunami warnings were lifted and reports confirmed that things were under control.

The joy of idling away an entire day by the beach knows no bounds. The clock stops ticking. Hunger takes a back seat. It almost feels like every part of your body is on that much needed vacation!

We continue our little party at the poolside bar. The poolside bar is one of the best places to hangout in this resort. The cocktails are inviting but the part I enjoyed most was sitting on the bar stools inside the pool. There is something so casual and refreshing about it.

Later that evening, we took a so-called taxi (songthaew in Thai) to explore the Khao Lak market. It’s a rather small market area with rows of individual shops. In particular, I was interested in a boutique shop named ‘Kanyarak’, after reading about it online. All the desperate attempts to find the shop were futile. Frustrated, we decided to stop for a drink. As luck would have it, the shop I was looking for was right opposite the restaurant where we stopped for a drink. ‘Kanyarak’ has an impressive collection of designer stainless steel cutlery and dining ware (no plates though!). Be sure to carry enough cash or a credit card if you intend to shop 🙂

On the last day, we spent the afternoon at the ‘White Sand beach’, a 20 min songthaew ride from our Resort. The beach holds true to its name. Although it has its share of tourists, it is still less crowded than the Resort. The shacks at the entrance of this beach where the songthaew dropped us, serves some really authentic and spicy Thai food. Undoubtedly, the best we had in our trip.

We concluded our vacation with the last few hours spent at the spa, bringing us to the end of an absolutely gastronomical and rejuvenating retreat.

As the old adage goes: a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a snapshot of some of the heavenly food we had during our trip.

Green Curry Chicken or Keng Khiao Wan Gai Recipe

I wouldn’t shy before concluding that Green curry or Kaeng khiao wan is one of the most popular Thai Curries across the world. The main reason for such universal appeal, in my opinion, is the ever-so-faithful combination of all the different herbs and spices used to make the Green Curry paste as well as the fact that it is mostly a mild curry.

Be forewarned: My version is on the spicy side of the spectrum. Please tone it down by reducing the number of chillies or use less-hot chillies in your Green Curry Paste if you prefer a mild curry.

Some restaurants like to add carrots and potatoes in this curry. I am not too big a fan of that in this context. Mine is a simple version with baby eggplants and green round eggplants. You may want to add more vegetables as you like.

Serves: 4

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Green Curry Paste: 4 tblsp [To make it at home: Refer to my previous post : How to make Green Curry paste]
Boneless chicken: 300 gms (sliced into 2″ pcs)
Low fat Coconut milk: 2 1/2 cups (substituted by:  1 & 1/2 cups of coconut cream and 1/2 cup of water)
Kaffir lime leaves: 10 – each leaf roughly torn in two (tearing these leaves gives an  instantaneous aroma)
Galangal (Thai Ginger): 1″ pc, lightly crushed
Sweet Basil leaves: a big handful
Baby egg plants: 1/2 cup; Stem removed and washed.
Small round green egg plants: 5 (can be substituted with any other egg plant): Cut into quarters
Oil: 1 tbsp
Palm sugar: 2 tsp
Fish sauce: 1 tbsp or more depending on your preference

For Garnish:
1 big red Thai chilli (remove seeds and cut into thin strips)
3-4 tsp of coconut milk

How I did it:

Heat oil in a deep bottomed dish. Add the green curry paste and fry for 3 mins on medium-low heat.

Next, add 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Continue to cook until the coconut milk is almost assimilated into the green curry paste (5 mins).

Next add the chicken and fry for 2 mins until the chicken is nicely coated with the curry paste and begins to turn white. Now add the remaining 2 cups of coconut milk. Let it boil on medium heat for about 5 mins.

If using coconut cream, use 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk in all. Add 1 cup water. Coconut cream is thick in consistency so adding water helps to achieve the desired consistency.
Add the eggplants followed by palm sugar, torn lime leaves, galangal and 1 tbsp of fish sauce. Fish sauce is salty so make sure you taste the curry before adding more.

Note: the shrimp paste already has salt. So, if you have added shrimp paste in your green curry paste, do not add too much fish sauce at first. Let it cook for another 5 mins on medium heat. Stir in between. Do not overcook the eggplants as they become too mushy when overcooked.

Cooking Green Curry Chicken

When almost done, check the seasoning. Adjust palm sugar and fish sauce as per your liking.

Once done, turn off the heat. Add a handful of sweet basil leaves. Give it a good stir.

Garnish with a swirl of coconut milk and red chilli strips. Enjoy with steamed rice.

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.