The Best of Thailand A Cookbook Author:Steven Mark Needham (Photographer), Grace Young, Evie Righter (Editor) From the Introduction by Evie Righter: "Exotic" perfectly describes Thailand, once known as Siam. As the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by the West, Thailand has always had an enchanting, mysterious aura. Although culturally influenced by both China and India and surrounded by turbulent neighbors such as Laos, Vietnam,... more » and Cambodia, a benevolent, enlightened monarchy that lasted centuries allowed the peace-loving Thais to evolve in very much their own way.
"It is not surprising that the Thais are passionate about food: With long growing seasons and a stable environment, the country yields an abundance of marvelous ingredients for the kitchen. Its vast, fertile plains in the north invite massive cultivation of rice, the most important element in the Thai diet. Miles of coastline on both the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Thailand provide an endless variety of seafood and shellfish. Thailand is also blessed with a wealth of fruits, many of which--rambutans, durians, and mangosteens, for example--are almost unknown in the West even today.
"What is the cooking of Thailand? With a healthy pinch of Chinese influence in the preparation of certain foods, and a generous dash of Indian influence in the use of spices and the making of curries, Thai food is uniquely its own. It is of two minds: It can be sweet and soothing, or hot and spicy almost beyond imagination. As in Chinese cooking, it has a subtle balance of sweet, salty, and sour flavors that creates harmony through contrast, completeness through the sum of their dissimilar parts. And it always employs the freshest ingredients, whether they are bought at Bangkok's unique floating market or at a local farmers' market.
"The Thai pantry includes several important ingredients: nam pla, or fish sauce, which lends saltiness to a dish; fresh chili peppers; and herbs, among them the fragrant lemongrass, coriander root, galangal (a relative of gingerroot), and tamarind pulp, which when soaked gives forth an assertive, sour juice. Spicy pastes figure importantly in the cooking of Thailand. Among the most popular are red curry paste, based on dried chili peppers; green curry paste, potent with fresh green chilis; and Masaman curry paste, with dried red chili peppers and a host of spices from the Indian spice routes. Coconut milk is a staple in Thailand, serving as the base of sauces, soups, vegetable dishes, and desserts. Seafood is the favorite main dish, but when it is not available (as in inland areas), chicken, pork, and beef are popular alternatives.
"The sampling of recipes in this volume, from the all-important pastes to snacks, soups, vegetables, and desserts, showcases Thai food as it would be prepared and served throughout Thailand. We have tried to use chili peppers and spices authentically, but have toned down the heat in deference to the uninitiated Western palate (See Panaeng Beef Curry, page 54, for example). We suggest that you use chilis judiciously in any dish you are making for the first time; you can always increase the heat quotient, but once added to a dish, the power of a chili cannot be removed.
"A fork and spoon are the only utensils used on a Thai table; the Thai people believe that the food should be so expertly cut in preparation that a knife will not be needed. This aesthetic, along with exquisitely carved fruits and vegetables for garnish, displays the delicate attributes of the Thai spirit and helps to explain why Thai cooking has become a celebrated, world-class cuisine. Its superb and unusual tastes and delicate complexities endure far beyond the close of any meal."« less