Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Thai

I have recently been on a Thai-food kick. With at least five Thai restaurants in Boise, including one just down the street, you might think it wouldn’t be necessary. But I like to remind myself that, even though I am in the part of the world where the deer and the antelope play, I learned a lot from my Asian experience, and keeping the distinctive character of different kinds of Asian cuisine is, for me, at least, important. Too much “fusion” can cause confusion.
So, after making not-bad red curry last week, it was time to make a shrimp salad. I might have been thinking about the impact of the horrid BP oil rig explosion and leak in the Gulf of Mexico and what it means for the shrimpers and the availability of shrimp. “Enjoy it while you can,” I guess. I wonder what the sailors felt after they dined on the last dodo?
Anyway, shrimp salad is basically shrimp and “salad,” and Thai shrimp salad means using a dressing that blends those essential chilis, ginger, garlic, sugar and I confess to using Japanese mirin and sake) and Thai nampla (fish sauce). Similar kinds of fish sauce are commonly used in Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian and Philippine recipes.
The shrimp can be any kind, but of course they must be peeled, stripped of the poop vein and tails (unless you really like the tails). I used frozen Pacific jumbo shrimp. Plan on at least one cup of shrimp per serving, anyway. The shrimp I used were precooked, so I soaked them in water to thaw, drained, then soaked them again in sake (Japanese rice “wine”). Soaking in a cheap white wine also works, but sake gives a distinctly “Asian” taste.
The “salad” part of the salad includes:
1. Fresh ginger root (See how to select it and how to peel it:
2. Green onions (scallions!)
3. Daikon (Literally “giant radish root,” but a good one is not “hot,” but rather pleasantly mild. Learn more here:
4. Bell peppers (I use green, red and yellow to add color. The different colored peppers also have distinctive flavors. Learn more about their merits and nutritional value here:
5. Carrots (Rinse and scrape the outer skin gently away)
6. Celery (Rinse and peel away the “strings” )
7. Garlic (The amount can vary, depending on your taste. Garlic with the veggies is optional, but you definitely need it for the dressing. See Jamie Oliver’s advice on how to peel and chop garlic here: )
8. 1 cup (or more) chopped fresh cilantro (coriander )
The Veggie Prep
The most time-consuming part of the recipe is the preparation of the vegetables into matchstick-sized pieces,. Rinse, cut into pieces about 2 inches long, then slice them as thinly as possible, lengthwise. Here’s the technique:
For the Dressing
(and this is also a great sauce for Thai-style buffalo wings)
1. 1 cup water
2. 3 tsp. corn starch or tapioca-root starch
3. 3-4 cloves finely chopped garlic
4. 1 Tbsp. powdered chilis
5. ½ tsp. cayenne pepper powder
6. 1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
7. 1 Tbsp. honey (Or more)
8. 2 Tbsp. fish sauce (Learn more here:

The Dressing Prep
Dissolve the cornstarch in ¼ cup cool water. Set aside
Add the remaining ¾ cup water in a sauce pan, heat to a boil and add the remaining ingredients, stirring to smooth. Reduce heat and add the dissolved starch, stir until the sauce thickens (About 1 minute). Remove and adjust the taste by adding honey (I added brown sugar) or more lime juice and fish sauce to enhance saltiness.
Allow to cool in the fridge before adding to the vegetables.
Combine the matchstick vegetables in a large bowl and toss by hand.
Drain the shrimp and add to the vegetables. Toss again to combine. Pour the dressing over the shrimp-vegetable combination. Garnish with more coriander and thin-sliced lime pieces.