Thai takeout meets authentic, regional flavors in this collection of 100 recipes for easy, economical, and accessible Thai classics—from the rising star behind the blog She Simmers.
Who can say no to a delicious plate of Pad Thai with Shrimp; a fresh, tangy Green Papaya Salad; golden Fried Spring Rolls; or a rich, savory Pork Toast with Cucumber Relish? Thai food is not only one of the most vibrant, wonderfully varied cuisines in the world, it also happens to be one of the tastiest, and a favorite among American eaters.
The good news is, with the right ingredients and a few basic tools and techniques, authentic Thai food is easily within reach of home cooks. Take it from Leela Punyaratabandhu, a Bangkok native and author of the popular Thai cooking blog
She Simmers. In her much-anticipated debut cookbook, Leela shares her favorite recipes for classic Thai fare, including beloved family recipes, popular street food specialties, and iconic dishes from Thai restaurant menus around the world.
All of Leela’s recipes have been tested and tweaked to ensure that even the busiest cook can prepare them at home. With chapters on key ingredients and tools, base recipes, one-plate meals, classic rice accompaniments, and even Thai sweets,
Simple Thai Food is a complete primer for anyone who wants to give Thai cooking a try. By the end of the book, you’ll be whipping up tom yam soup and duck red curry that will put your local takeout joint to shame. But perhaps more importantly, you’ll discover an exciting new world of Thai flavors and dishes—including Stir-Fried Chicken with Chile Jam, Leaf-Wrapped Salad Bites, and Crispy Wings with Three-Flavored Sauce—that will open your eyes to all the wonderful possibilities that real Thai cooking has to offer.
Many ethnic cuisines seem forbidding to the home chef because exotic ingredients aren’t readily available and because of the required painstaking (and time-consuming) preparations. Relax in the hands of newbie author and experienced food-blogger Punyaratabandhu, who streamlines her way to the table with popular dishes like satay, pad thai, curries, and congees, among others. Not content with simplifying instructions, she also identifies which foodstuffs can accept substitutes and which can’t (like lemongrass and galangal). Even better, there’s an appended list of online ordering sources for those nonmetro dwellers. The more than 100 recipes fall into one of four categories: noshes and nibbles, rice accompaniments, one-plate or bowl meals, and sweets, each with a colorful preface. With her instructions (and assurances), readers just might try oxtail soup, rice congee with pork dumplings and eggs, herb-baked cashews, and pumpkin custard. Many of the basic recipes that inform Thai cooking are gathered at the back, from steamed glutinous rice (aka sticky rice) to all types of curry paste. This is a new appreciation for a quiet cuisine. --Barbara Jacobs
"Thai has long been underrepresented in my pantry, my refrigerator and on my cookbook shelves because I never felt I had enough support to cook much beyond a beef curry made with canned coconut milk and a commercial red curry paste. Punyaratabandhu''s practical and calming tone -- plus her delicious-sounding recipes -- make me want to do much more Thai cooking." -
The Chicago Tribune
"I have generally found "Quick," "Easy," and "Simple" to be disingenuous labels when it comes to Thai cookbooks [...] But Punyaratabandhu seems to pull it off, coming up with recipes that are weeknight-doable yet electric with ingredients you can just about find if you try hard [...]. Shortcuts or not, they''re desperately delicious." -
National Public Radio
"... blogger Leela Punyaratabandhu (shesimmers.com) has a way of marrying convenience with high flavor ...." - GOOD READS OF 2014, National Public Radio
"Punyaratabandhu [...] does simplify the complexity of Thai cuisine. [...] To write this book, she travelled back to Bangkok where she visited friends and family and interviewed street vendors and other cooks so she could best capture the flavours of her home country in a way that a North American could get." -
The Globe and Mail
"... Punyaratabandhu''s [...] a masterful hand-holder: If you love Thai food but the ingredients and preparation have you cowed, this is the book to get ..." -
THE 20 BEST COOKBOOKS OF 2014
The Globe and Mail
"... The work developed into this, her first cookbook, and it shows a confidence and care absent in many books by more seasoned authors. [...] "Simple Thai Food" is what it says: unusually simple, and still really Thai. It''s written with grace, dedication, and humor, and there''s nothing like it on the market. [...] In other words, if you want a single Thai book, this is it." -
The Boston Globe
"... Written by the popular shesimmers.com blogger, this is the best home Thai book currently available ..." -
TOP 10 COOKBOOKS OF 2014
The Boston Globe
"Simple Thai Food [...] takes a measured approach to traditional Thai cuisine; it is neither dogmatic nor full of shortcuts. [...] Punyaratabandhu writes most of these recipes as she would prepare them for Thai guests [...]. Yet in her extensive and detailed headnotes, she includes helpful hints for preparation, shopping tips, and, most importantly, good ideas for substitutes. In this way, readers are given a wealth of options, none more (or less) delicious than the last ..." -
THE YEAR IN COOKBOOKS: OUR FAVORITE READS OF 2014
Leela Punyaratabandhu grew up in a traditional Thai home in the heart of Bangkok where cooking was taken very seriously. She created the cooking blog
She Simmers, which in 2012 was voted “Best Regional Cuisine” blog by
Saveur. Her writing has appeared in CNN Travel, a website on Asian travel destinations by CNN International, and the award-winning food website
Serious Eats, among others. Leela divides her time between Chicago and Bangkok.
When I started my website, shesimmers.com, in 2008, I had no idea where it would lead. At the time, my only goal was to document the best, most tried-and-true Thai recipes from my mother’s cookbook collection. She had passed away a few weeks earlier, and cooking, photographing, and sharing the recipes was my way of honoring her memory.
My mother started sending her cookbooks to me in the early 2000s, when I moved to Chicago for school. Although I continued to return frequently to my hometown of Bangkok, Mom was concerned that I would forget how to cook the dishes that I grew up with—or, worse yet, that I would forget how Thai food in Thailand tastes.
She need not have worried. Cooking from Mom’s collection helped me stay connected to my roots, and blogging about Thai food on my website inspired me to share my love of Thai history, culture, and language—as well as different food spots in the country—with others.
Today, I write about Thai food and culture not only for my website but also for other online and print publications, and I love interacting with my readers, most of whom are non-Thais living in the West. What I have learned is that many of them—too many—are filled with dread at the thought of trying to make their favorite Thai dishes at home.
I sympathize with them. Acquiring the fresh ingredients necessary to make a classic Thai dish entirely from scratch is often either impossible or too costly to be worth the effort. At the same time, many American cooks feel that cracking open a can of Thai curry paste is cheating. They worry that if they take shortcuts, an angry Thai grandmother will jump out from behind the nearest potted plant with a stun gun.
Although it is true that several Thai dishes absolutely require that you invest time and money in sourcing hard-to-find ingredients, such as kaffir lime and galangal, to replicate their flavors faithfully, many dishes that are just as traditional are made with everyday ingredients that are stocked in most markets.
My goal with Simple Thai Food is to show readers how easy it is to re-create traditional flavors—and the classic Thai dishes I grew up eating—at home. Once you have built a pantry of essential Thai ingredients (see page 3), whipping up delicious tom yam kung (page 86), drunkard’s noodles (page 133), or cashew chicken (page 61) takes less time and is more affordable than calling up your local takeout joint.
In choosing which recipes and methods to include in this book, I have unwaveringly adhered to three guiding principles: foundation, feasibility, and fun. The alliteration, trust me, is accidental.
Foundation. This book is rooted in the food that I grew up eating and cooking in Bangkok, where I was born and raised. The recipes represent Thai food as I have experienced it in my life. These are dishes that I am proud to serve to my family and friends, dishes that I know will not make them back slowly away from the table with their hands up, demanding to know what on earth this unknown, made‑up fare is. This is my foundation. This is the food I cook when I am longing for the taste of home.
None of the recipes is unique to this book. In other words, my goal is not to invent new Thai-inspired recipes but rather to guide you through the process of re-creating dishes that are well known in Thailand as well as in Thai restaurants in the United States. Because I was raised in Bangkok, my tastes naturally skew more toward the dishes I grew up eating. But today, with the gap between how Thai food is made in Thailand and how it is made elsewhere in the world narrowing with each passing year, the recipes in this book will not be foreign to anyone.
Feasibility. My goal is not only to faithfully re-create the food I love but also to ensure that Thai food fans everywhere can cook the dishes at home. That means that I have had to choose and adapt recipes for home cooks whose kitchens are not equipped with every tool necessary to make Thai dishes the traditional way, and I have had to offer substitutions for harder-to-find fresh Thai ingredients.
The unavailability of fresh ingredients is one problem that affects everyone from veteran chefs to novice cooks. But the good news is that as Thai food becomes more popular, more and more Thai pantry staples, such as tamarind pulp, coconut cream, and curry pastes, are available at well-stocked grocery stores. Better yet, if you live in an area with an Asian market, you can often find affordable, Thai-imported versions of these and other essentials, such as thin soy sauce, dark sweet soy sauce, and dried shrimp. If you do not have access to an Asian grocer, your best shot for finding some ingredients will be to order them online, and I have listed some reliable online sources on page 217. But because some of you may be hesitant to take the plunge into online grocery shopping, I have provided many ingredient substitutions, particularly for fresh produce items (Chinese broccoli, Chinese water morning glory, long beans) that are hard to locate in many areas of the United States.
Fun. Cuisine exists to serve us, not the other way around, and cooking should be enjoyable. Some of the recipes in this book are ridiculously easy; some take a bit of effort. I have attempted to lay out the steps for every recipe in a way that makes them doable for even the novice cook. Complicated steps have been streamlined, and substitutions are suggested. None of the recipes requires any gadget or gizmo that you do not already have or cannot easily find.
met mamuang himma-phan op samunphrai
I drink so little alcohol that the amount that I consume each year is barely enough to fill a soup bowl. And much of that is in the form of a wine cooler or a light beer. I just do not have a taste for alcohol. But all my friends and cousins love me because I am the perfect designated driver, the person who is willing to go sit with them at a bar in Bangkok and drink overpriced soda and nosh all night on the quintessential Thai bar snack, seasoned fried cashews. This is the baked version of those sweet-and-sour fried nuts, with a touch of herbal fragrance and a little bit of heat.
Makes 2-1/2 cups
1 pound raw whole cashews
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1⁄4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Grated zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon minced green onion, green part only
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red chile powder
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well, making sure that the cashews are evenly coated with the seasonings. Spread the cashews in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, leaving as much space as possible between them.
Bake the nuts, stirring them every 5 minutes, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheet before serving or storing. The cashews can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. But trust me: they will be gone long before that.