It has been quite a while since my last post and a few important things have occurred. First, I have a camera! This is exciting as I was relying on Ashok’s and since he and I are now on opposite ends of the country I get to take artsy pictures of food again! I love artsy pictures of food.
Another piece of exciting news is that I officially can stand to eat Thai food again! I spent most of May and part of June in Thailand and after three meals a day predominately consisting of rice products, I was very much not in the mood for Thai food. But after two months avoiding the stuff, I picked up my Thai cookbook today (translated in a way that makes the English major in me smile) and made my family dinner (which spoils the third piece of news, I’m home again rather than at school).
I made them Pad Thai!
…and then promptly spent quite a lot of time taking pictures of my cooking…
It was extremely good.
I’d post the recipe I used, but the thing is both Pad Thai and mangoes are easy recipes you can find on 100 different sites. Especially mangoes…since all it involves is cutting up a mango and eating it.
Instead, I’ll share what I made as an appetizer: Meang Kum.
To the best of my ability, Meang Kum (เมี่ยงคำ) translates to “wrapped”. This is convenient as Meang Kum mostly consists of a bunch of small ingredients wrapped inside a big ol’ basil leaf. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Salted and Roasted Peanuts
- Raw Ginger
- Thai Chilies (re-hydrate them if you bought dehydrated ones like I did)
- 1 Lime
- Toasted coconut
- Basil leaves (big ones)
- Palm Sugar
Nothing here needs to be cooked, beyond toasting the coconut. Yes, you’ll be eating raw ginger, shallot and chilies. Yes, these are strong flavors. But if you try to do something like carmilize the shallots to reduce their punch, your dish will be less of an explosion and more of a pop from a sheet of bubble wrap. Not bad, but not what you want on the 4th of July.
All you need to do is chop all of these ingredients (except the basil leaves) into small pieces. How small? Small enough to fit onto the basil leaf. There is only one important note to preparing this dish. When cutting up your lime, cut it into wedges and cut each of those wedges into bite sized pieces. You’ll want each piece to have a piece of rind on it as you need to eat the whole thing. You won’t get the same experience out of this dish if you cut away the rind. Why? I’m getting to that.
Now put a little of everything on your basil leaf (drizzling on a bit of palm sugar last as it helps glue everything together) and pop the whole thing into your mouth. The result is a little of every flavor: sweet palm sugar and coconut, salty peanuts, spicy chilies and ginger and shallot, bitter lime rind, sour lime, and a complex basil flavor underlying it all.
If you don’t have one of these ingredients, you can substitute it for something else. I used pine nuts rather than coconut and it was quite good. The point is that you get each flavor onto the basil leaf. What you use is up to your palate. I have a feeling there is a good Meang Kum out there that uses candy rather than veggies.
While only a bite, Meang Kum succeeds at what many Thai dishes only attempt to do. It manages to be sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and spicy all at once. My poorly translated cookbook calls it a “welcome snack” and the man who gave it to me said eating this with new friends is the Thai equivalent of bringing baked goods to new neighbors. While it doesn’t carry the same cultural weight here, it is fun to have all of your taste buds working at once.
Now I’m off to take more pictures