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Thai Cooking

A Thai Meal
SatayA Thai meal is traditionally a communal affair, with two or more people sharing several dishes, all served at the same time and eaten with steamed rice.

Snacks and Hors d'oeuvres
These savory tidbits can be eaten alone or as side dishes. Traditional favorites include stuffed dumpling, satay, crisp-fried rice noodles topped with sweet-and-spicy sauce, and spring rolls. Creative presentation is a big part of Thai snack-making, and a professional cook worth his salt will strive to make them as much as feast for the eye as for the palate.

Salads
Yum NuaThai salads, called yam, are sour, sweet and salty. A simple dressing works equally well for meat, seafood, vegetable and fruit salads. This is made from fish sauce, lime juice and a dash of sugar. The heat comes from fiery little bird chilies, but just how hot a salad should be depends on the texture and flavor of the meat, vegetable or fruit used. Fresh herbs such as marsh mint, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro are usually used as garnish.

Chili Dips
ChilliUsually served with vegetables, meat or fish, chili dips are very versatile. A dip can be a main dish or side dish, added to a pan of fried rice to flavor it, or drizzled on chips to jazz them up. A cook can whip up a bowl of dip from chilies, garlic, onion and shrimp paste or whatever ingredient is available—dried or fermented fish, sour tamarind, dried shrimp, etc.

Soups
Thai soups generally are very flavorful. Meat or vegetable is cooked in broth or coconut cream with a “soup base,” usually a blend of spices and herbs, which gives the soup its flavor. A soup is served not as a first course but together with other dishes. This way you can wash down the fiery heat of the more spicy dishes with it.

Curries
The heart of all Thai curries is the curry pastes, which, unlike Indian curry, are made from fresh herbs and spices. The paste is cooked in coconut cream before meat or vegetable is added. Main ingredients in most curries are chili, garlic, shallot, galanga, coriander root and krachai (a small brownish orange, indigenous root). Canned curry pastes are available at markets and grocery stores, but freshly-made pastes make more delicious curries. 

Single Dishes
Fried rice or noodle dishes make quick, satisfying meals. You can improvise with different types of meat, vegetables and spices. When cooking the rice, use a little less water so it won’t become soggy when you fry it. Separate the noodles before adding them to the oil. Add the meat and sauce, then the rice or noodles, and stir frequently over high heat. 

Desserts
Ideal for washing down the spices, Thai desserts are sweet but not intensely so. Banana or flour dumplings in sweetened coconut cream and season fruit in sugar syrup topped with crushed ice are some of the easy-to-make favorites. Thais also eat a lot of candied fruit — banana and breadfruit being two of the most popular alone or topped with coconut cream.

Setting Up a Thai Kitchen
You need a few utensils to start. A wooden chopping block, a set of knives, a set of mortar and pestle (an electric blender will also do), a Chinese-style frying pan or wok, a soup pot and a brass pan for desserts should be enough for daily cooking or an occasional dinner party. Spoon and fork are the only cutlery you need.

Thai cooks always have to hand dried chilies, garlic, shallot, shrimp paste, and a good bottle of fish sauce.