There’s nothing quite as fascinating as Thai cuisine. Its complex mixture of sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter flavours means I can happily cook and eat it every day. Thai food culture is based around sharing and eating together, and dishes are intensely seasoned as they are served with rice and shared among friends and family.
If you want to regularly cook Thai food, there are a few essential condiments and ingredients that you will need for almost every recipe. You should have these in your cupboards or fridge at all times, as you would salt and pepper. They are:
Fish sauce: A liquid condiment made from fermented fish and water, this is intensely salty and fishy, yet savoury and umami. Many people swap soy sauce for fish sauce and although very different in flavour, it is essentially a meat-free, liquid salt alternative, so it is a convenient replacement.
Chilies: Chillies are used as a seasoning in Thai food, not just to add spice but to bring sweetness, bitterness, colour and vibrancy. To remove the chillies from a recipe is like taking out the salt, it will affect the overall balance and flavour of the dish.
Garlic: Garlic is fundamental to Thai cooking; it has been a common seasoning for thousands of years and appears frequently in my recipes, so it is another essential “cheat”.
Galangal: Galangal is a rhizome and, like ginger, it is woody in texture and spicy, intense and fragrant in flavour.
Palm sugar: Good-quality palm sugar is soft to the touch, almost toffee-like in consistency and is traditionally used in most Thai dishes that require sweetness. Its best characteristic is its subtle sweetness, so it does not overwhelm a dish but heightens the overall flavour. If you struggle to find palm sugar, light soft brown sugar is a good alternative.
Coconut cream: The best coconut cream you can buy tends to be anything packaged in cardboard, rather than in a can. The can taints the flavour, taking away from its naturally delicious sweetness. If you can only find cans, have a look at the ingredients and try to buy one that contains over 80% coconut – you will be amazed at how little coconut is in some cans.
Lemongrass: Lemongrass’s sweet, citrus aroma and flavour is vital to many Thai dishes.
Kaffir lime leaves: These leaves can get expensive when buying them fresh as they are normally sold in small amounts in most supermarkets. Your best bet is to buy them frozen from an Asian supermarket and use as and when you need them.
Limes: Sometimes the sourness of fresh lime is part of the dish itself, or used in a dressing or marinade and in others a cheek or wedge of lime is served with the finished dish to add sharp hit.
Tamarind: Tamarind is sour in flavour with a natural sweetness and a thick, brown consistency and colour. It is mostly used in soups, stir-fries and dressings.
Inspired? Here are four recipes to try…