Category Archives: Thai

Pork and noodles in coconut-tamarind sauce: $1.52/serving

As a frozen bag of chipotle chiles in adobo (just empty out the can into a Ziploc) is to Mexican cooking, a frozen bag of tamarind paste is to Thai cooking: indispensable. It’s extremely versatile (you can use tamarind in place of lime juice) and you can always be sure you have some on hand. Tamarind paste can be found in brick form in pretty much any Asian market, and frozen, it lasts pretty much forever. I’ve probably had the same block in my freezer for almost two years, and I’m just now getting to the last little chunk. It’s great for any kind of curry or pad Thai, desserts, and thrown-together weeknight dishes like this one that could benefit from a little sweet tanginess.

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Lemongrass beef noodle salad: $1.24/serving

“Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. A lot of people, that’s their story. Good times, noodle salad.” —Jack Nicholson, “As Good as It Gets”

What else can I say? This probably in no way resembles the kind of noodle salad invoked above, but it’s a noodle salad all the same. The recipe was originally featured in an older post extolling the virtues of marked-down meat at the grocery store, but it’s high time it had its own page. Not only is it simple to make and a proven crowd-pleaser (good times, noodle salad), it’s a great antidote to all those heavy seasonal braises and gratins that start to get a little old about now. Judging by the view out the window, Punxsutawney Phil (“the world’s most famous prognosticating rodent,” according to Wikipedia, where I went to look up how to spell Punxsutawney) is not planning to deviate from his 13% accuracy rate any time soon.

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Pad see ew: $1.68/serving

No matter how well-equipped or competent you think you are, there are some dishes that are just out of the home cook’s reach. Wide, flat Thai noodle dishes—pad see ew, pad kee mao, drunken noodles—are usually a few of them. Without a proper professional wok on a proper professional stove with a proper professional comfort with using ungodly amounts of oil, you’re just not going to create an identical version of what you can get at a restaurant. Obviously this bothers me to no end, as I’m not about to spend $8 on a container of what amounts to stir-fried meat and noodles, but I still do like these dishes. After three rounds of practice I’ve finally been able to make a version that, while not restaurant-perfect, is passable in flavor, texture, and appearance. It requires access to an Asian grocery store, but that’s about it—you can even make it on a crappy electric stove in a cheap nonstick pan.

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Weeknight Thai curry: 71 cents/serving


As I’m sure is apparent, I’m not a big advocate for prepackaged processed foods. This includes everything from canned beans to pre-ground spice mixes and sauces. But there is something I’m willing to make an exception for: the little 89-cent tins of curry paste you can find in Asian markets. Have you ever tried to buy curry paste at the supermarket? Because I have, and it’s not pretty: $4.25 or more for teeny tiny jar containing a white-person approximation of the real thing, which is so watered down you have to use almost the entire jar for one meal. These little tins may not be available in your area, but they’re easily found online (at Amazon.com they’re $1.25 or so, and if you spend $25 you get free shipping). They might not be 89 cents, but they’re still cheaper than $4.25. Plus, not only do you get more paste, it’s stronger stuff, so you only have to use a tablespoon or two. Once you open a can you can put the contents into a plastic bag, freeze it, and carve chunks off of it whenever you need some. Usually I can get about 3-4 meals out of a single can, bringing the average cost per meal to about 26 cents. This, believe it or not, is cheaper than making it yourself. I know, because I’ve done it, and not only was the homemade stuff more expensive, it had weird textural issues from the coriander seeds and lemongrass that no amount of blending or processing seemed to be able to fix.

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Pickled cabbage stir-fry: 64 cents/serving

As some readers may have noticed, I’ve developed somewhat of an obsession lately with Southeast Asian stir-fries. I just love how much flavor can be extracted from so few ingredients, and this dish is no exception. I wanted to use up the jar of homemade pickled cabbage* I opened as a condiment for last week’s khao soi, so I threw the rest of it in a blistering-hot skillet with some garlic, minced Thai chiles (left over from last week’s chicken-and-basil stir-fry) and a splash of fish sauce. I intended to serve it by itself, but it was so sour, salty, sweet and spicy on its own that I was able to fold it into rice and stretch it into an extremely filling meal for two. Even if you’re not a wild and enthusiastic fan of cabbage flavor, you’ll like this—as I do—because it tastes absolutely nothing like cabbage.

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Northern Thai noodle curry with beef (khao soi): $2.27/serving

Making khao soi from scratch at home is not particularly easy, but boy is it worth it. It’s a great company or dinner-party dish, especially if you serve all the toppings and condiments on the side, and it hits pretty much every flavor and texture note in the book: sweet, salty, sour, spicy, creamy, crunchy, dry, juicy, astringent, vegetal. It very well could be the most satisfying bowl of noodles you’ve ever eaten. Unless, of course, you’ve been to Chiang Mai and had the real thing, in which case you’ve probably already sought out a favorite version at a restaurant or food cart somewhere in your own area. However, it probably didn’t cost $2.27, so to you, I say it’s high time to try making it at home.

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A Tale of Two Stir-Fries II: chicken & basil: $1.47/serving

Not much of a tale with this one, I’ll admit, other than the fact I got home late from work and did not—I repeat, DID NOT—want to have anything to do with making dinner, but the prep work went so fast that the food was finished and on the table before I could come up with an alternative. So, if you’re interested in having dinner ready in about 10 minutes, as I understand 99.9% of you probably are, you might want to bookmark this one. In the spirit of yesterday’s beef & ginger stir-fry, this traditional Thai chicken dish—gai pad krapow—is flavorful enough to stand on its own, but it would also be great with plain old rice or noodles, with a fried egg on top, adorned with more peppers, or even as a lettuce wrap.

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Thai turkey salad with cilantro & mint: 33 cents/serving

And now for something completely different…yet not really. This is essentially a cooked-turkey version of the larb I made a couple weeks ago with chicken. I had even intended for it to be a lettuce wrap before realizing we were out of lettuce.

It doesn’t exactly showcase the turkey, as the Thai flavors are what come to the forefront, but we’ve been showcasing the turkey for four days now, so it’s a well-earned break.

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Yam het khao (white fungus salad): 96 cents/serving

Despite how often we shop at the Asian supermarket, from time to time we still come across something we’ve walked past probably 50 times and never noticed. This week it was the bags of white fungus. There’s probably half an aisle’s worth of these things—packages of feathery, chrysanthemum-like orbs in shades ranging from white to dark beige. That’s a lot of prime real-estate for something I initially thought was a bath sponge or some kind of “blooming tea” knockoff for those gimmicky glass teapots. I had to buy some and figure out what this stuff was.

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Larb gai (Thai chicken salad) lettuce wraps: $1.65/serving

Now that the sun is setting at, oh, 5 pm, super-quick dishes are of even greater import. I lose a lot of cooking motivation while sitting in traffic in the dark, and knowing I can crank something out in the time it would otherwise take to check my email keeps me from considering one of the myriad bad decisions post-work life has to offer. (*cough* fishing Domino’s circular out of the recycling *cough*.)

This recipe is adapted from a similar one in “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” which, for my money, ranks up there with Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” in terms of usefulness.

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