HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jun 23, 2008 11:01 AM

learning to cook Thai food

I just bought a bunch of thai basil. It smells wonderful and I would like to learn to cook Thai food. Last night, I stir fried some beef and threw in a few sprigs of the thai basil, some garlic and some chili peppers. But I would like to have some suggestions for how Thai food gets its wonderful flavors. Any ideas or suggestions welcomed. TIA!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Thai food is hot (bird chilies), sour (lime), salty (fish sauce ), & sweet (coconut cream). OK, that is an oversimplification, to say the least.

    Fabulous Thai cooking thread (with lots of pictures) here:


    1 Reply
    1. re: pattisue

      coconut milk really is not sweet by itself.
      Coconut milk and SUGAR is sweet.
      Coconut WATER is sweet.
      Coconut CREAM (not the frying medium) is sweet.
      But, coconut milk by itself is DEFINITELY not sweet. It is a very savory ingredient with a 90 ish % fat content. It's basically a gravy.

      The sweet comopnents of Thai food usually comes from sugar.

    2. holy basil is a good start. Some essentials that I always have on hand:

      kefir lime leaf
      fish sauce
      Maesri Curry pastes
      Coconut milk
      jarred holy basil sauce
      chili garlic sauce
      fresh ginger (although I have been using jarred ginger paste lately) Dried/ground ginger is totally worthless IMO)

      If you are a fan of coconut milk curry, I recommend the Maesri canned pastes. I think red is my favorite of them all. I usually fortify the curry paste with extra chiles, fresh ginger, garlic, chile garlic sauce, lime leaf, and onions during the bhuning process. Bhuning is sauteeing the paste in a little oil until the oil separates itself from the paste. Mix the paste into the oil in your cooking vessel (I use a wok) - it takes about five min or so. When you drag a spoon through the paste, and the oil separates around the edges of where you dragged the spoon, then it's done. Any way, after it's done. I'll add a tiny bit of oyster sauce, a tiny bit of soy, for a min or two, then add the coconut milk. Once the whole mixture is warm, I'll add some chicken parts, and sprinkle cilantro on top along with some lime juice. (Oh - some ppl like to add sugar to these curries, I think it ruins them, but to each his own. I've gone to plenty of Thai restaurants, and it's about a 50-50 split between the ones who add a noticeable amt of sugar, and those that do not.)

      Do not let the mixture boil! Very slow simmer, almost as low as stock.
      When your chicken is done, then I'kll add in any veggies that I've previously stir fried, and set aside - usually shrooms, zucchini, and red bells. Serve it over jasmine, or basmati if you have access. A few slivers of lime leaf on top is a good thing too.

      one can of their paste is for use in two cans of coconut milk.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gordeaux

        Other key ingredients are shrimp paste and palm sugar (rather than plain sugar).

        1. It depends on how serious you are. If you're really interested in learning to cook Thai, you *need* David Johnson's "Thai Food." It's an incredibly detailed book that uses some ingredients that are frankly not available to US or European cooks, but just reading it will give you fundamentals that you can work with.

          You need to find a good source for some of the basic ingredients. Kaffir lime leaves, galangal, Thai chiles, Golden Boy fish sauce, and lemongrass are critical. Asian markets may have some of them, a good supermarket like Wegman's is alos a good source.

          For a more simple approach, the Maesri canned curry pastes are good as gordeaux says. I use them frequently, although they aren't a one stop solution -- you'll still need additional quantities of the ingredients listed above. Brown sugar is an acceptable substitute for palm sugar if you can't find it. Holy basil is worth finding.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JonParker

            Second on the Golden Boy fish sauce.

          2. Hi dsg: Here's a link to Kasma Loha-unchit's website:

            She's a local bay area Thai cooking teacher... check out the Miang Kam recipe - they are just the best little flavor bombs!

            2 Replies
            1. re: RWCFoodie

              Great link to help me get started. Thanks!

              1. re: dimsumgirl

                You're welcome! I started experimenting with Thai cooking/food about 35 yrs. ago or so - bought a book on a whim because I like Asian food in general and the colors of the cover caught my eye in a bookstore (the cover is shocking pink and orange)! "The Original Thai Cookbook", Jennifer Brennan, copyright 1981... Reading the recipes just made my mouth water with the lovely mixtures of spicy, salty, sweet, etc. I remember making the curry pastes from scratch (I don't think the prepared ones were in the stores here yet). I loved everything I made from the book; one time I did a dinner for about a dozen of Bob's family, most of whom had never eaten Thai food! They loved it all and the platters were empty... Haven't done much lately but you're inspiring me to do some soon! Please let us know what dishes you make...