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Dec 6, 2010 05:11 PM

Looking for best beginner Thai cookbook

I haven't posted anything on CH for years, but I thought some more experienced Thai food loving cooks might be able to weigh in.

A friend of mine, living in rural PA absolutely adores Thai food and has expressed interest to me in learning to cook some dishes herself. Granted, she has only had somewhat Americanized restaurant fare, and she is capable but somewhat inexperienced in the kitchen.

I thought it would be a great Christmas gift idea to get her some sort of Thai cookbook and perhaps some key ingredients
All my Thai cookbooks are quite comprehensive and tend to be a bit daunting to the novice (Even I lose my enthusiasm to cook Thai when reading the ingredient lists in some of David Thompson's massive book)
Any suggestions for a Thai or Thai-fusion-style cookbook that would be just the thing for a beginner to really enjoy experimenting with? Perhaps not classically authentic, but something that is not going to completely intimidate or overwhelm the novice.

I mention she is in rural PA, where Asian groceries are very difficult to find, but I have ready access near Philadelphia, so I would be able to help out with ingredients and "tech support."

Thanks for any suggestions!

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  1. i was actually going to recommend David's book as it was what turned me on to the wonders of Thai cooking, but I was fairly experienced in home cooking when I started in on it so it may not suit. The reason however I was going to recommend it is that it is really clear on explaining all the steps involved in the major areas of thai cooking such as soups, salads and curries. Yes the ingredient list is fairly brutal, but regrettably in a rural area it may always be difficult to source several of the ingredients that are considered staple to most Thai kitchens (I live in London and struggle, quick access to SE Asian ingredients is one of the things i miss most about Australia). Most of these ingredients are native and plentiful in tropical climates and often rare in any other.

    However, the substitutions are pretty intuitive, and to be honest if you're mainly used to restauranty / westerny thai food then you probably won't likely miss the addition of galangal or terribly mind subbing vinegar for lime juice in your pastes, as you get more used to these things you might be inclined to work on sourcing some of the more obscure ingredients used.

    If not David's book then I would search out a book that explains both the hows and importantly the whys of the basic techniques used, especially working with a mortar and pestle and stir frying (which i still struggle doing properly with my stubbornly western wrists).

    In terms of a few ingredients and maybe some sundry help I would consider buying your friend a mortar and pestle, perhaps a wok, some fish sauce, palm sugar, shrimp paste and some good dried birds eye chilis.

    Also, encourage a bit of a fearless attitude to the whole thing, Thai cooking is markedly different from western cooking with alien sounding ingredients and recipes, but it is also one of the most refined and elegant food cultures there is, the joys of it are legion and preparing it yourself is one of the most rewarding kitchen experiences I have ever had.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Samuelinthekitchen

      Thank you very much for your suggestions. You bring up some very good points, as, now that I think of it, Thompson's book is very clear and gives a really wonderful background and insight on the cuisine. It's a wonderful read and a gorgeous book as well and would make a great gift in itself.

      In the end if she decides that it is not for her, she still would have a great reference book, and something to add to her small cookbook library.

      Thank you very much!

    2. Look for Kasma Loha-Unchit's cookbooks -- very accessible and if your friend ever travels to the SF Bay Area she can enroll (if she's lucky) in one of Kasma's cooking classes!

      1 Reply
      1. re: stomsf

        I have Kasma's Dancing Shrimp. It has wonderful recipes. Unfortunately, both of her cookbooks are now out of print and used copies are selling for considerably more than the books originally cost new. The cheapest used copy of Dancing Shrimp on Amazon is over $50 and It Rains Fishes costs at least $75.

        Considering the OP's description of her friend as being "capable, but somewhat inexperienced in the kitchen," I wonder if Thompson's would be somewhat overwhelming as a first and only Thai cookbook. There are certainly options that focus more on simpler and quicker Thai dishes (and may come with pictures) such as Panurat Poladitmontri's Thai Cuisine: Lemon Grass Cooking. There are also video websites that demonstrate how to prepare various Thai foods. Here are two:

        These might be useful for a beginner. However, I've never cooked based on these videos, so I can't vouch for the quality of the recipes or the soundness of the instruction.