Let's Talk Thai

My cooking goes through phases. In the winter I make a lot of soups. In the summer, when the bulk of my groceries comes from local farm stands, we eat mostly simple meals loaded with fresh fruits and veggies – oh, and tons of salsa. Sometimes I get on a Japanese kick – recently we had about two weeks of shabu-shabu, tsukemono, sukiyaki, unagi, curry, etc. And, looking at my most recent twitter tweets, it appears I’ve entered a Thai phase.

Whenever I fill out a silly email survey or am asked in person about my favorite food, I always answer the same, “Thai.” As I’ve written before, my love affair with lemon grass, fish sauce, coconut milk and green papaya began when I moved in next door to my Thai neighbor Anne. We hadn't even lived there a week when I heard a knock on the door. It was Anne. She had food. A tray of food. Delicious food.  Thai food.

A couple nights a week, this glorious event would occur. Anne would bring me a surprise - a covered plate of her fabulous dinner and…I would take her a plate of whatever I was making. I will never forget the night she brought over the ornate silver hot pot filled with a spicy soup laden with seafood, straw mushrooms, lemon grass and more. I still am not sure the name of the amazing dish simmering around the glowing coal filled chimney of the pot…but it left an indelible impression on me. I love Thai food. And, thanks to Anne, I know how to cook Thai food (at least I think so).

Tonight, I was going to make Pad Thai but chose a less labor intensive dish – Nuea Pad Tua Fug Yoa or Beef with String Beans. (Thai dishes frequently involve a very short cook time but a lot of chopping, dicing, slicing and other prep work - but that's one of the things that makes it so great - fresh taste and tons of flavor).  Beef with String Beans is one of the simplest Thai dishes I know how to make and, unlike many others I love, I can share this one with my family because it is not spicy (they don’t share my great appreciation for all that burns the digestive tract). As a note, not all Thai food is spicy. The focus, in my opinion, is on a diverse range of elements. The many fresh, bright combinations of herbs, spices, sauces and vegetables including lemon grass, garlic, lime, fresh basil, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro give Thai food its distinctive hot, sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes.

The meal I made tonight is one of my favorites because of the beans. Long beans look like regular green beans, but they are…well, long...really long – about 18” long and are found in any Asian grocery that has decent produce or in the friendly neighborhood mega-mart near the specialty veggies like snow peas, bean sprouts and English cucumbers. Yes, haricot vert or regular old green beans will do in a pinch, but – trust me – the long beans make the dish. (The bean – spelled thua fak yao in one of my books and tua fug yoa in another - is part of the recipe name. Nuea = beef and Pad = fry or stir fry). Even if someone has never tried Thai food – to eat or to cook – this is a great starter. Give it a try.

Beef with string beans
1 lb ground beef
3 cloves garlic (smashed)
1lb long beans (cut into 2” pieces)
3T fish sauce
1T sugar
1/4t white pepper

1. Brown ground beef. Drain.
2. Add garlic and cook until fragrant
3. Add fish sauce, sugar and pepper
4. Add beans and stir fry until tender
5. Serve with steamed jasmine rice and enjoy

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