Feel like eating Thai food? Then cook it yourself — which isn't as hard as it sounds, because there's a book to help. It's Easy Thai Cooking, by Robert Danhi (Tuttle: $16.95).
Danhi knows the kind of Thai food you like, because he lives here and has eaten his way through Hollywood's Thai Town as well as through Thailand itself.
Based in El Segundo, Danhi is a chef, cooking teacher (the CIA in New York), food consultant and author of a previous book, Southeast Asian Flavors, which was nominated for a James Beard Award.
His book is not a collection of oversimplified Thai recipes. Danhi adheres to authentic Thai flavor profiles and cooking techniques, he says, but his approach is freer, like the way Thais cook at home. That fits the subtitle, which is “75 Family-Style Dishes You can Prepare in Minutes.”
There's plenty of substance. One chapter contrasts the effectiveness of mortar and pestle, food processor and blender in making Thai spice pastes. Another helps you master a basic Thai coconut curry.
Buy Sriracha sauce? No need, because the basics chapter tells you how to make it yourself. And you'll breeze through Danhi's advice on stocking a Thai pantry, because you can get everything in Asian markets here.
Danhi spends a lot of time in Southeast Asia. He's just bought a house in Malacca, Malaysia, his wife's hometown. And he'll spend several months of the year there as he starts an Asian Food Center at Taylor's University in Malaysia and begins work on a masters/Ph.D. But he's keeping his place in El Segundo. ''I love L.A.,” he says.
Danhi is a bit critical of Thai food here. “I think that there is some great Thai food in L.A.,” he says, “yet I'm surprised there are not more authentic places. I'm happy to see chefs opening places like Night + Market.”
One thing we'll never have is a genuine Thai hawker center. “The health codes restrict the real outdoor cooking — so sad,” he says.
Danhi's pick of L.A.'s Thai dishes includes the northern Thai curry kao soi at Night + Market, Jitlada's crispy morning glory salad and Palm's Thai Restaurant's frogs with green peppercorn curry sauce.
You won't find those recipes in his book, but you will be able to make a green mango and cashew salad; hot and sour tamarind soup; green curry pork with eggplant; garlic crab with green beans; and others that aren't a rehash of what's at your neighborhood Thai place.
You might want to start with Grilled Lemongrass Chicken, a recipe from northeastern Thailand, because it's perfect for a summer barbecue.
Grilled Lemongrass Chicken
From: Robert Danhi
Serves: 4 to 6
2 stalks lemongrass, tender inner part of bottom third only, very thinly sliced
2 teaspoons minced cilantro stems
2 to 4 Thai chilies
1 teaspoon coarsely ground white peppercorns
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons Thai palm sugar or light brown sugar
6 to 8 chicken thighs or 3 to 4 legs (bone-in), scored lightly with a knife to allow the marinade in
2 small cucumbers, cut into wedges
½ cup Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
1. Make a coarse paste with the lemongrass, cilantro stems, chilies and peppercorns, using a mortar and pestle or a mini-food processor.
2. Mix in the fish sauce and palm sugar until the sugar dissolves.
3. Coat the chicken with this spice paste and then marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
4. Preheat the grill to medium-low heat. Slowly grill the chicken, turning often until cooked through and golden brown all over. Alternatively, you can rotisserie, bake or broil this chicken until cooked through to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
5. Serve with wedges of cucumber and a bowl of Thai Sweet Chile Sauce for dipping (recipe below).
Thai Sweet Chile Sauce
Makes: 1 cup
2 tablespoons minced or pounded red finger-length chilies
1 Thai chili, minced or pounded
1 tablespoon minced or pounded garlic
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
¾ cup distilled white vinegar
½ cup water
1. Combine the chiles, garlic, salt, sugar, fish sauce, vinegar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil over medium heat for 10 minutes or until the mixture has reduced to 1 cup. It will thicken further as it cools.
2. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator for up to a few months.
Read more from Barbara Hansen at www.EatMx.com, www.TableConversation.com, @foodandwinegal and Facebook. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.