Monday, April 27, 2009

Exploring South East Asian Cusine

It is very difficult here in Chiriqui to find ethnic inredients, at least the ones that are a little more obscure such as Rice Papers for Vietnamese Summer Rolls (I know it says Spring roll Wrappers) or Thai Pastes for real Thai cooking. I am constantly on the look out for good food finds. Although occasionally specialty items and ingredients pop up here and there in the local stores, you can not count on them to be there regularly. I found canned Hominy once in Super Baru, cleaned them out of all 2 cans they had. I haven't seen it since.

This week I will be trying to fill a void for Southeast Asian ingredients by making 2 new homemade Thai pastes as well experimenting with Rice Papers, Rice Noodles and Fish Sauce. I am planing to create other unique salsas, sauces and products that might be needed to really complete that special recipe (including the ones that I want to share with you), you know, those oddball ethnic

ingredients that if you had a Whole Foods down the street, you would just go and find!

Here is a list of the many Asian ingredients and items that we are growing and using here on the farm.


The Curry Leaf Tree
Holy Basil

Thai Basil

Chinese Garlic Chives



Kaffir Limes and Leaves

Curry Leaves

Lemon Grass






Chinese Yard Long Beans

Napa or Chinese Cabbage

Chinese Mustard Greens

Snow Peas


Taro Root

Chinese Spinach (Tah Tsoi)

Thai Hot Peppers

Daikon Radishes

Homemade Asian Sauces:

Thai Sweet Hot Dipping Sauce

Chinese Style Pickled Daikon Radish

Red, Green and Yellow Curry Pastes

Thai Roasted Red Chili Paste

Vietnamese Do Chua, a shredded daikon and carrot sweet and sour pickle


Cloud Mushrooms

Shiitake Mushrooms

Rice Papers

Rice Noodles

Fish Sauce

This week I created my own Thai pastes, Red, Green and Yellow, all have different flavors and intensity of heat. They are similar to the Thai Kitchen Brand pastes, which used to be a staple in my pantry. I find these find these Thai Pastes indispensable when cooking Thai food. They are essential to making the dish not only flavorful, colorful and exciting, but also authentic. A little goes a long way when using these pastes in cooking. Usually one half to one tablespoon stirred into soup, stew or stirfry does the trick. They are concentrated in flavor and also heat. The flavors meld into food well and chili does have key flavor components, not just heat.

Thai Red Curry Paste (Krueng Gaeng Peht) is very different from East Indian Red Curry (Rogan Josh) in which paprika and cardamom seed are the main flavors. This one is made from organically grown Hot Red Chili Peppers, Lemon Grass, Cilantro and Onions along with other spices and garlic. This paste of course makes the dish called, Thai Red Curry which could be made a multitude of ways, but mainly, stir fry vegetables, add a meat if you want and mix in a tablespoon of curry paste and add coconut milk. Cook it all up together for a few minutes and serve with rice. This paste is not vegetarian, it has just a small amount of shrimp paste, but I can make it without.

Thai Roasted Red Chili Paste (Nahm Prik Pao) is essential to make really good Tom Yum Goong (I call it Tom Yum Soup), recipe follows. I make this paste from my organically grown Hot Thai Red Peppers, onions and garlic. It is both vegetarian and wheat free. This paste is a great for chili lovers. It gives rich, roasted chili flavors that when added to a rice dish, stirfry, soup or stew will not overpower your dish with a lot of other complicated spicing. works great for Mexican food to!

Tom Yum Goong or Tom Yum Soup - Spicy Shrimp Soup with Lime and Lemon Grass.

This soup has many healing properties.Great for a cold or when you have the blahs.


4 cups of good quality Chicken or Vegetable Stock

3 stocks of Lemon Grass, white part only and slightly pounded and cut into 1 inch pieces

4-5 fresh Kaffir Lime leaves, optional

2 1/2 T fresh lime or lemon juice

3-4 Thai Hot White or Red peppers or Serranos - Halved. Seeded and deveined for less heat if needed

1 T Thai Roasted Red Chili Paste more or less for your tastes


Bring chicken stock to a boil, then add in the other ingredients above, then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes.

Then add: 2-3 scallions cut into 1 inch pieces1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveinedIncrease heat to cook the shrimp for only about 2-3 minutes. Don't over cook the shrimp.

Stir In: 2 T Fish Sauce.


Top with chopped Cilantro. You could add in shiitake mushrooms or canned bamboo shoots. Don't eat the Lemon Grass, it is very tough and stringy. It is added to the soup for the flavor it releases.


Vietnamese Summer Rolls

While in Panama City I found Vietnamese Rice Paper for wraping Summer Rolls. These Rolls are addictingly delicious and amazingly fresh and healthy. These rolls are why I created the Thai Sweet Hot Dipping Sauce, it's a perfect compliment.

I think that it is easier to prepare all of the rolling ingredients early to split up the work and let everything cool to at least room temperature. This is a really easy dish to make, just don't put too much filling in each wrapper. That just will make it harder to wrap and possibly the wrapper will tear. After a few trys, wrapping becomes easier.


Chicken or Shrimp

3 garlic cloves

1 bay leaf

salt and black pepper

10 slices of fresh ginger



Thai Basil

Lettuce Leaves- torn

Thin (Angel Hair) Spaghetti or Thin Rice Noodles

Rice Papers

Dipping Sauces such as our Thai Sweet Hot Dipping Sauce or Thai Peanut Sauce.


Prepare the Chicken or Shrimp:

- Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer with a few garlic cloves, a bay leaf, salt, pepper (optional ground schezwan pepper, if you happen to have some) and a few slices of fresh ginger.

-Once the water comes to a simmer, add in slices of chicken or cleaned shrimp.

-Put a lid on the pot and turn off the heat and let it steep 30 minutes for the chicken or 10 minutes for the shrimp.

-Place in the fridge to cool with a little of the broth. Use extra broth for another dish. Cut into strips and set into a bowl, ready for your wrapping.

Prep the Herbs and Veggies: Clean and destem a good handful of each of the herbs and set into small piles.

Prep the Rice or Wheat Noodles: Cook until al dente and then cool, set close to the herbs.

Making the Rolls:

-Make sure that all of the ingredients, cooled sliced chicken or shrimp, herbs and lettuce, and cooled noodles, are set out in piles or bowls on a clean work space on your counter.

-Meanwhile, heat water in a large saute pan. Only hot enough to make the rice paper pliable, not boiling because you need to stick your fingers in there to get the papers out.

-Place a rice paper into the heated water and wait until it becomes soft. You can tell when it is ready when the grids on the wraps begin to disappear. Grab it by the upper sides and place on your clean workspace.

-Starting (like sushi) on the side closest to you, line a small pile of noodles, then a little line of each of the herbs and lettuce, then top with a small line of meat.

-Flip the edge closest to you up and over the pile of goods, and roll it once over.

-Tuck the sides over like an envelope, then continue rolling (kind of tight so it will all hold together) until done.


The rice paper will stick to itself to seal the goods in. Sometimes if the roll splits, I will roll it again in another wrapper. Roll out as many as you want, there is no hurry. You can slice them for individual pieces or if you are in close company, just eat a whole roll double and triple dipping into your own dipping dish! For a Vegetarian version, use Avocado instead of meat or tempura vegetables!


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