5 creative touches to add a twist to your Thai cooking
Everyone knows about the staple Thai dishes that are famous all over the world: pad thai, green curry, satay, and perhaps even somtum papaya salad. But at The Market Experience we are all about adding a twist to Thai food to keep it fresh, new and exciting – and that’s true more than ever this month, our Month of Creativity.
By adding these five creative touches to your Thai dishes – many of which you can discover when you take our Thai Cooking with a Twist class at the heart of Bangkok’s Pak Khlong Talat flower market – you’ll take things up a notch and make your Thai food even more fun, whether you’re cooking for yourself, friends or family.
Throw in some flowers
It goes without saying that, as a Thai cooking school at the flower market in Bangkok, we are particularly keen on flowers – especially if they are of the edible kind. As anyone who has taken our Thai Cooking with a Twist cooking class will tell you, we love to throw edible flowers into infamous Thai dishes like pad thai as a way of shaking things up a little. You can add a range of local flowers to pad thai instead of or as well as the traditional noodles.
Other popular Thai meals that can benefit from a twist with the simple addition of edible goodies include delicious red curry – just add lily stems or green bananas for something that little bit different from what you usually find at a Thai restaurant!
Alternatively, for something even easier to accomplish at home, remember that the flowers don’t have to figure in the actual cooking process at all – instead, just garnish your finished dish with a sprinkling of edible flowers. In Thailand, we love to use the likes of butterfly pea flowers and bougainvillaea flowers, but in the west just use whichever edible flowers you can find – nasturtiums, pansies, roses and courgette flowers are just a few to start with.
Of course, the flowers you use don’t even necessarily need to be edible – if you simply want to decorate your plate, then just about any flowers will do. Just be sure your guests know not to eat them along with their meal!
One of our favourite Thai curries – and one that you won’t find so much on Thai restaurant menus in the west, or even necessarily at street food stalls in Bangkok – is the rich and flavoursome gaeng phet bped yaang grilled duck red curry.
These days most varieties of this delicious Thai curry include sweet and acidic pineapple to offset the fabulously fatty and crispy duck meat and skin – that makes for a wonderful dish, but in fact some of the oldest and most traditional recipes for this curry call instead for rambutans or grapes.
By throwing in these fruits – or substituting rambutans for lychees, which tend to be more easily found overseas – you can add an authentic twist to your gaeng phet bped yaang that takes it back in time.
Go technicolour with Thai-dye
Everything looks better with the punch of bright colours, and homemade Thai food is no exception. For a sure-fire way to impress and excite dinner party guests and show off your new-found expert Thai cooking skills, switch things up by using natural food products – in particular those edible flowers we are so keen on – to dye parts of your dish and add a splash of the unexpected.
Making a noodle dish? Use beautiful butterfly pea flowers to transform your rice noodles a striking shade of blue. Butterfly pea flowers are most commonly steeped in tea, and then turned a vibrant purple with the acidic addition of lime juice. In fact, on your quest for natural dying agents, flowers and leaves that are often seen in shockingly coloured teas are a good place to start – besides butterfly pea flowers, other options include green pandan leaves and reddish-purple roselle flowers. There are alternatives that can be easier to find outside of Thailand, too – beetroot and turmeric are also great choices.
Carve out success
Remember the wow factor of visiting a Thai or Chinese restaurant overseas and receiving your meal adorned with intricately carved vegetables – carrots turned into roses and so on – and then wondering just how anyone had the skills and patience to pull off such a thing?
Aside from simply throwing edible flowers at your finished dish, placing delicate fruit and vegetable carvings on the plate alongside your freshly made Thai food creation is another way to add a twist to your meal and make it stand out from the crowd. And despite what you might think – while fruit and vegetable carving is definitely an impressive art form – it’s not quite as hard as you might think to pull it off yourself.
Keen home cooks – and armchair cooks – from as far apart as the UK, USA, Australia, Italy, Germany, Greece and Finland are used to the antics of TV cooking programmes like Ready Steady Cook, where celebrity chefs and amateurs are paired up with a mystery set of ingredients and challenged to create a spread of dishes while working against the clock.
We like to play a similar game here at The Market Experience when we run culinary team building events – and it’s something you can also do at home as a great way to inject some spontaneity into your cooking routine. Just equip yourself with three random ingredients – or, for extra, fun, pair up with a friend and pick ingredients for each other – and then make up a new Thai recipe on the spot (be kind and allow yourself the liberty of also being able to access simply storecupboard staples).
You’ll surprise yourself with what you can come up with, and you’ll almost certainly end up with a delicious meal!
What are your secrets to adding a twist of creative touches to your Thai cooking? Let us know in the comments!
All photos by Chris Wotton and The Market Experience.