Chili pastes, or nam prik, form one of the main pillars of a Thai meal, and of Thai cooking in general. As dip-like condiments, or krueng jim, they incorporate easily portable protein and vegetables, and are frequently the main protein source for a Thai during the day. As the base for a dish, or nam prik gaeng, they build the foundation to a curry, soup or stir-fry; they also make great de facto salad dressings and marinades. In fact, there are few savory dishes that do not incorporate some form of chili paste.
This is the condiment kind, a well-known chili dip that is the main meal for many Thai families. It is also very nutritious, using Thai mackerel (omega-3!), fresh and blanched vegetables (fiber!) and very little, if any, oil.
Nam Prik Platu (for four)
-2 pla tu, or Thai mackerel*
-4-5 red and yellow prik chee fa, chopped
-4-5 prik yuak, sliced
-10 garlic cloves
-16 halved shallots
-6 small red chilies
For fresh vegetable garnish:
-1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
-handful of savoy cabbage leaves, washed and trimmed
-2 Tbsp winged beans, cut into 1-inch sections
-3 Thai eggplants (makuea proh)
-2 Tbsp long beans, cut into 4-inch sections
For blanched vegetable garnish:
-1/2 nam thao, or green gourd, blanched, peeled and sliced
-handful of blanched morning glory (pak boong)
-handful of blanched long beans
-1 head cabbage, chopped and blanched
-1/2 head savoy cabbage, chopped and blanched
-1/2 cup chicken stock
-2 Tbsps fish sauce (plus more to taste)
-juice from 1 lime
1. Make chilies, garlic and shallots fragrant by dry-frying them (the process is called kua) in a wok or deep frying pan. Continue until the flesh begins to take on a “blackened” appearance. Take the opportunity to practice your flipping so you can show off to your friends later on and they will think you are a really great cook. (You can also kua by skewering your chilies, garlic and shallots and placing them in an oven at full whack until the flesh blisters and blackens a bit).
Your chili mixture will look like this:
3. Once your chilies are fragrant, pound them in a mortar and pestle, in batches if necessary. Add fish flesh as you go along until everything is incorporated (of course, you can also whizz in the food processor, but it only serves to slice the ingredients, not crush them into oblivion. Also, why not get a great biceps workout while you’re at it?) When you are finished, the paste will look like this:
5. Just before serving, add juice of 1 lime, but if keeping for later, make sure to refrigerate (duh). Reheat and add lime juice just before serving, accompanied by fresh and blanched vegetables and rice.
*The best store-bought pla tu apparently must have a short face, crooked neck and (obviously) thick belly.
Next up: nam prik kapi, Thailand’s traditional square meal.