People have different opinions on things, even though they are all wrong. One of those opinions is that pad krapao (stir-fried meat with basil on rice), crowned with a fried egg, is the ultimate Thai “square meal”.
I don’t see it that way. Nutrition-wise (your protein, carb AND fiber), my money’s on nam prik kapi (shrimp paste chili dip), accompanied by fresh veggies, rice and a couple of nice plump Thai mackerel for good measure. THIS is what a lot of Thais think of when they think of nam prik. This — dare I say it? — makes it one of Thailand’s most iconic dishes.
Nam prik platu (for 2 people with semi-hearty appetites)
-2 Tbs small green eggplants (makuea puong)*
-3 Tbs dried shrimp, blanched to minimize fishy smell
-3 Tbs small chilies
-4 large garlic cloves
-1/2 Tablespoon fish sauce
-2 Thai mackerel (see below)
For fresh veggie accompaniment:
-handful of white turmeric (cumin khao)
-handful of long beans, cut into 4-inch segments
-cucumber, peeled and cut on the diagonal
-2 Thai eggplants (makuea proh)
1. Pound shrimp paste, small eggplants and garlic with mortar and pestle until mixed.
2. Add chilies and pound. The peppery smell that begins to waft from the mortar means you are finally getting somewhere.
3. Add palm sugar and mix thoroughly. Now this is when Chef McDang, who believes in all-natural ingredients, would give me the side-eye, but: also add a teaspoon of granulated sugar, if you can. It will add to the flavor, I promise. Mix well until the paste becomes glossy. It will look like this:
4. Add shrimp, fish sauce, 1 Tbsp lime juice and orange juice to mortar. Then add 1 Tbsp hot water so paste takes on a more liquid consistency.
5. Garnish with whole chilies, add more lime juice if needed, and accompany dip with fresh veg, rice and fried Thai mackerel.
(For Thai mackerel)
-Heat oil in wok or deep frying pan and fry until skin is brittle and slightly browned (10 minutes).
-Drain on paper towels and dab to get rid of excess oil.
Note: Instead of simply putting everything on separate plates, you can also take a dollop of the chili dip, flake some fish flesh off the bone, and fry it all with a bowl of rice. Add a little bowl of dip and fresh veggies on the side, and it becomes one of my favorite Thai meals!
* These little guys are frequently maligned by people who dislike their bitter taste, but their tannic quality offsets the spiciness of the chili dip perfectly, so try not to leave these out! Sometimes, hairy eggplants (ma uk) are used instead.