It’s been a tough third COVID wave for us in Thailand, and it doesn’t look like it’s improving anytime soon. My son has taken to running to his computer every day at noon to check on the latest numbers; they are always grim. The effect on the local economy — and by extension, the dining scene — has been predictably grave. A few weeks ago, Bo.lan announced they were shuttering their doors, hopefully in order to morph into another iteration at the end of this particular tunnel.
But there were also some small glimmers of light during this time, for me at least (and isn’t that what’s really important?) I got to go up North and traipse around a farm, taking photos of the literal fruits of other people’s hard labor.
The lovely Aarya made us a gorgeous spread that included a whole roasted seabass “acqua pazza”-style and a faithful rendition of a Veronese duck stew enriched with chestnuts and an entire bottle of red wine. It inspired me to attempt my own duck stew (whole Barbary duck ordered via Paleo Robbie), which was then discovered in a freezer while marinating due to some communication issues (my Thai is truly terrible), and ended up becoming a pretty good duck fried rice and jab chai (Chinese-style veggie stew) with duck broth.
I am also sort-of celebrating the imminent arrival of one book, originally slated for release in 2020. The COVID-delayed third edition of my Thai street food guide is … hopefully? … coming out at the end of this year. This book *may* join its sister on the shelves — tentatively titled “Real Thai Cooking”, it’s my very first cookbook with co-author, photographer and genius recipe doctor Lauren Taylor in New Zealand. We have just finished the first draft of our manuscript and are ready to send it to our long-suffering editor Doug (insert fingers crossed emojis here!)
When I originally sent out my book proposal (written during our first COVID wave with help and guidance from Jarrett Wrisley and Paolo Vitaletti, who generously allowed me to see their proposal for “The Roads to Rome”), I envisioned a book in which all the focus would be on my essays, which would place the recipes in context and make them less of a consideration. What I ended up doing — with generous assistance from both my mother’s and mother-in-law’s kitchens and a treasure trove of funeral cookbooks from my husband’s family — was literally stumble into a bunch of recipes that have deepened my own understanding of Thai food and how it has evolved. TLDR: a lot of these recipes are the bomb tbh. This is coming straight from the horse’s mouth.
There are a bunch of recipes that I really love in this book so there’s some competition, but I think my favorite recipe of all is the one gifted to me by my friend Tawn C., who is a designer in his normal life. While we were in Phuket he made a nam prik out of store-bought peanut brittle that was a flavor explosion; when paired when grilled salt-encrusted fish and all of the accoutrements for a mieng pla meal, it ended up blowing everybody away.
The main ingredients, I kid you not, are a good-quality fish sauce and local peanut brittle (tua thad, or “cut peanuts”, made out of peanuts, sesame seeds and palm sugar) from the candy aisle.
Needless to say, it’s a fine tightrope walk between super-sweet, salty, spicy and tart, all the while making sure not to overshadow the main star of the show (What’s that? Oh yeah, the fish).
So here it is, Tawn’s chili dip recipe, and don’t ever say I don’t give you anything!
“Nam prik tua thad”
- 6 pieces of tua thad, or peanut brittle
- 4 goat chilies or bird’s eye chilies
- 2 cilantro roots, cleaned
- 7 garlic cloves
- the juice of 2 limes
- 3 Tbsps fish sauce
- 1 tsp golden syrup
- In a mortar and pestle, pound chilies, roots and cloves together into a paste. Scrape out of mortar and set aside.
- Pound your peanut brittle until it is pulverized, then add your paste to it. Mix well.
- Season with lime juice and fish sauce. Taste. It should be a balance between salty, acidic, spicy and sweet.
- Add golden syrup if not sweet enough. Surprisingly, the sweetness will amplify all the other flavors.