Mixing the exotic and the familiar


Thai food balances flavors in a way Westerners like, and it's adaptable

April 21, 2002|By Bev Bennett | By Bev Bennett,Special to the Sun

The balance of familiar and exotic flavors may be the first thing that draws people to Thai cooking. For example, the fires of spicy chilies are quelled by a splash of citrus, and you'll taste salty sauces, such as nam pla, a fish condiment mellowed with sugar.

The second bonus is that Thai food is very adaptable to home cooking. Recipes use many readily available ingredients such as rice, cilantro, shallots, basil, chilies and ginger. More exotic products, including rice noodles, lemongrass (a citrus-flavored stalk) and nam pla, are appearing on supermarket shelves. Even if you can't find authentic foods, you can easily make substitutions, such as lime juice for lemongrass and a reduced-sodium soy sauce for nam pla.

The third advantage is that it's fast. You'll find a wealth of stove-top recipes that you can make in less than 30 minutes. In the time it takes to cook rice, you can assemble a delicious Thai-inspired shrimp entree. This dish takes broad license with the requisite Thai ingredients, but you'll still get a taste of a dish that is refreshing and different.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

Snow Peas and Pearl Onions

Makes 2 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup peeled red or white pearl onions

2 cups snow peas, trimmed

1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar


1 / 4 teaspoon black


Heat oil in medium skillet. Add onions and snow peas and saute over medium heat 8 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp-tender. Stir in vinegar, salt to taste and pepper.

Shrimp With Herbed Rice

Makes 2 servings

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1 / 4 teaspoon salt

3 / 4 cup long-grain rice

1 / 4 cup finely chopped onion or shallot

1 / 4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

1/2 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, cooked

Seasoning Sauce (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Bring broth and salt to boil in small pan. Stir in rice. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 18 to 20 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in onion and mint.

Spoon rice onto serving plate. Top with shrimp. Drizzle with Seasoning Sauce and sprinkle with cilantro.

Seasoning Sauce

Makes about 3 / 4 cup

4 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons water

4 teaspoons fish sauce (nam pla)

4 teaspoons lime juice

1 / 4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

In small bowl, combine sugar, water, fish sauce, lime juice and red pepper. Set aside for 5 minutes for flavors to blend.

Note: Fish sauce is available in the Asian sections of many supermarkets. Or you can substitute 2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce.

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