Easy trip to Thailand

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March 17, 2004|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Fans of Thai cooking, rejoice.

With Nancie McDermott's new cookbook, Quick & Easy Thai (Chronicle, due out April 1, $18.95), you can have a Thai dinner on the table in less than an hour.

About all you need are a few pantry staples, a couple of cans of coconut milk, fish sauce and red curry paste.

McDermott, who learned Thai cuisine as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, is true to her word in delivering quick and tasty recipes. The instructions are easy to follow, even for the novice cook, and many recipes are accompanied by tempting photographs of the finished dishes.

McDermott makes a few concessions to the American palate, allowing substitutions of brown sugar for palm sugar and peanut butter for mashed peanuts. But the 70 recipes reach beyond familiar favorites such as pad Thai to regional specialties like Issahn-style Minced Pork Salad With Crunchy Rice and Fresh Mint.

The book is divided into nine chapters, covering appetizers, soups, curries, chicken, meats, fish, rice and noodles, vegetables and sweets. McDermott also includes menu suggestions and lists of pantry items and helpful utensils, although I used nothing more exotic than a frying pan and a colander.

Many of the ingredients you'll need for the recipes are available in your supermarket these days, although my search for Thai tea powder to make iced tea turned up empty, even at a large Asian grocery.

That was the only glitch, however, in testing a half dozen of McDermott's recipes.

The Chiang Mai Curry Noodles, a dish from northern Thailand, proved to be a filling meal of bite-size chicken chunks cooked in a broth of coconut milk, turmeric, curry paste, soy sauce and garlic and served over egg noodles. Spinach With Black Pepper and Garlic was a tasty and easy accompaniment to a southern Thai dish of fried catfish flavored with turmeric.

But the best dish I tried was the Chicken Satay With Spicy Peanut Sauce. This classic Thai snack takes only minutes to cook and becomes a meal when served along with jasmine rice and cucumbers.

Chicken Satay With Spicy Peanut Sauce

Serves 6 to 8

MARINADE FOR CHICKEN:

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts

SPICY PEANUT SAUCE:

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 tablespoon red curry paste

2 teaspoons roasted chili paste, optional

1/2 cup chicken broth or water

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar

1/4 cup chunky peanut butter or very finely ground peanuts

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice or tamarind liquid

Make the marinade by combining all of the ingredients except chicken into a large mixing bowl and stirring well. Cut chicken into generous, bite-size chunks. Add meat to marinade and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight.

To prepare peanut sauce, bring the coconut milk to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the curry paste and roasted chili paste, if desired, and cook 4 to 5 minutes, mashing and stirring occasionally to dissolve them. Add remaining ingredients and cook 1 minute more, stirring well to make a smooth sauce. Remove from heat, transfer to a small serving bowl, and set aside to cool.

The sauce can be served warm or at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate, reheating gently just before serving time.

Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Thread meat onto tips of skewers and cook on a lightly oiled hot grill or under a broiler, turning often, until browned and cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve at once with the peanut sauce.

Per serving: 199 calories; 14 grams protein; 14 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 5 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 38 milligrams cholesterol; 437 milligrams sodium

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