Bangkok: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Thailand, written by Leela Punyaratabandhu, features 120 recipes that showcase the spirit and incredible flavors of Bangkok, Thailand. I am sharing a recipe for Pan Sip Nueng Sai Kai (Thai Steamed Dumplings with Chicken-Peanut Filling) and other highlights include Kai Ho Bai Toei (Fried Chicken in Pandan Leaves), Pla Haeng-Taeng Mo (Watermelon with Fish Dip), Phat Thai Wun Sen Kung Ho Khai (Egg-Wrapped Glass Noodle Pad Thai with Shrimp), Al-Sa-Krim Thurian (Durian Ice Cream), and Tom Jio (Spicy Beef Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Basil).
Leela Punyaratabandhu was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand. She started her blog, SheSimmers, in 2008 in honor of her cookbook-addicted mother. She is also the author of Simple Thai Food and her work has appeared in CNN Travel, Wall Street Journal, Serious Eats, Food52, and more. She currently divides her time between Chicago and Bangkok.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Bangkok from Ten Speed Press in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
The chapters are divided as follows: My Life as a Bangkokian, The Food of Bangkok, A Bangkok Kitchen in Chicago, About this Book, The Bangkok Pantry, Savory Bites, Rice Accompaniments, Set Meals and One-Plate Meals, Sweets, and Basic Recipes.
Leela’s love of Bangkok shines through the pages with her passionate writing and personal stories. She includes childhood memories with her family along with the history and development of the cuisine of Bangkok. In between the recipes are cultural notes that further explore topics such as royal Thai cuisine, the use of bitter oranges, curry pastes, cook shops, Songkran (Thai New Year), street and boat noodles, and more.
There is a section on basic recipes to help build the foundation from scratch. For those new to Thai cooking, Leela describes the basic ingredients with an overview, tips, and substitutions when available.
The photography is provided by David Loftus. The styling is absolutely stunning and vibrant. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a full-page photo, generally of the finished dish. You will also find scenes in the city of Bangkok itself with photos of the sites, people, and food. The name of each dish is written in English and Thai (including romanization). Every recipe includes a headnote with personal information, history, tips, and serving size. Measurements are provided in US Customary.
This book is a great pick for those who enjoy Thai or Southeast Asian cuisine and wish to explore the food of Bangkok. Many of the recipes are on the complex side, so if you are a beginner then Leela’s first cookbook, Simple Thai Food (my review of the book), may be a better starting point. While there are a handful of well-known favorites, many of the incredible dishes covered are still not as common here in the United States. I loved exploring so many recipes that I had never heard of before. Having a market nearby with Southeast Asian ingredients is essential. Some of the more difficult to find items include fresh and dried bird’s eye chiles, tamarind paste, glutinous rice flour, palm sugar, fish sauce, galangal, Thai shrimp paste, pickled mustard greens, lap cheong, cardamom pods, dried shrimp, lemongrass, glutinous rice, banana leaves, pandan, durian, makrut lime,and more.
I had never heard of Pan Sip Nueng Sai Kai (Thai Steamed Dumplings with Chicken-Peanut Filling) before, but am so happy to now have them in my life. These savory little bites are naturally gluten-free with a chewy tapioca and rice flour wrapping enclosing a sweet and salty chicken peanut filling. Leela’s recipe has been passed down for three generations and they are becoming exceedingly more difficult to locate among vendors in Bangkok.
The dumplings are formed into bite-sized morsels. After steaming, they are brushed with a garlic oil and served with lettuce leaves, fresh bird’s eye chilies, cilantro, and fried garlic. Claire was especially fond of their small size.
For those who have formed dumplings with wheat flour, these are a little more difficult to deal with. Forming them into small shapes adds to the complexity. When not working with the formed dough, keep an inverted bowl over it to keep it from drying out. Keeping your hands coated in rice flour will also help decrease the sticking. This dough also tears easily, so be gently with the folding and there is a fine line between flattening them too thinly or keeping the dough too thick. I tore my first couple, but soon got the hang of it. If one does tear, gently press the surrounding dough together to patch it up.
To make the fried garlic and fried garlic oil: Use a mortar and pestle to pound the garlic into little pieces about the size of match heads. Place the garlic in a frying pan and add the vegetable oil over medium heat. Heat the mixture until the oil begins to sizzle, then decrease to medium low, stirring occasionally, until the garlic turns golden brown. Place a fine mesh sieve over a small heat-proof bowl and pour in the oil and garlic. Allow to cool to room temperature. The oil and garlic can be stored separately in airtight containers, 3 weeks for the garlic and 2 months for the oil. I love having these ingredients on hand now. They definitely add an extra boost of flavor.
I also made Kai Op Phrik Thai Dam (Black Pepper Roasted Chicken), Khao Kaeng Kari Nuea (Beef Yellow Curry on Rice, Chinatown Style), Bami Yok Haeng Mu Daeng (Jade Noodles with Barbecued Pork), and Roti Wan (Sweet Roti).
Kai Op Phrik Thai Dam, Black Pepper Roasted Chicken, is one of the easier dishes I came across, but still incredibly flavorful. A whole chicken is marinated overnight, then rubbed with a garlic/pepper/cilantro mixture before roasting until golden. It is served with steamed glutinous rice and sweet chili sauce. It also held up well for Chad’s leftovers the next day.
Khao Kaeng Kari Nuea is a type of yellow curry popular in Bangkok’s Chinatown. For those not used to heat or for children, it is a great primer with a more mild spice level. Slices of beef are simmered in a coconut milk base with a paste of dried and fresh chiles, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, and makrut lime. It is served with jasmine rice, hard-boiled eggs, chiles, cucumber, and lap cheong (Chinese dried sweet sausage).
Bami Yok Haeng Mu Daeng may be one of my new favorite noodle dishes. Fresh egg noodles (naturally green jade noodles used here) are tossed with garlic oil and topped with “red” barbecued pork and yu choi sum (Chinese flowering mustard greens). It took a little planning ahead of time to prepare the barbecued pork and the noodle dough, but didn’t take long at the time of assembly. Fish sauce, a little sugar, pickled chiles, chile powder, fried garlic, and ground peanuts are added for additional seasonings.
The Roti Wan, Sweet Roti, is a dessert version of the popular flatbread. The trick to forming the addictive bread is to allow the dough to rest for 48 hours before stretching and folding. This creates the perfect base to drizzle sweetened condensed milk and sugar.
Pan Sip Nueng Sai Kai (Steamed Dumplings with Chicken-Peanut Filling)
Excerpt from Bangkok
3 large cloves garlic
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro roots or stems
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 tablespoon homemade lard or vegetable oil
1/3 cup finely diced shallots
12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, chopped with a cleaver to a coarse grind or coarsely ground in a food processor
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons packed grated palm sugar or 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups Thai tapioca starch
3/4 cup Thai rice flour, plus more for working with the dough
1/2 cup Thai glutinous rice flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Banana leaf, wiped clean with a damp cloth, for lining steamer tier
1/4 cup fried garlic oil
1/4 cup fried garlic
About 24 green lettuce leaves
Plump fresh bird’s eye chiles, as many as you like
1/2 inch bunch cilantro
To make the filling, in a mortar, grind together the garlic, cilantro roots, and peppercorns to a smooth paste. Transfer the paste to a 10-inch frying pan, add the lard and shallots, and set over medium-high heat. Fry until the shallots have softened, about 1 minute. Add the chicken, salt, and sugar and stir-fry, breaking up the chicken as finely as possible with the blunt end of a wooden spatula, until the chicken is opaque and all of the moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped peanuts and transfer the filling to a plate to cool, spreading it as thinly as possible to speed the process.
To make the dough, while the filling cools, in a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. (You won’t need all of the water, but it’s better to have more than you need on hand.) Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, stir together the tapioca starch, rice flour, glutinous rice flour, salt, and oil until the oil is fully dispersed into the dry ingredients and becomes invisible. Get a sturdy wooden spoon ready. The moment the water is at a rolling boil, slowly pour it in a thin stream into the center of the flour mixture while simultaneously using the wooden spoon to stir everything together briskly. Stop adding the water the moment a stiff and shaggy ball of dough forms that cleans the bottom and sides of the bowl. If in doubt, err on the side of too little water, as you can always add more. With one hand, knead the dough lightly in the bowl, using your palm to gather the dough into a ball and your knuckles to push it down, just until the dough is smooth and supple, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a smooth ball, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and then invert the bowl over the dough. Let rest for 30 minutes.
At this point, you should have a ball of dough that weighs about 1 1/2 pounds and 2 cups filling. The goal is to make 48 dumplings, each with 2 teaspoons filling. Do your best to divide the dough into 48 uniform pieces (a scale comes in handy here) and roll each piece into a smooth ball about 1 inch in diameter. Keep the balls under an overturned bowl. Line a steamer tier with parchment paper or a piece of banana leaf.
Have additional rice flour nearby for dipping your fingers as you assemble the dumplings, as the dough can get sticky. Use your fingers to flatten a dough ball into a round 2 1/2-2 3/4 inches in diameter and of even thickness. Place the dough round in the center of your cupped palm and push the center down a bit so the wrapper looks like a flared bowl. Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center. Fold the wrapper over the filling to form a half-moon. Pinch the edges of the wrapper together -quite hard- to form a very flat seal from one end to the other.
You can stop at this point or you can give your dumplings a beautiful rope edge by using the tips of the fingers of your nondominant hand to grab a sealed dumpling by its “belly” and hold it vertically. Starting from the bottom end, use the thumb and the index finger of your dominant hand to fold the seal upward and pinch it down on itself to secure the first pleat. Repeat, forming decorative pleats until you reach the top end. Tuck the end of the “rope” behind the top end and secure it with a light squeeze. If at any point the dough gets too sticky to fold, dip your fingers into the rice flour. Set the dumpling aside on a lightly floured surface and cover it with a kitchen towel. Repeat until you have used all of the dough and filling.
When all of the dumplings have been shaped, bring the water in the steamer pot to a rolling boil. Working in batches, arrange the dumplings in the prepared steamer tier, spacing them 1/2 inch apart. Set over the boiling water, cover, and steam the dumplings until the wrappers turn glossy and slightly translucent, 5-6 minutes. Meanwhile, brush a large platter with a thin coat of the garlic oil. When the dumplings are ready, use a spoon to gently transfer them one by one to the prepared platter and brush a little oil on them to keep them from sticking together. Steam the remaining dumplings in the same way.
Sprinkle the dumplings with the fried garlic and serve them while they are still warm by wrapping in half a leaf of lettuce along with a little bit of chile and a sprig of cilantro and enjoying it in one bite.