Nong’s Thai Kitchen: 84 Classic Recipes that are Quick, Healthy and Delicious, written by Nongkran Daks and Alexandra Greeley, highlights restaurant-quality Thai cooking in a way that is approachable to the home cook. You will find favorites like Kuay Tiaw Pad Thai, Tom Yum Kai (Spicy Lemongrass Soup with Chicken and Mushrooms), Kang Masaman Nua (Beef Curry with Potatoes and Peanuts), Khao Pat Horapa (Old-Fashioned Fried Rice with Thai Basil and Crispy Shallots), and Kluai Hom Pha (Deep-Fried Bananas in Spring Roll Wrappers) alongside some lesser known dishes such as Thai Quesadillas, Tua Tod (Peanut Wafers), Yam Khao Phod (Corn Salad), Plaa Pao (Grilled Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaves with Tamarind Dipping Sauce), Kang Phet Ped Yang (Roasted Duck Curry with Wild Eggplants and Tomatoes), and Khao Pad American (American Fried Rice).
Nongkran Daks was born in Chumporn province in Southern Thailand. She started cooking at an early age by helping prepare a variety of curry pastes to sell in the open market. After graduating from Kasetsart University with a degree in agricultural economics, she married her husband, an American Peace Corps volunteer, and moved all over the world including the USA, China, Laos, and Taiwan. She began teaching cooking and ran a snack bar in Bangkok called Nong’s Kitchen. Following her move to Washington, DC in 1996, Nongkran opened her restaurant, Thai Basil, in Chantilly, Virginia. She is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier and has authored The Secrets of Thai Cooking, Wok Cooking Made Easy, plus Thai Noodles and Snacks, Homestyle Vietnamese Cooking, and Thai Soups and Salads with Alexandra Greeley. She also won the Food Network’s Pad Thai Throwdown with Bobby Flay.
Alexandra Greeley is a food writer and cookbook author based in the Washington, DC area. She was a co-founder of the DC chapter of Slow Food USA and a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier. She has also been an editor for Vegetarian Times, food writer and editor for South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and restaurant reviewer for Gayot.com.
Chapters are divided based on course: Thai Appetizers and Finger Food; Thai Soups; Thai Salads; Thai Poultry, Meat, and Seafood; Thai Curries; Thai Noodles and Rice Dishes; Thai Vegetarian Dishes; and Thai Desserts and Drinks.
The book begins with Nongkran’s history and the progression of her love of cooking. She discusses the development of Thai cooking and influences from neighboring countries and the traditions surrounding meal times. A brief introduction to Thai ingredients and utensils is provided with photos, descriptions, usage, storage, and substitutions if possible. For those new to Thai cooking, basic techniques are included such as how to make pandan and tamarind juice, toast rice and seeds, and roll cut vegetables to expose more surface area to heat during stir-frying. Nongkran also lists online sources for Thai ingredients.
The dishes are listed in English and Thai (Roman script). Every recipe includes a headnote with background information, ingredient help, and tips. Measurements are written in US Customary and Metric. The photography is provided by Jeff Rosendhal. Most of the recipes include a quarter to full page photo of the finished dish. Some step-by-step photos are provided for certain techniques such as how to peel a pomelo, make banana leaf cups, and use a mortar and pestle.
This book is a great pick for those interesting in trying Thai cooking or wanting to recreate restaurant favorites at home. Recipes range from minimal effort to the more advanced. While most of the dishes are fairly easy to prepare for the novice cook, a few do require a long list of ingredients- generally spices. Many of the ingredients may require a trip to an Asian food market specializing in Thai cuisine or purchasing online including yellow soybean sauce, pandan, rhizome, fish sauce, palm sugar, dried shrimp, lemongrass, galangal, mace, kaffir lime, Thai chilies, shrimp paste, Thai plum sauce, and more. As a note, this book tends to not stay open while flat.
Laab Nua is a salad dish from northeastern Thailand (Isan) and Laos. Finely chopped beef is tossed with fish sauce, lime juice, mint, shallots, green onion, garlic, cilantro, rice powder, and chili before serving with a variety of vegetables and sticky rice. Not a fan of beef? The seasonings also work well with pork, chicken, and catfish. Chad generally doesn’t like mint, but loved it paired with the seasonings in this Laab.
This dish has quite a bit of heat. If you need less spice (or have small children), you can dial back the chili powder. I took out some of the meat for the kids before adding in the chili powder to the rest of the meal.
This was a very easy recipe to make and took only about 30 minutes total (with the rice steaming while the other ingredients were prepared). I served the Laab Nua with fresh mint and cilantro, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and steamed sticky rice. You can also add a variety of your favorite assorted vegetables such as cabbage, Thai basil, or raw green beans. I soaked the sticky rice in water for 6 hours before steaming in a bamboo basket lined with parchment for 20-30 minutes. If you do not have sticky rice available, you can also use jasmine rice.
Toasted rice powder (khao kua) is a seasoning popular in northeastern Thailand. Uncooked, white sticky rice is toasted until golden, then ground into a powder. It helps thicken sauces and adds a smokey accent. It is available in many Asian food markets, but also easy to make at home. Set a dry wok or pan over medium heat. Add uncooked sticky rice and cook, stirring constantly, until toasted. Pour into a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and blend until broken into a powder. Definitely don’t skimp on this ingredient. It is one of the key flavors for Laab.
I also made Burger Kai (Thai Chicken Burgers with Thai Pesto), Kuay Tiaw Khee Mao Nua (Fresh Rice Noodles with Beef and Thai Basil), Khao Nieu Mamuang (Sweet Sticky Rice and Mangoes), and Kafee Yen (Thai Iced Coffee).
Nongkran developed her Burger Kai, Thai Chicken Burgers, from a family recipe during her childhood using ground pork in the form of a “pork patty.” Instead of serving with the traditional rice, she substitutes with ground chicken and serves the patty on a bun with sliced vegetables. The buns are seasoned nicely with fish sauce, soy sauce, and a “pesto” paste with a Thai twist. This one was a hit with the whole family.
Noodles are a popular for lunch in Thailand and come in many variations. Kuay Tiaw Khee Mao Nua are fresh rice noodles tossed with beef, Thai basil, onion, broccoli, and a seasoning sauce. It was definitely perfect for lunch since it came together so quickly.
Khao Nieu Mamuang, Sweet Sticky Rice and Mangoes, is one of Thailand’s most popular desserts. Sticky rice is steamed, traditionally in a woven cone-shaped bamboo basket, then soaked in a sweetened coconut milk sauce. It is served with pieces of mango with a little more sauce drizzled over the top. It was a great way to use up mangoes as the season is coming to an end.
This recipe for Thai coffee uses Oliang powder, Thai instant coffee, available in Asian grocery stores. Traditionally the coffee is served with sweetened condensed milk, but Nongkran uses the lighter evaporated milk or half-and-half. If you aren’t a fan of coffee, the instant coffee powder can be exchanged for Thai tea powder.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Tuttle Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Laab Nua (Thai Spicy Beef with Mint Leaves)
Adapted from Nong’s Thai Kitchen
1 pound (500 grams) lean chopped or minced beef
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (30 grams) fresh mint leaves
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 stems fresh cilantro, finely chopped
3 tablespoons toasted rice powder
1 teaspoon ground chili
Assorted vegetables for accompaniments
Place a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium heat without oil. Once heated, add the beef and garlic and cook, stirring often, until browned and cooked through, about 7 minutes.
Transfer the cooked beef to a large bowl and allow to cool slightly.
Mix in the lime juice, fish sauce, and salt. Add the mint leaves, shallots, green onions, cilantro stems, rice powder, and ground chili. Mix to combine.
Serve on a platter with a variety of vegetables and accompany with sticky rice.