Friday, June 28, 2013

The Stranger's version of Thai Spicy Chicken with Basil

Post Update:

Thank you reader L for trying out my recipe and 'liking' it! Hopefully I will have more such updates on all my recipe posts!

"Thanks! I never would have attempted this meal if not for your recipe." - L


Since my last post on self-cooked food more than a year ago, I have not stopped cooking. I just haven't had the time or energy to take pictures of the cooking process and put it in a post to share with everyone until now (and this is due to requests from a few friends).

In the past, I never wanted to cook Thai food in my own kitchen. Why? The reason is simple. Thai food, though not necessarily the most difficult to cook, usually involves a lot of different ingredients (to generate the many dimensions of flavours in every bite), and just the thought of preparing the ingredients to cook for a couple of people will motivate me sufficiently to take a short walk to any shop by the road outside to have infinitely more authentic Thai food instead.

However, after all these years, I realized the need to create my own versions of Thai food too, to capitalize on the ease of obtaining key local ingredients and to 'know' what I am actually eating, or at the very least, know that I am NOT eating mounds of MSG/chicken powder. So here's my healthier version of Thai Spicy Chicken with Basil.

The vegetarian ingredients

Before I start, I would like to clarify a that if you are thinking this is the dark spicy tasty basil chicken (aka kraprow gai) you find by the streets of Thailand, it is not. It's a version that I eat frequently in my office cooked by my colleague which tastes different but just as good.

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

  1. Boneless chicken thigh 2pcs, diced into large cubes
  2. Lots of garlic and chilli, pounded or ground into a paste (I recommend at least 5-6 chillis and as much garlic as you want)
  3. Half a carrot, shredded finely (optional)
  4. Thai round eggplant 5 pcs (as shown in the picture above), quartered
  5. A big bunch of Thai basil
  1. Juice of 1 lemon, preferably the round green Thai version, not the yellow one
  2. Thai fish sauce
  3. Dash of pepper
  4. Pinch of sugar
Cooking Procedure:
  1. With a bit of hot oil in the pan, fry the garlic and chilli paste until fragrant, or until you choke and cough
  2. Throw the shredded carrot and eggplant into the mix, they need more cooking than the chicken (not nice if the eggplant isn't soft)
  3. When the vegetables look half cooked, time to add in the chicken, then season with fish sauce
  4. Add some water (more if you like more gravy, like I do) and let it bubble away until everything is cooked
  5. Add pepper, sugar, lemon juice, and if required more fish sauce to taste
  6. Finally add in the big bunch of basil and stir around till it wilts, tadaaa, ready to serve!

Sorry if my instructions look ambiguous. I don't usually cook according to recipes, so my recipes will not be too detailed. In a nutshell, the dish should taste pretty salty, spicy enough to put you on the verge of tears, and a twinge of acidity will cut through all the heat.

My version of Thai spicy chicken with basil

Before I sign off, I just want to say that this dish is very versatile. You could use any meat or even shrimp, tweak how spicy you want it to be, or even change the vegetables (not all are suitable, but things like long beans/baby corn/bamboo shoot should work just fine). 

There are just a couple of details that you HAVE to follow to retain the soul of the dish:
  • You absolutely HAVE to make the effort to either pound the garlic and chilli in a pestle and mortar, or grind them into a paste in the blender. No two ways about it. Forget about cooking this dish if you plan to use sliced garlic/chilli.
  • To make these stir-fried dishes taste distinctly Thai, the salt agent will have to be fish sauce, and Thai basil HAS to be incorporated. Remember, Thai basil (refer to the picture), not the basil you use in your pasta sauces.
  • Thai dishes boast dimensions. The squeeze of lemon will make a lot of difference.
That's all from me, till we meet again during the next episode of "Cooking with Uncle Eddie".

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Stranger in Bangkok's take on the haze situation in Singapore

For last few days, my Facebook newsfeed and various LINE chat groups have been dominated by 1 topic: the haze situation in Singapore. It even managed to hog the headlines on Bangkok Post. Looking at the PSI high of 400 and the dramatic exchanges between Indonesia and Singapore, no wonder it is THE biggest news now.

The mad scramble for N95 masks, as well as the calls for the government to do more reminded me very much about the catastrophic floods in Thailand almost exactly 2 years ago. Although I was technically untouched by the floodwaters during that ordeal, I think the mental stress I had experienced bear a lot of similarities to what the folks in Singapore are going through now.

Firstly, both 'disasters' are somewhat caused by nature. Yes, I know, Indonesia should really stop burning forests every year and the Thai government can do more to regulate the water levels in dams upcountry to avoid floods, but the wind directions are not in Singapore's favour, neither was the amount of rain in Thailand two years ago. These were major factors that no one could really control.

The people in Thailand waited and waited for the government to react properly, but after countless promises, alarm signals were not even given on time. Frequently, districts were flooded before flood warnings were received. People ended up fending for themselves. It was pretty frantic, but unity and love would finally prevail and the country emerged from it arguably stronger than before.

In terms of efficiency, there is no comparison between the governments in Thailand and Singapore. It is natural to expect a better response from the Singapore government to help its people in need because of its track record and the smaller country size and population, but no matter what the authorities do, they cannot please everyone. Even if they can please most, you might not fall into that category. The point I am trying to make is, you have to help yourself first.

By helping yourself, I don't mean hoarding. During the flood saga, I could not even conveniently find drinking water, rice, canned food and instant noodles in supermarkets because of a small proportion of frantic people who swept everything off the shelves. Fortunately, because of my connections, I was lucky to obtain enough drinking water to last my family for weeks, then started distributing the same amount of water to all my staff to prepare them for the worst. I learnt not to rely on numbers or statistics given by authorities, but to prepare ourselves sufficiently, then start helping the others you love around you.

From these 2 cases, we have been abruptly reminded of the forces of nature and the hard fact that no one can truly escape from them, regardless of where we are geographically located.

Please take good care of yourselves and your loved ones, wear masks when required and drink plenty of water. May all of us eventually emerge stronger, or at the very least, more prepared in every way for the inevitable challenges that lie ahead.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hidden Dining Jewels in sub-urban Eastern Bangkok

The Stranger in Bangkok is ready to open another mini-series on my blog.

Ok ok, I know, the last one I opened (Running a business in Thailand) is still stuck at 1 post, but believe me, I have plans to write many more posts on that topic, soon!

As many of you know, I have been in Bangkok for nearly 4 years. Since I came, I have been living in the sub-urban residential areas on the Eastern side of Bangkok. Over the years, I have experienced so much growth and development in this area that I feel it is now ready to be blogged about, starting with dining establishments.

My analysis of the BTS Sukhumvit Line
If you have been to Bangkok, I am sure you would have spent most of your time in the blue area of the BTS Line, where I consider to be the tourist haunt. This is where Phad Thai is commonly found in restaurants, and cafes still bother to dig cavities in whole pineapples to present what is called the pineapple rice, which is really just fried rice.

If you venture a little further East into the red zone, you will find a really nice and hip area where young working local adults and expats like to hang out. Chic dining and clubbing options are starting to saturate this area, especially along Ekkamai and Thong Lor.

I am going to focus my series on excellent dining establishments hidden in the green zone, where I consider the Eastern Oasis of Bangkok, that is located beyond On-Nut (these stations belong the recently-open Sukhumvit Line extension).

From excellent street food to cool bistros and authentic Italian restaurants, I virtually do not have to step out of my vicinity to enjoy everything.

Stay tuned if you would like to know more!

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