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A Glossary of Thai Cuisine

by Sally Bernstein

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A sweet, aromatic black seed spice encased in a hard pale green shell much like a tiny head of garlic, used in massaman curry.

Many types are used in Thai cooking, both fresh and dried, whole and ground; the smallest and hottest is birds eye; dried red chilies are popular.

coconut milk
Grate fresh coconut meat with boiling water or use canned coconut milk that has been diluted in half with water.

The whole, round seeds of cilantro is roasted and ground to use as a spice in curry pastes.

curry paste
An intensely flavored paste of herbs and spices used to flavor coconut curries and soups; either home-made or store bought (as an alternative); red, green or golden in color.

fish sauce
"Nam pla" or a thin salty brown extraction of small fish such as anchovies; sold in bottles; used to season many Thai dishes.

First cousin of ginger; is pale and creamy encircled with thin, dark rings; has a sharp peppery-lemony taste; is used in large, thin pieces to flavor soups, stews and curries.

lemon grass
Long, pale green stalks have a woody texture and a lemony scent; seldom eaten because of the fibrous texture; placed in sauces, soups and curries.

lime leaves
Kaffir lime leaves can be grown fresh or bought dried and stored in a spice jar; added to Thai dishes while they are cooking.

palm sugar
Dark brown compressed sugar made from palm trees or coconut palms; added to sauces, curries and sweets; brown sugar can be used as a substitute.

Thai people prefer the aromatic, long-grain white Jasmine rice cooked by the absorption method; the taste is toasty and nutty; sold in 25 pound sacks at Asian markets.

shrimp paste
Salty paste of sun-dried, salted shrimp used in curries, sauces and soups; has a very strong, fishy flavor and smell; the consistency of thick mud; sold in small jars.

star anise
An eight-pointed brown seed pod shaped like a star with a strong anise flavor; one ingredient of the Chinese five spice powder.

sticky rice
Opaque, short-grain also called glutinous and sweet rice; staple of northern Thailand; cooks to a thick starchy mass; used in desserts.

The ripe fruit of the tamarind tree with a sweet-sour taste; sold in small blocks of dark brown pulp in Asian markets; soak in warm water, mash to a thick soft paste and strain to use.

Thai coffee
Roasted sesame seed and corn kernels are added to Thai coffee for an unusual burnt flavor; served either ice cold and sweet with evaporated milk or hot with sweetened condensed milk.

Thai tea
Cinnamon, vanilla, star anise and food coloring give Thai black tea its flavor and terra-cotta coloring; served cold and very sweet or hot at the end of the meal.

more on Thai Cuisine...
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Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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