"Who ... would think of putting such disparate ingredients together - shredded chicken, prawns, grapes, oranges, fried garlic, fried shallots and roasted peanuts - and then of dressing them with lime juice, sugar, salt and green chillies? Only the Thais. Yet this salad is so good that, when I serve it, my guests cannot stop marvelling - or eating." Madhur Jaffrey
This is the first of my Madhur Jaffrey books in the First recipe series of posts. We are about to have a batch of them - Madhur Jaffrey books that is - although some of her books are elsewhere on my shelves because they don't fit on this one. I have quite a few because her recipes, maybe even the non-Indian ones above all others, are so good. So different, so easy and so tasty. If you haven't got a Madhur Jaffrey book buy one now.
Today's book is one of her very few non-Indian cookbooks, being an exploration of the food of the far east. Not her normal territory. In her introduction she explains her interest:
"I started travelling to the Far East almost twenty-five ears ago, marvelling on each trip at how well people ate, at the freshness of their ingredients and their combinations of cooking techniques and seasonings that produced highly nutritious and delicious foods with such ease."
I confess that I do not actually cook a lot of Asian food other than Indian. Well there is the occasional 'what's in the fridge' stir fry but I would hardly suggest that these are anything like a true Asian would cook. As for Chinese food - I have just never mastered it. I think I bought this book because I thought that, being Madhur Jaffrey, it would be a very good start. And it is really, though once again I confess that I have not cooked a lot from it.
In her introduction she says:
"You should not be put off by the 'foreignness' of some of the ingredients. Just remember that at one time potatoes, tomatoes and corn were 'foreign' and so were mangoes, black pepper and cinnamon. Ingredients, indeed whole dishes, once travelled through the world at the cumbersome pace of the mortals who transported them - on foot, by boat or on horseback."
And I should heed her words, for I think this is one of the things that most puts me off about Asian food. Ditto for some Middle-eastern food I have to confess. But really there is no excuse for virtually all of those ingredients are now freely available in our local supermarket and if not there, in the almost local Chinese supermarket.
I think I found this to be particularly true of Thai food. If memory serves me correctly my first experience of Thai food was in a luxury hotel in Bangkok on one of David's pseudo conference things, and I do think that the very first dish I had was a beef salad. I was blown away. So spicy and so light. Subsequent visits to Thailand merely confirmed this view, and so I determined to try it at home, for this was before we had a plethora of local Thai restaurants to service our cravings. Alas I think my first venture into Thai cookbooks was one of David Thompson's - the high priest of Australian Thai food. And there were all those strange ingredients - that you couldn't get - and complicated recipes. So I gave up.
But only for a while. Eventually I was drawn back in with much more success by Charmaine Solomon, and The Australian Women's Weekly - so much simpler and more enticing. I had missed the distinctive Thai touch because
"Thai food virtually bursts with contrasting hot, sweet, sour and salty flavours. The Thais have taken some of the best ideas from the cooking of the Malays, Chinese and Indians, thrown in their own zesty spirit and their love of the raw, crunchy, aromatic and colourful and have come up with a cuisine that is unmatched in its combination of lightness and seductive earthiness." Madhur Jaffrey
And I did cook quite a few Thai dishes from these two books and then wanting to increase my repertoire I bought this book by Madhur Jaffrey and another from Beverley Sutherland Smith. Recently I have dabbled with Luke Nguyen - though he is Vietnam, not Thailand.
Alas now I cannot do much Thai cooking because Thai food as you know is pretty spicy and my husband has developed an aversion to spicy in recent years. And coconut. And this recipe is definitely a no no because it also has prawns in it which he also does not like.
This first recipe is for Yam polamai (Yam or yum means salad) which is basically a fruit salad but with a typical Thai dressing of sugar, lime juice, chilli and garlic, and probably fish sauce too - Charmaine Solomon adds the fish sauce, Madhur Jaffrey does not. The picture at left is Charmaine Solomon's version, and the one at the top of the page is Madhur Jaffrey's as interpreted by one Madhu Menon, a chef with a website called MadMan Cooks. He said he just added some mint to his version. I noticed that several of the recipes I found did not have either the chicken or the prawns, but then again several of them did. The only other version I have in my library is from Charmaine Solomon and it is virtually identical, although she does not have quite as much of a mélange. By the way, both of them say that the fruit that you use can vary according to what you have to hand. Madhu Menon apparently has a restaurant (in America I think) and says that he has it on his menu but that people do not often choose it which he regards as a great pity. It would be good at a barbecue would it not?
As to the first recipe idea - for a book which is about the cooking of several countries you would think that she would arrange it by country. But no it's a basic arrangement - so this recipe heads up first courses. After her general Introduction she does give a short overview of each country included in this book - no China, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia or Laos here which is interesting. Each recipe also has an introduction of its own. But again, as a first recipe, you would think that you would have a picture would you not? But then again, there are not a lot of pictures anyway and what there are are clumped together throughout the book and many of them are of places rather than food. It's a BBC book of a television series, so I'm guessing the producers at the BBC decided on the format of both the series and the book. It was published in 1989.
Interesting - and definitely worth a try some day.