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This week's guest editor is JJ Goode, the writer behind Andy Ricker's new cookbook, Pok Pok. All week, he'll be sharing some of his favorite recipes from the book, and interviewing Andy about Thai cooking, and convincing us all to pick up a book and get in the kitchen.
Today, JJ kicks things off with an introduction and a fried egg salad.
I feel extremely lucky to have worked with Andy Ricker on his just-released first cookbook, Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand. I’m thrilled to be here to share a few of my favorite recipes from the book.
To me, the coolest thing about the food Andy cooks is that it isn’t his. He doesn’t riff on Thai flavors. He doesn’t experiment with kaffir lime and galangal. Instead, he has learned to systematically replicate the dishes he fell for during more than 20 years of traveling to Thailand. Having taken two trips with him to Thailand to eat the food that inspired his Pok Pok mini-empire, I can attest that his recreations taste virtually identical.
When we started the long process of writing the book, he was understandably insistent that the recipes provide the same level of fidelity. That’s why they rarely include shortcuts and only occasionally offer substitutions. Part of my job involved cooking through the recipes -- the formal recipe testing was done by the lovely and talented Andrea Slonecker; I cooked the recipes again to make doubly sure they worked -- and for this I faithfully followed his instructions, combing Asian markets for fresh betel leaf and pounding pastes in a granite mortar.
I learned that every ingredient he calls for is available in the U.S. -- online, in Asian grocery stores, at farmers markets, and at urbane supermarkets like Whole Foods, where in New York City at least, you can find not just lemongrass but also Thai chiles and fresh yellow turmeric root. And I learned that the results justify the effort, and that you really can cook real-deal kaeng hung leh (Northern Thai pork belly curry) at home.
Even after we finally finished the book and my official responsibilities ended, I kept cooking, because I love this food. I gravitated toward the book’s simpler recipes. They’re simple not because Andy dumbed them down, but because they just happen to be simple to make. Thai food, much like Mexican food, has developed a reputation based on its most complex cooking and obscure ingredients. Yet for every curry and mole, there is a salad or salsa -- something that anyone can make for a weeknight dinner. I hope these these recipes will hook you and inspire you to tackle the book’s more involved dishes.
If some of the recipes I share look long, that’s only because we decided that unfamiliar food and techniques deserve detailed instructions. Our goal is to help you make dishes so true to their Thai archetypes that not even Andy could tell the difference.
Thai salads are so damn tasty that we readily forgive them for not being particularly salad-like. A heap of warm squid doused in a mixture of chiles, fish sauce, and lime juice is light years away from a Caesar. Long eggplants charred on hot coals and tossed with hard-boiled egg, ground pork, and bright, spicy oil-less dressing is about as close as Thais get to a Cobb.
Of course, as I learned while working with Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker, Thais don’t use the word “salad,” which is just the crude English translation for the diverse culinary category of Thai food called yam. (By the way, this category does not include “papaya salad,” but that’s another story.) And after eating about a thousand examples of yam with him in Thailand, each less like salad than the next, I started to feel embarrassed about using the English word to refer to these dishes, like an uncle who still refers to the people of Asia as “Orientals.”
That is, until I watched him make a dish called yam khai dao. I mean, look at this dish! There are carrots and onions! There’s lettuce! Not only does it look like a Western salad, but it’s also about as easy to make. After you fry a couple eggs (in particularly hot oil, so the edges get brown and crispy), you make the sweet-sour-spicy-salty “dressing” and toss everything together.
Call it salad or whatever you want, but make it right away.
Serves 2 to 6 people as part of a meal
For the eggs and dressing
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 to 1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice (preferably from Key limes or spiked with a small squeeze of Meyer lemon juice)
1 1/2 tablespoons Palm Sugar Simple Syrup (Don't worry; it's easy to make! Here's the recipe.)
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons very thinly sliced garlic
2 fresh Thai chiles, preferably green, thinly sliced
For the salad
1 cup torn green leaf lettuce (about 2-inch pieces), lightly packed
1/4 cup thinly sliced yellow onion (cut with the grain)
1/4 cup long (about 3-inch), thin (about 1/8-inch) carrot strips
1/4 cup very coarsely chopped Chinese celery (thin stems and leaves), lightly packed
1/4 cup very coarsely chopped cilantro (thin stems and leaves), lightly packed
Book photos by Austin Bush. Photo of JJ and Andy via Vice.
Reprinted with permission from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker with J.J. Goode, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.