Kaffir lime leaves
Widely used in spicy Thai soups and curries, either cooked whole, together with the dish, and/or finely shredded and added before serving. If you can’t find fresh kefir lime it can be substituted with dried kefir lime leaves but these need to be soaked before use.
Thai sweet basil
A variety of the sweet basil with a taste of anise. It is used in different curries such as red and green curry and often also served separately. One of the primary medicinal uses for basil is for its anti-inflammatory properties. This effect stems from eugenol, a volatile oil in basil that blocks enzymes in the body that cause swelling, making basil an ideal treatment for people with arthritis.
Holy basil has a distinctive scent of clove and reddish tipped leaves. It is used, for instance, in the well known Kraphao mu (minced pork fried with basil).
You will recognize it by its light green stem and it’s lemony flavor. It is used in soups, salads and curries – especially those containing seafood.
The leaves are seen often as a garnish in many Thai dishes. It is indispensable for Tom yam soup and has also been found to remove heavy metals like mercury, aluminum, and lead from the body.
The roots of the coriandrum sativum are often used in curry pastes and certain soups such as Tom yam kung.
Either served raw (shredded or diced) with dishes such as Miang kham and Khanom chin sao nam, in certain chilli dips, or in stir fried dishes of Chinese origin. Ginger can be kept in the freezer, after defrosting just squeeze the juice out of the root.
For over 2 thousand years Chinese medicine has recommended the use of ginger to help cure and prevent several health problems. It is known to promote energy circulation in the body while positively increasing the body’s metabolic rate.
The perfume-like scent and flavour of the galangal root is characteristic for many Thai curries and spicy soups. Like ginger, galangal can be kept in the freezer. Among many other health benefits Galangal contains anti-inflammatory properties and therefore is beneficial in the effective treatment of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
This yellow coloured root is often used in dishes of Muslim/Southern Thai origin and in Northern Thailand for Northern style curries. The outer skin need to be removed before use. This root can also be stored in the freezer! Recently turmeric has hit the headlines because of claims that curcumin, which is the main active constituent of turmeric, could help prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Besides being used cooked or fried, garlic is used raw in many dips and salad dressings. I’m pretty sure that you know that garlic is good for you but did you know that in order to maximize the health benefits, you should crush the garlic at room temperature and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes. Doing this triggers an enzyme reaction that boosts the healthy compounds in garlic.
Used extensively in many Thai dishes such as curries, spicy soups and salads. The outside layer is discarded together with the straw like top. It’s is used finely chopped in curry pastes or sliced in soups, drinks or in teas. Lemongrass, or citronella as its also called, is well known for its calming effect that relieves insomnia or stress. It is also popular as a non toxic insect repellant.
There are a number of different types of chilies in Thai cooking. Young chillies are green in color and are spicier than the red ones that are ripe. To determine the spiciness of chilies you also have to look at the size, smaller chillies are spicier than large ones. One of the most commonly used chilies in Thai cuisine is the Bird’s eye chili. This small chilli is one of the spiciest, even the red ones has a proper punch in them! The Thai name literally translates to “mouse-dropping chilli”
Medium sized chilies, jalapeño chili, are used for their colour when making pastes and may be uses instead of the small ones if you don’t want your dish too spices.
Large chilies are mainly used in stir fries and as a decoration.
Thai cuisine often uses fresh (green) peppercorns in stir fried dishes and in certain curries such as Kaeng pa (so-called Jungle Curry).
Black and white pepper
Used in pastes, sauces and condiments. From ancient times, black pepper is one of the most widely traded spices in the world and is the most commonly used spice in the western world. Black pepper helps in transporting the benefits of other herbs to different parts of body so don’t be shy, take a few extra laps with your grinder before enjoying a nutrient rich salad!
Thai shrimp paste
Made by fermenting ground shrimp and salt. It has a pungent aroma and is used in red curry paste, and in the famous chili paste called nam phrik.
Tamarind comes from a tree and looks like brown long beans, inside you will find seeds and tangy flesh. There are two types of tamarind, sweet and sour. The sweet kind is eaten as a fruit and the sour one is made into a juice and is used in cooking. These day you will find tamarind paste in many western food stores and this can be diluted and used as a substitute, as well can lime in lemon.
Oyster sauce is of Chinese origin. It is used extensively in vegetable and meat stir-fries.
Thai fish sauce is a very aromatic and strong tasting fish sauce which can be made from different types of fish and seafood. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Thai cuisine and imparts a unique character to Thai food. If you are vegetarian or allergic to seafood you can use a light soya sauce as a substitute.
Dark soya sauce
Thai “dark” soya sauce is similar to the dark Chinese soya sauce (which is more common is our western supermarkets).
Light soya sauce
Thai “light” soya sauce is similar to the light Chinese soya sauce.
Yellow soybean paste
Yellow soybean paste has a sweet and salty taste which is more “earthy” than that of soya sauce. It is used, for instance, in the dish Phak bung fai daeng (stir-fried water spinach).