I have been using a hot stove since I was 4 years old. Neverminding for a moment the parenting that would allow me to use a burner at such an early age – I was immediately curious about cooking from the moment my young brain could grasp the concept, and immediately wanted to try my hand at it. So I began experimenting, figuring things out, and I actually became pretty good at it. Maybe it was my informal training, or more likely my pride, but I never liked using recipes. I preferred to make my own recipes up on the fly. I liked the challenge and the creative freedom that approach allowed me.
I also loved to go out to eat, and was eating sushi, Indian food, all sorts of Asian foods, just about anything I could get my hands on growing up in New York City (which is everything) at about the same time I started to learn to cook. My mother, though American, spent a great deal of her adolescence in Asia, so our family had a particular fondness for the different flavors we were allowed to experience with Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, etc., compared to what we considered more standard fare.
Naturally I tried to recreate some of my favorite dishes. I would try to figure out what made up the dish I was eating, and see if I couldn’t figure out shortcuts to create my own approximation of the thing at home. If I really hit a wall, I would look up a recipe, but once I better grasped a recipe I liked to immediately try tweaking it. So here are a few of my cockamamied recipes for some Thai food staples I’m sure you’ve all had before. And if you haven’t, you won’t know what you’re missing!
Chicken Satay Kebab
What you’ll need: a kitchen knife, chopping block, saucepan, baking pan, measuring cups (small bowls will work fine), wooden stirring ladle, skewers, marinade brush, oven mitts (safety first).
Ingredients: green onion, garlic, peanut butter, soy sauce, chicken breasts, cayenne (or hot sauce), olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, and curry.
Preparation: First preheat your oven, and set it to broil. Cover your baking pan in tin foil and set it aside. Then, cut the chicken into cubes small enough to be skewered. Each breast if cut into thick cubes will make about one skewer, but you can stretch that out to two skewers by cubing the chicken into smaller portions. Once you skewer them give them a nice coat of olive oil with with your marinade brush and place them in the pan, which should also get a lick of olive oil on the bottom. (This will help give the exterior of the chicken a nice crisp skin while keeping the inside from burning and trapping in the flavor.) Next, finely chop about two stalks of green onion, a small handful of cilantro, and mince a few cloves of garlic (to taste, but 3-4 should do it) and place them in a bowl. Once that is done add a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter (I prefer crunchy) to your 16-ounce measuring cup. Add a squirt of lime juice, about an 1/8th of a cup of water, and half a cup of soy sauce (I use Bragg’s Liquid Aminos). Throw in a few pinches of cayenne (or a few teaspoons of hot sauce) and curry powder. This is where the heat is going to come from so add to taste. Mix them together briskly and then pour into a saucepan, adding your bowl of veggies, and bring to a simmer on a low flame, remembering to stir regularly. Now put the chicken kebabs in your preheated broiler. I shouldn’t take them more than 15+ minutes to cook all the way through but it’s important to keep a good eye on them, checking regularly as they cook. Once they are done take them out and serve them on a snack tray for friends or pile them high on a plate for yourself! The peanut sauce should be done by this time. Use your ladle to carefully pour it into a dipping bowl. Now for the fun part. Eat up!
Modifications: I like a little tang in mine so I add a tablespoon of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar to my sauce. If you have the time and want to get a little fancy, you can crush the peanuts yourself as a substitute for the peanut butter. (You’ll need to add some extra water to the mixture in this case.) I use a heavy stone mortar and pestle for this but I have done crushed them with everything from the flat of a spoon to the bottom of a sturdy glass. If you do so make sure to add some brown sugar or your preferred substitute. (Odds are your peanut butter has PLENTY of sugar already, which is why sugar is not listed in the ingredients.) If you want a healthier option, try almond butter! It’s a delicious alternative, trust me. Marinade your peanut sauce mixture overnight in the fridge to let the flavors meld together nicely. You can also marinade your chicken skewers in a light soy sauce and water mixture overnight as well. If you want a quicker way to make your Chicken Satay then you can buy bottled peanut sauce in most grocery stores and focus only on preparing the chicken.
Thai Noodles With Spicy Peanut Sauce
What you’ll need: a kitchen knife, chopping block, saucepan, a pot, 16-ounce measuring cup, a bowl, wooden stirring ladle, slotted spoon, colander.
Ingredients: noodles of choice, crunchy peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, vegetable broth, honey, brown sugar (optional if peanut butter has sugar), sesame oil, green onions, garlic, frozen stir-fry veggies, ginger, pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, chili-garlic sauce (optional).
Preparation: Fill your pot with water and bring it to boil. Add your box of preferred noodles (I prefer spaghetti) and follow the instructions on back of box. Next, chop 2 stalks of green onions, mince 3 cloves of garlic, mince 1 tbsp of ginger, and set all aside in bowl. Now, using your measuring cup, fill your saucepan with 1/4 cup of vegetable broth, 1/4 cup of soy sauce (or substitute), and heat on a medium to low flame.Add about 3 rounded tbsp of peanut butter to your saucepan. (I think crunchy is best since Thai noodles often have whole or crushed peanuts as a topping.) Add 3 tbsp of rice vinegar, a drizzle of honey (to taste), 1 tsp of brown sugar (not necessary if you are using sweetened peanut butter), and 3 tbsp of sesame oil. Stir sauce briskly with your wooden ladle until contents are well mixed. (During this time also check on your noodles, giving a quick stir with your slotted spoon to keep them from sticking together). Now add your preferred frozen stir-fry vegetables to your sauce pan and toss until ice breaks up. At this time also pour your bowl of pre-chopped veggies into the saucepan. Add a tsp of pepper flakes and ½ tsp of cayenne to sauce and stir as well (more if you like it spicy). You may also substitute the spices and minced garlic for a couple tbsp of pre-bought chili-garlic sauce. Your noodles should be ready at this point. Turn off flame, strain the water out with a colander and return to pot. Toss noodles with 2 tbsp of sesame oil. Pour veggies and peanut sauce onto noodles and toss those as well. Grab your slotted spoon and serve it up for you and your friends. There should be about 4 generous servings worth. Enjoy!
Modifications: This is a pretty straightforward dish to make but some simple changes can be made to suit preferences. Looking to eat a little healthier? Skip the peanut butter which is usually loaded with sugar and opt for an all natural almond butter substitute. Not sure what toppings to add? I prefer to add water chestnuts (which can easily be found canned in grocery stores), sprouts (in your grocery store’s produce section), and a healthy sprinkle of sesame seeds. You can also save some prep time with the garlic and spices by adding the aforementioned chili-garlic sauce to your mixture. As with the last dish I think Bragg’s Liquid Aminos is a tastier and healthier substitute. You may also substitute the fresh ginger for ground ginger powder to save time.