holy basil batman!

Well, inspiration took the best of me yesterday evening, and I was back at food shopping and whipping up way too much food in the morning in no time!  After reminiscing about Cholada, I had a full on craving and urge to cook delicious Thai food.  So, that recreation of Cholada Pumpkin & Co. wasn't just the near future, it was TODAY! And that meant I had some serious shopping to do to find some obscure ingredients - dried shrimp, shrimp paste, tamarind, thai basil, thai chilies, whatever else caught my eye.  Katagiri? Check. Kalustyans? Check. Hungry stomach? Check!  First order of business was getting the components of the pumpkin dish together.  Fortunately, I was able to find kabocha squash, Japanese eggplant, as well as graffiti eggplant (because it looks nice!) for the dish.

With any stir fry type dish, you want to cook your components at the highest heat, as quickly as possible, so I par-steamed (in my new bamboo steamer!!! it was $10 - what did you want me to do?!) chunks of the squash, and reserved for later.

One thing I never realized, until in the confines of my mini kitchen, is the great smell that bamboo steamers give off when they're put to use.  Not only does it waft through the air with everything else cooking, but it also imparts a slight flavor to whatever is being steamed inside of it.  I simply placed this above a pot of boiling water and let it steam until the chunks were just tender.

Next up, I prepped the eggplants, bell pepper, and ripped off some leaves of Holy Basil (Thai Basil/Purple Basil) - Thai basil is a "spicier" more peppery cousin of Italian basil.  You can use regular Italian basil in this dish, but if you can find Thai basil, by all means go for it - it really makes a difference in flavor.

Before cooking the rest of the vegetables, I prepared the Thai Chili Sauce:

Thai Chili Sauce
Enough canola oil to cover the bottom of a saute pan (1/4 cup, if that)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
Two Thai Bird's Eye Chilies (as much or little as you like, really)
1 t shrimp paste
2 T fish sauce
2-3 T palm sugar (similar to brown sugar, which you could use)
1 t tamarind paste
Juice of one lime
Splash of water

This is a relatively simple sauce to make - heat the canola oil in the saute pan over medium heat.  When the oil shimmers, add in the shallots and garlic.  Cook until lightly golden and remove with a slotted spoon.  Remove pan from heat as well.  In a food processor or blender, add the remaining ingredients and blend until relatively smooth.  Return this mixture to the pan and cook over medium heat for a few minutes more.  Reserve for later.

As easy as that! Now you're ready to create the full dish.  Get a large saute pan (enough to hold and flip all the ingredients you're about to put in), swirl in a few tablespoons of canola oil, and heat over high heat.  Once the oil is shimmering, toss in the eggplant and bell pepper.  Allow these to cook until golden brown and al dente, stirring/flipping often.  Just as they are about cooked through, add the pre-steamed kabocha squash - cook for about a minute.  Finally, add in the reserved chili sauce - enough to cover the vegetables - and mix to coat.  At the last minute, rip your holy basil up (use a lot!) and toss in.  Make sure all the vegetables are warmed through, and the basil has just wilted.  Plate up and enjoy!

This definitely hit the spot! The eggplants caramelized just a bit on the flesh, giving it a nice nutty flavor as well as a minute crunch.  The sauce was perfect - it hit that perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy that I've spoken of before.  That, and, there was just enough sauce to coat the vegetables, so neither the sauce, nor the vegetables were overpowering the dish.  And every time you get a bit of basil, the dish gets kicked up about two notches! The flavor of the basil is absolutely amazing, especially mixed in with the chili sauce. Ah yes, memories of the beach!!

To go along with the dish, I made a green papaya salad (Som Tam).  So, Food Emporium is good for one thing - unripe fruit! Any other time, I would be upset, but the unripe papaya is what makes this salad. Thank you generic grocery store. 

Green Papaya Salad 
1 unripe papaya - it shouldn't give when you poke it with your finger
One clove of garlic
~1 T palm sugar
2 T dried shrimp
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
1/3 cup fresh beans, chopped into 1/2 inch
Handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
Two Thai bird's eye chilies
Juice of one lime
Fish sauce, to taste 

To start, you need to get your papaya into nice thin strands.  You can julienne by hand, you can use a fancy tool or mandolin, or you can do it the Kitty way. I peeled the papaya, then deeply scored the entire outside of the fruit - about 2 mm apart.  From there, all you have to do is take a peeler and peel away! The pieces will come off and separate into perfect papaya salad pieces!

Next - the "dressing".  In a mortar, combine the dried shrimp with the garlic, and smash it - not so much that it turns into a paste though.  Add the palm sugar, and grind together.

Next, add the roasted peanuts, and just smash them nicely with the pestle, just enough to break them into big chunks.


All the crushing of these vegetables help make a more liquid concoction that gets soaked up by the papaya. Finally, add in the papaya and gently bruise the strands.  After this is done, squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lime and toss in 1 T of fish sauce.  Mix this all together and keep stirring until its all together nicely.  Taste at the end for seasoning - more fish sauce, lime juice, or both.  

See how nicely the papaya came out?
 Again, deliciousness in a bowl.  This cold, yet savory and spicy salad is perfect! Every ingredients goes together so well with each other individual ingredients - and you may be concerned about dried shrimp (weird, I know) but it really adds another level of flavor to the salad. To finish it off, top with a bit of cilantro, some more crushed peanuts and a few slices of chili (if you dare).  Give it a whirl!  These are two unlikely delicious dishes for a chilly winter afternoon.

I did create a few more entertaining things this afternoon (I got carried away!) - but those will have to wait until next time!


Rashon Carraway said…
These images are just full and saturated with color. Great post.

Mr. Goodwill Hunting
I love the Thai salad. It looks so refreshing. Thank you very much.
herbal products said…
A very healthy salad indeed. I love the natural and organic veggies on the said bowl.

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