Songkran is a Thai New Year holiday that sounds like so much fun, we wanted in. As a kind of symbolic spring-cleaning, Songkran’s first day is celebrated by the ritual pouring of water on statues of Buddha, but in many places this has evolved into a kind of massive, crazy water fight: young people spray water at each other with buckets, water pistols and even with elephants! The second day is spent preparing delicious dishes, which you carry to your local monks on the third day.
We had the exact same thought about cooking for Songkran before we even began discussing what to cook: you can make wonderful Thai dishes with ingredients available at your local supermarket. In part because there are no specific dishes associated with Songkran, we felt liberated to play around with Thai-inspired dishes, mixing and matching while still achieving that incredible blend of salty, sweet, spicy and sour that makes Thai food so delicious. If you don’t already have a deep pantry, the essential Thai condiments are fish sauce, soy sauce, and sweet soy or ketjap manis (though in a pinch you could even add some brown sugar to regular soy to replace the last). You can substitute lime zest for kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass is available in many supermarkets these days.
The recipes we chose are similarly flexible. If you don’t like pork, you can substitute another protein in the noodle dish, from chicken to firm tofu, or make it with eggs and vegetables. The amount of noodles you use can be more or less than ours, depending on the brand you find. And suggestions for seasoning are also to taste–add more or less according to your preferences. The noodle dish is best when made to order, in portions of one or two, though with a little preparation or mise en place that’s simple too.
Pad See Ew with Ground Pork
1 bunch Chinese broccoli (or substitute broccoli rabe–see note), washed, trimmed and roughly chopped
3 tbsp vegetable oil (plus 5 more, below)
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
10 oz ground pork
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp. fish sauce
4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 packages thick fresh rice noodles (the Nona Lim brand from Whole Foods is 14.8 oz per package, or 420 grams; adjust accordingly)
3-5 small sweet peppers (we used red, yellow and orange, but any of them will do), seeded and chopped
2 tbsp dark soy sauce (also known as sweet soy sauce; can also use Indonesian ketjap manis)
2 tbsp soy sauce
In a wok, heat 3 tbsp oil over high heat. When hot, add garlic, stir once or twice, then add pork. Stir and break up the meat until it loses its raw look, then let it sit over high heat, stirring occasionally until the liquid has boiled away and it begins to brown around the edges. Don’t be afraid of the high heat–it’s important to let everything brown to get the famous “wok taste.” Add the sugar and the fish sauce, cook another few minutes, then pour into heatproof bowl and set aside. Take the wok off the heat and wipe clean if very messy (some oil is fine).
Blanch the noodles for a very quick 30 seconds in boiling water, stirring to separate, then drain. Pour off as much of the fat from the pork mixture as you can.
Heat 4 tbsp vegetable oil in the wok over high heat, then add eggs and quickly scramble. Add the drained noodles and stir. Add sweet soy, chopped peppers and blanched Chinese broccoli. Stir occasionally, but again, don’t be afraid to let the mixture really brown and even stick to the wok at the bottom. When mixture looks dry and browned–a few minutes should suffice–add the pork and soy sauce, and heat through. Serve with lime quarters to squeeze over noodles.
Note: if using broccoli rabe instead of Chinese broccoli, you need to blanch it to tame the bitterness and soften the stems. In a large pot, preferably fitted with a strainer, boil water and add salt. Blanch broccoli rabe for 3-4 minutes, then drain well. You can use the same water to blanch the noodles, so keep it covered and hot.
Yam Pla Muk (Squid Salad)
We love squid for its versatility and ease of preparation. This salad comes together in under 20 minutes and can be served as a light main course or as a first course.
1 pound squid (bodies), cleaned
2 shallots thinly sliced
4 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sunflower (or vegetable) oil
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp chili powder
¼ cup cilantro leaves
1 thai chili, sliced thin (optional)
4 lettuce leaves, torn (we used bibb lettuce, but gem, red leaf or romaine would also work)
⅓ cucumber, peeled and sliced thin
8-10 cherry or plum tomatoes, halved
1 scallion, sliced thin
Prepare the squid
Cut the squid into ¼ inch wide rings. Poach them in simmering water for 2-3 minutes. Drain squid and set aside in a bowl.
Make the dressing
Combine fish sauce, lime juice, oil, sugar, chili powder and salt in small bowl. Add sliced shallots. Pour the mixture over the squid and toss with the cilantro leaves and chili (if using). Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Right before serving, arrange the lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes in a bowl or on a large plate. Pile the squid mixture on top and garnish with the sliced scallion and some wedges of lime.
Kaeng Pet Kai (Chicken with Red Curry)
The depth of flavor achieved in this dish is amazing considering the relatively low number of ingredients. Feel free to substitute shrimp or tofu for the chicken, just adjust the cooking time.
1 ½ cups coconut milk (unsweetened)
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into ½ inch pieces
2 boneless chicken thighs, cut into ½ inch pieces
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
4 tbsp red curry paste
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp lime zest
½ cup basil leaves (use thai basil if you can find it)
Skim the cream off the top of the coconut milk and reserve for later. Pour the rest of the coconut milk into a medium sauce pan. Add the chicken and the salt. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for around 10 minutes.
Heat the oil and reserved coconut cream in a frying pan. Add the red curry paste and stir-fry over medium-high heat for around 5 minutes. Lower the heat and add the fish sauce and brown sugar. Now add the mixture to the cooked chicken and coconut milk. Simmer over low heat until combined. Right before serving stir in the lime zest and sprinkle the basil leaves over the top.
Serve with rice.
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Step-by-Step Cooking