So this is one of my favorite everyday recipes that came from my life in Chiangmai, Thailand. I lived in Chiangmai for 6 months when I was 21 years old (13 years ago! wow). I was a senior in college and I was interning at the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development. My time in Thailand directly followed a year studying in Switzerland, France, and Morocco, and I was full of worldly bravado and hungry to discover Asia. That hunger of course also extended to the cuisine of that region, and I spent 6 months sampling as many dishes as possible. As luck would have it, Thai food is not a one-note wonder (although Pad Thai probably represented the entirety of Thai cuisine to Americans for quite a while, until curries and other more "exotic" Thai dishes slowly found their way into our national palate). Because Thai cuisine is actually extremely expansive and varied, I found myself constantly trying new dishes, and I often stated that I could have tried a new dish every single day I lived in Thailand, and there was no way I would ever grow bored on only a handful of staples.
Some dishes do deserve to be consumed more than once though - and many of these dishes just happen to be very simple street fare. A really good example is Pad Ka Prao. My co-workers used to order this often for lunch delivery to the office. It's a very simple dish - just rice, with ground pork (or chicken) stir fried up with a huge bunch of Thai basil (also known as holy basil) and flavored with a mix of typical Thai flavorings and spices, and often served with a fried egg on top. As long as you've got all the right sauces in your cupboard (which, if you cook Asian enough, you should), it's a breeze to throw together, and an extremely satisfying meal.
Pad Ka Prao
From She Simmers
I follow this recipe pretty loyally, with few deviations. The one thing I do though, is sometimes sub out dried chilies for the bird's eye chilies, if that's what I have. Also, I really like to eat the leftovers cold over a cabbage salad, instead of with rice.
1 pound of ground pork, beef, or chicken (ask your butcher to grind it for you, or you can also chop it up with a cleaver)
7 (26g) large cloves of garlic, peeled
7 (16g) bird’s eye chilies (or however many you can tolerate)
1 large shallot (20g), peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark sweet soy sauce (I use kecap manis)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 cup holy basil leaves, packed
- If you have a mortar, pound together the garlic, chilies, and shallot until you get a coarse paste. If no mortar, either chop them all up with a cleaver on a chopping block or pulse them into a coarse paste in a mini-chopper.
- In a large skillet, heat up the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the paste to it and fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the meat to the skillet and break it up with the spatula into small pieces.
- Add the remaining ingredients, except the basil leaves.
- Once the meat is cooked through, check the amount of liquid in the skillet. If it’s too dry, add a little bit of water or sodium-free broth. You want a couple of tablespoons of liquid with the meat.
- Before taking the skillet off the heat, add the basil leaves to the mixture and give it a couple of stirs. You only want to wilt the basil with the residual heat that is still in the pan so as not to mute the fragrance of the fresh holy basil leaves.
- Serve over rice. A crispy fried egg on top rounds it out.