With this box, we head to Southeast Asia – and specifically to Thailand and Cambodia, two neighboring countries with a major overlap in principal ingredients. I’ve got more direct experience with Thai cooking (despite a visit to -- and cooking class in – Siem Reap), so that will be featured a bit more heavily, but these ingredients will work with whichever side of that border you most enjoy.
If you got this box, you got three different staple spices, two delicious and versatile sauces, and a coconut oil that will lend a great coconut flavor to your next curry. One of the sauces in the vegetarian box is the Tuk Meric Kampot Pepper sauce; in the non-veg box, you received a funky Lemongrass Paste (the funky-ness comes from fish sauce, hence the non-veg part).
These ingredients all go really well together, and can be combined in a myriad of ways. Rather than list specific things for each ingredient in detail, I’ll spend a bit more time beneath the ingredient descriptions on my overall approach and some things to try.
Just remember to think about combining these five flavors, and you won’t go wrong: hot, sweet, salty, sour, and umami.
And there are a few ingredients you might want to have on hand to go even deeper, but which I couldn’t fit in the box: tamarind paste, rice noodles, fish sauce (or sub with soy for veg), fresh limes, cilantro, dried chilies (ideally Thai), and coconut milk. You can go much more in-depth, too, with specific varieties of rice, dried shrimp, and much more, but we won’t get too far down that particular rabbit hole.
So, here’s what’s in the box:
* Organic Sriracha from @Kitchen.Garden.Farm
* Organic Virgin Coconut Oil from @GeorgetownPantrySupply
* Lemongrass Paste OR Tuk Meric Sauce (Veg) from @angkorfood
* Buffalo Ginger from @BurlapandBarrel
* Powdered Galangal from @angkorfood
* Makrut (Kaffir) Lime Flakes from @angkorfood
Organic Sriracha (Kitchen Garden Farm)
You’ve had sriracha. But you haven’t had sriracha like this.Fermented on the same farm in western Massachusetts where the chili peppers are grown, this organic sriracha is just the right balance of fresh and fruity, flavorfully spicy, and a bit tangy. It packs a heat punch, but not an overwhelming one.
Use with your Thai and Cambodian dishes of choice, and also beyond (atop eggs, as a dipping sauce for grilled meat, as part of a salad dressing, the list goes on!).
I often add this both in the beginning stages of a dish (in the main sauce or curry base, for instance), and then also use it as a finishing topping. That former use is non-traditional (most recipes will call for dried chilis), but it’s a shortcut that works well.
Organic Virgin Coconut Oil (Georgetown Pantry Supply)
Coconut is a prevalent ingredient across Thai and Cambodian cooking. The oil isn’t always used, but this is a great base for any dish where you want a coconut flavor to come through, like a coconut-milk curry, or if you want to crisp up tofu in a skillet or in the oven.
This coconut oil from Georgetown Pantry Supply is about as good as it gets – all organic, cold-pressed to keep all the flavor and nutrients, and unrefined, for further nutrient-keeping. Smells and tastes delicious – and lots of uses beyond Thai and Cambodian cooking.
Here’s some tofu that I roasted in coconut oil (along with a rub of powdered ginger, galangal, salt, and pepper) – worked great!
Either: Lemongrass Paste (Angkor Food) <<-- Non-veg subscribers get this
This paste – also known as Kroeung – serves as a beautiful, herbaceous base for many Cambodian dishes (from curries to soups to steak skewers). A blend of lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, galangal, garlic, chilis, and fish sauce, it brings a bit of heat and a bit of funk along with that trademark lemongrass flavor.
I’ve also enjoyed using this in more traditional Thai preparations, where lemongrass is a key ingredient – like fried rice or curry. Angkor Foods is a delicious producer of small-batch Cambodian ingredients, many of which are also used in Thai cuisine.
OR: Tuk Meric Sauce (Angkor Food) <<-- Veg subscribers get this
Tuk Meric is a ubiquitous sauce in Cambodia, for use with dishes of all kinds, featuring Kampot peppercorns, a protected Cambodian specialty. This special version from chef Channy Laux of Angkor Food adds tamarind paste, itself a signature ingredient in Cambodian and Thai cooking.
Tangy and peppery, this can be a topping for anything off the grill, in a marinade or dressing, or atop your next wok-fried dish. I topped that roasted tofu pictured above with the Tuk Meric sauce, and it worked *really* well.
Buffalo Ginger (Burlap and Barrel)
One of my favorite spice purveyors, Burlap and Barrel have done it again with their Buffalo Ginger, an heirloom variety sourced from farmers in the mountains of northern Vietnam.
This powdered ginger is great as a main component in a paste for a stew or soup, or as part of a dry rub. It’s got a bit of that ginger kick, and remains fresh and bright.
Powdered Galangal (Angkor Food)
Galangal is a key ingredient in Thai and Cambodian cooking, and can be tricky to find fresh. Folks often ask if it can be substituted for ginger, but it’s really not the same flavor – it’s like a cross between ginger and mustard. It’s got some heat to it, but also more earthiness.
It’s a key ingredient in many recipes; you’ll know if it’s not there.
Makrut (Kaffir) Lime Flakes (Angkor Food)
Makrut (also called kaffir) lime leaves are often called for as a finishing aromatic in dishes, with a truly unique citrus flavor and floral scent. With these flakes, you can actually include them earlier on, and suffuse the flavor more fully into a dish.
I enjoy using them especially in curry soups with coconut milk – it’s a wonderful flavor to be able to play around with.
How to put everything together?
Many of these ingredients, of course, have applications far beyond Thai and Cambodian cooking. Ginger is a key ingredients across several continents. Sriracha is a great sauce atop nearly anything. And coconut oil has uses both culinary and medicinal across many cultures.
When I think of the types of dishes for Thailand and Cambodia that I most often cook (this is an entirely non-exhaustive look at the overall cuisine, of course, I think of the following):
Curry/Stews: Usually with a liquid that’s some combination of coconut milk and stock, beginning with a flavorful spice base, adding in aromatics (like onions and carrots) bringing in the liquids, and then bringing in proteins. Every ingredient in the non-veg box could be put to good use here, from the base fat (coconut oil), to all the seasonings and sauces. the Tuk Meric sauce would likely be less useful, and you might want some fresh lemongrass, instead.
The eggplant and tofu coconut curry pictured below incorporated the galangal, ginger, lemongrass paste, makrut lime flakes, and sriracha as the main flavor base (plus some fish sauce), and coconut oil was the main fat.
“Salads”: There’s a really broad swath of what a “salad” can be in this region – from green mango slaw, essentially, all the way to full meals with greens, meat, and noodles. A picture of a variation on an Isaan-style salad I made (with pork as the main meat, Thai basil and arugula as the main herbs, tossed with rice noodles) is below – for this I used the lemongrass paste as the main flavoring ingredient, plus soy and fish sauces, along with the sriracha, for the dressing).
The Tuk Meric sauce is particularly useful for salads, as well; it’s basically everything you need for a dressing except the oil already put together.
Grilled or roasted meats and meat substitutes: You’ve got almost everything you need for a dry rub (ginger, galangal), a marinade (either the lemongrass paste or Tuk Meric sauce, and/or sriracha, and maybe some of the lime flakes), and, for roasting, coconut oil is a great base fat. You’ll also want to use some soy sauce or fish sauce in there, too.
Wok-fried dishes: Using the high-heat and quick cooking of a wok is a great use for these ingredients. I cooked the lemongrass shrimp, thai basil, and greens dish quite simply below, fried with farro, with the following steps:
1) Mise en place: Chopped onions, shelled shrimp, washed and chopped gai lan and Thai basil, got sauces and spices ready
2) Heated up the wok, added coconut oil, then onions, then salt and pepper, then ginger, galangal, and lemongrass paste, then fish sauce
***stirring pretty constantly from here on out***
3) Once browned, added the gai lan
4) Added the shrimp as the gai lan stated to cook (maybe 30 second after)
5) Once the shrimp started to get a bit pink, added the basil
6) Then added the leftover farro, fried all together until warm and a bit crisped.
7) Top with sriracha and enjoy
There’s so much more to explore, too – hopefully this is a great start!