Thai salads and Thai vegetables
Thai foods entrance the eye as well as the palate qualities well displayed in Thailand’s appealing and appetizing variety of salads. These salads combine fresh raw vegetables with protein such as shrimp, squid or charcoal-broiled, thinly sliced beef. The paradigmatic salad resonates with three taste notes: a hint of sourness, followed by saltiness, then sweetness.
In preparing salads, one strives for a mix of colors to tantalize the diner, complementing the warm reds of peppers and tomatoes with the green of green onions. Salads are often presented on a bed of green leaf lettuce.
One of the most popular Thai salads is beef salad (yum nuea). Beef strips are tossed with a dressing made of lime juice, minced Thai chili peppers, minced garlic and chopped green onions. The dish is embellished with a sprig of cilantro and slivers of green onions. So the salad not only tastes good but looks good too.
Another popular dish, papaya salad (som tam Esaan), originated in northeast Thailand. The salad is made from under-ripe, firm papaya that is peeled and shredded; raw, long string beans cut into 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) sections; and tomatoes. Seasonings include garlic, Thai chili peppers, and lime juice or tamarind juice. Papaya salad can be assembled in a large mortar in which the vegetables and papaya are slightly crushed together, a technique that helps release the flavors and juices. The version cooked in the Bangkok style uses ground peanuts fish sauce, palm sugar and, sometimes, fresh shrimp. In the Northeast style, anchovy sauce is used instead of fish sauce.
Regional variations in Thai cuisine echo the abundance or scarcity of certain ingredients. One finds that the cooking of the Bangkok area and the Southern region of the country relies upon sea-food to a larger extent than the cooking of the North and Northeast. The cuisine of these Northern areas draws upon freshwater fish and freshwater shrimp.
Cooked vegetable dishes vary greatly. Some, like ten vegetable stew (tom jabchai), are quite substantial, containing beef, pork, chicken, sea-food or tofu as well as a variety of vegetables. Other dishes, like stir-fried Chinese broccoli with sun-dried fish (phad kanaa pla kem) and long string beans with egg (phad tua fak yow kai), are quick, light and easy, using spicy sauces to complement the flavor of a particular vegetable.