KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7 — Thailand is a universe in itself. Once you’ve been there, you’d be hard-pressed to forget the sounds, smells and above all flavours of Thailand.
Rising above the hum of the unceasing traffic is the fragrance and music of a street hawker frying something tasty in a well-seasoned wok.
Some of these dishes, such as pad Thai (stir-fried rice noodles with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, ground peanuts, egg, meat, and, bean sprouts), tom yum (a spicy and sour soup made with meat, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and dried chillies), and khao niao mamuang (slices of ripe mango and sticky rice cooked in thick coconut milk), are considered standards of Thai cuisine.
But not every Thai dish is lip-searing spicy or rich with coconut milk. One of the most refreshing Thai treats I have had was a mangosteen salad with pan-seared scallops that was surprisingly refreshing without skimping on any of the intense flavours.
I remember the first time my partner and I tasted this salad was in Bangkok. What an unusual dish! It had seedless mangosteen segments, which seemed a luxury, as these must have been selected by hand. The tang of the fish sauce was present but not too overpowering, as it was cut by fresh lime juice and mint leaves.
Back in Malaysia, most of the usual Thai fare we came across remained reliable if overly familiar staples. Pad Thai, massaman curry, mango sticky rice: same old, same old. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. So on a sticky, sweltering afternoon, we decided to try our own version of the mangosteen salad.
Apart from mangosteen, we also use pomelo to offer a slightly bittersweet, citrusy flavour. Instead of scallops, some prawns that are lightly boiled make it a lighter, less decadent affair. Some heat from cili padi or bird’s eye chilli is a must, but not too much. We are trying to cool down, after all!
Perhaps the most indispensable ingredient is the fish sauce. This ubiquitous Thai condiment and ingredient imparts such a specific hit of umami that even ready substitutes such as soy sauce or Maggi seasoning don’t really work as well. Fish sauce is in a class of its own.
If you are worried that the cili padi may render the salad too spicy, have no fear; it is really only a little heat. Of course, the best way to fight fire is with fire (or so we think), so a spicy summer punch may be the perfect accompaniment. The “spice” in this citrus-based (non-alcoholic) punch comes from the use of ginger, which certainly livens things up.
Thaan aa-haan hai a-rawy na! (“Enjoy your meal!” in Thai.)
Thai mangosteen, pomelo & mint salad and Spicy summer punch
Hunting down seedless mangosteen segments may seem tedious but is really fun once you realise you can pop the ones with seeds into your mouth as you go along. A tad sticky, perhaps, but surely more enjoyable than most food preparation tasks!
12 small prawns, boiled and shelled
6 mangosteens, only the seedless segments
Half a pomelo, segments broken into bite-sized pieces
A small bunch of mint, leaves only
For the salad dressing:
Half stalk of lemongrass, diced
3 bird’s eye chilli (cili padi), chopped
Juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
White pepper powder and sugar to taste
For the summer punch:
Juice of 1 grapefruit
Juice of 3 oranges
1 medium-sized piece of ginger, mashed for its juice
Mint leaves to garnish
- First boil the small prawns until just pinkish and not overcooked. Cool the prawns in a bowl of ice water or chill in the fridge for a few hours. Set aside.
- Open the mangosteens and remove the segments. Choose segments, usually the smaller ones, that are seedless. Set these aside. Peel the pomelo and break into small bite-sized segments. Remove the mint leaves from their stalks.
- To make the salad dressing, just mix the lemongrass, cili padi, lime juice, fish sauce, and sesame oil together, stirring well. Season with pepper and sugar until it has the right balance of salty, spicy, sweet and sour to your liking.
- Combine the ingredients for the salad in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle the salad dressing over the salad and toss well to mix.
- To make the spicy summer punch, combine the juices of the grapefruit, oranges and ginger together. You can increase the heat by using more ginger. Pour into glasses and garnish with mint leaves. Serve immediately.
Yield: Perfect for two for a light meal in the balcony or garden.
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