Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thai Smile!

fMemories of a Thai smile last a long, long time. . .

Smiles, heads bowing, hands in prayer--staff members greeted us with the traditional Thai welcome Sawat-dii kha (for women), Sawat-dii khrap (for men).  We were entering the lobby of the hotel reputed to be the best in the world, the Peninsula Hotel in Bangkok, for a four day stay.  
The grace and welcome of the Thai people have remained in our hearts.

Performance by Thai dancers at dinner time
Breakfast buffets so colorful and generous.

Food displays throughout the Peninsula Hotel

My romance with Thai cooking was born there.  In a hotel cooking class I learned the flavors in Thai cuisine are balanced to maintain harmony in a dish.  Thus the mildly hot sharpness of chiles and spices in a curry dish is toned down with the sweetness of coconut cream, which also enhances the tastes of other delicate ingredients and herbs such as lemon grass and fresh mint.  I was hooked!
One of the first things I did on our return was to head to the nursery to buy a kaffir lime tree for a pot on our patio, as the leaves add a delicious flavor to so many Thai dishes.  (Leaves can be purchased, of course, in Asian markets, and you may substitute the grated skin of one lime, or more to taste, in today's recipe.)

Some class ingredients found in Bangkok were not available here though, and I was truly delighted when my friend, author/speaker Peter McGugan introduced me to the Thai Smile Restaurant in Palm Springs, where my favorite soup was the best I ever tasted.  They were followed by Angel Wings, crispy stuffed turkey wings with a vinegar/chile/cucumber sauce.
Tom Kha Gai (chicken soup with coconut)
served in a firepot
"Angel wings" stuffed with cellophane noodles

A photo on the wall carries a message of praise from Martha Stewart--she orders the beef salad.
 Thai Smile restaurant was created in 1993 by Yim Priddy (yim means "smile" in Thai).  In 1996, Yim's son Mai and his wife Noi, who ran a Thai restaurant in Boston, moved to Palm Springs to help Yim run things.  They love to accommodate customers by preparing dishes to special tastes and diets.  Noi generously welcomed us and shared their family "secret" recipe, revealing even the brand names, so it is a cinch to make this recipe at home in only minutes.  

Is the Peninsula Hotel in Bangkok the best in the world?  It gets my vote.  And Thai Smile gets my vote for my favorite Thai food in California.  Join me in making their quick and easy soup a favorite in your home, or meet me in Palm Springs.  
Let's meet there one day soon!

Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut 

“Tom Gha Gai”

For 4 first course servings

16 ounces chicken broth, homemade or canned

4 to 5 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced (or zest of one fresh lime, grated)

4 to 5, 2-inch pieces fresh lemongrass, bruised to release flavor

1-inch cube (or a bit more) fresh galangal (from an Asian market), or 1 teaspoon dried galangal.  (See Note)

¼ cup fish sauce 

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

4 ounces raw chicken breast sliced into bite-size pieces, or shredded roast chicken

5 fluid ounces coconut milk

½ tablespoon prik pao (Thai chili paste in oil—the brand they use, and that I ordered on Amazon, is Pantainorasingh)

Coriander (cilantro) leaves to garnish

Sliced fresh mushrooms, optional

NoteI was able to find dried galangal at the Savory Spice Shop.  It may be easily ordered online. 

Heat the chicken stock in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the sliced kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, lemongrass, galangal, Fish sauce and lime juice.  Stir thoroughly, bring to a simmer, then add the chicken, coconut milk and chile paste.  Return to a simmer.  Add some sliced mushrooms and simmer 2 minutes longer, just until chicken is cooked through.  Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve hot.

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