If you are enjoying Thai food way too much in Koh Samui, you may be thinking of replicating some of your favorite dishes when you get back home. If you don’t have the time for local cooking lessons, you can still add a Thai flair to your everyday meals by having these staples in your kitchen.
To add richness: coconut milk
A number of local dishes get their distinct richness and deep flavors from coconut milk. Thai green curry, mango sticky rice, Paneng curry, and Thai coconut chicken all taste amazing because of this ingredient. Because it is so flavorful, it adds more complexity and give a nice body to stews, soups, and even desserts. It works well as an ingredient in both savory and sweet dishes. Need to thicken something or want a non-dairy substitute for cream, coconut milk is your best bet. Try it as a base in ice cream and combine it with tropical ingredients like mango, pineapple, and pandanus leaf. You will be surprised how many exciting combinations you can create.
For umami: fish sauce and kapi (fermented shrimp paste
Complexity is among the characteristics of Thai food. Complex yet unified, every flavor seem to blend seamlessly with another and another, creating layers and layers of flavors. While Japanese dishes rely on soy sauce for taste, Thai dishes are made tastier with fish sauce or shrimp paste. These two ingredients are rich in umami and enhance the natural taste of ingredients such as ginger, garlic, tomatoes, and onions. Both smell pungent but are very tasty. Fish sauce can be added to honey for a nice sweet-savory dip. It can also be used in marinades, sauces, salad dressings, and so many others. Shrimp paste can be sauteed with garlic, onion, and ginger and the mixture can be used as a dip for green mangoes. Kapi can also be added to coconut milk based dishes. It can be used to give flavor to fried rice or a flavor enhancer to vegetable stir fry.
For heat: Bird’s-eye chilli
If you love things hot and spicy, you will be at home in Koh Samui. The locals seem to have found a lot of ways to use Thai red chili or bird’s eye chili. They use it in curries, stews, stir fries, marinades, sauces, and dips. There is no escaping them. With 50,000–100,000 Scoville heat units, there is no messing around Thai red chili. This variety of pepper is hot and a little goes a long way. Use it to spice up vinegar and to add warmth to an already piping hot noodle soup. Thais love to use this fresh: when it is still have a waxy shiny skin and a bright red color. You can buy this dried or in flakes too. Thai red chili is effective in balancing the richness of coconut milk in curries and making even simple dishes more appetizing. Make sure to wash your hands after handling this ingredient though. It can burn your hands and hurt your eyes if you don’t wash the residue.
To add tang: tamarind paste
Oftentimes, a recipe will call for an acidic component, either to balance the saltiness or the sweetness of other ingredients. Vinegar and lemon juice are popular in this category. If you want to add a Thai twist to your dishes, replace lemons or vinegar with a little tamarind paste. This sour and concentrated stuff is used in a variety of Thai dishes such as Pad Thai. It gives dishes a certain kind of lift and also enhances the flavors of other ingredients. You can get this in jars and a small container will get you far since you only need a little.
For carbs: Thai jasmine rice
Rice is a mainstay in the food table in Koh Samui. The locals love rice and many of their dishes are meant to be eaten with a serving of steamed or fried rice. You can stock a little bag of this in your pantry for when you are craving for some. It is very easy to cook and you need not eat a lot to feel satisfied. Rice is great with curries, stir fries, and even with grilled meat. Even scrambled egg with a little sweet chili sauce or ketchup can be eaten with this humble grain. Because it has a neutral taste, you can eat it with almost anything. Rice can also be a base to a meal in a bowl. Toss it with some sauteed meat, vegetables, and scrambled egg and you have a rice dish that you can enjoy any time of the day.
To add sweetness: palm sugar
If tamarind is sour, and fish sauce and shrimp paste are salty, palm sugar is what is commonly used locally to provide a hint of sweetness to dishes. Some foreign cuisines call for honey or brown sugar to achieve this but in Thai cooking, palm sugar is the go-to. You can easily find this in Koh Samui and no matter how tempting, it must not be substituted with white table sugar. This ingredient has a distinct taste and you might notice a difference if you use something else in its place. You can use this in dips, sauces, marinades, curries, and desserts.
For garnish, aromatics, and hint of freshness: local herbs and spices
Thai cuisine use a lot of different herbs and spices. The majority of the recipes call for fresh herbs, adding not only a refreshing herbal flavor, but also a lot of color to the dish. Among the most commonly used items in Thai cooking are Thai sweet basil, cilantro, Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chives, ginger, and turmeric.
To add a deep exotic flavor: pandanus leaf
Pandanus leaf has a subtle yet deep flavor similar to chamomile or honey. Add some bundled leaves when you steam rice to give your carbs a hint of flavor. Chicken wrapped in pandanus leaf is a classic Thai dish that you can also try to make at home. Pandanus leaf can also be boiled with loose tea for a nice drink or added to coconut milk as a base for desserts.