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Buddha's Table: Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style Paperback – September 1, 2004
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Here is a great collection of Thai recipes in terms of taste and execution for the home cook, adjusted to please Western vegetarian tastes. Enjoy salads, soups, stir-fries and curries, beautifully illustrated with full-color photographs. The author regularly appears as a guest chef at major culinary schools.
About the Author
Chat Mingkwan grew up in Bangkok, Thailand. He has apprenticed in provincial French cuisine at La Cagouille in Rayon, France, traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, and worked in restaurants in the San Francisco area.
Currently, Chat runs Unusual Touch, a business specializng in catering, food consulting and restaurant design, Thai cooking classes, and culinary expeditions to Thailand.
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Top Customer Reviews
and yes i did the write the author who wrote me right back!- nice
Chat Mingkwan lets you in on the secret ingredients to get just the right taste. I found out that my curries never tasted quite right because I was missing coconut cream (in addition to coconut milk) in my sauce! And my peanut sauce turned out perfect by following his recipe exactly. It's definitely worth the extra trouble to find all of his ingredients to get a really authentic taste.
I disagree with a previous reviewer with regard to the fish sauce in the Tom Kha - Chat includes light soy sauce in his recipe, which he describes in his notes on ingredients at the beginning of the book as the ideal replacement for fish sauce in vegetarian cooking.
I think the problem here is that the author is not himself a vegetarian (according to the intro) and therefore is not familiar with typical substitutions. The Tom Kha recipe omitted the usual fish sauce--just omitted it without any replacements. Could we use a konbu soupbase for a fishy flavor? Maybe some of that fermented bean paste? Something was missing. I'll have to attempt my own substitutions.
The Phad Thai recipe also just omitted the fish sauce without replacements. It had a pretty good flavor though. My husband thought it was great.
The author seems to use mushrooms in place of meat in most recipes. I like mushrooms, but if you don't, be warned.
I am familiar with good Thai flavor--there was a little hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant near where I used to live. The walls of the restaurant were decorated with framed magazine articles naming that restaurant as the most authentic Thai restaurant in the western United States. The food was excellent. The recipes in this cookbook are just close enough to remind me of that Thai restaurant, but far enough to make me really miss good Thai food.
The first time I opened this book, it made a cracking sound and now the pages are falling out; inferior binding, but the other books I own in this series are not falling apart.
Unlike the dominant cuisines of India, Thai cooking is not inherently vegetarian, and yet Buddhism, a religion with strong vegetarian tendencies is the most important religion in Thailand. This gives rise to the book's title and subtitle, `Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style'. This means that fish sauce, one of the most important Thai ingredients, has been removed from all recipes. This is probably about as dramatic as removing anchovies from all Italian dishes. Fortunately, the wealth of southeast Asian fermented bean pastes are up to filling in the gaps left by removing the famous `Nam Pla' from all recipes.
This is not to say Chat Mingkwan has abandoned Thai traditional cooking. He begins his book with an excellent little guide to Thai ingredients which is no replacement for good references such as Bruce Cost's `Asian Ingredients', but it is an honest coverage of the field with a firm commitment to the belief that there are a lot of Thai ingredients with which you cannot substitute and expect to achieve the right Thai taste. Foremost of these in my mind is galangal, a rhizome with some resemblance to ginger. But, based on the scientific names of the two plants, they are not closely related. They certainly do not belong to the same genus. Another unmistakable and unreplacable ingredient is tamarind. While I have never knowingly tasted galangal, I have tasted tamarind and can think of nothing in the western pantry that comes close to its taste. It is sharp, but its bite is somewhere between cassia (Asian cinnamon), licorice, and vinegar.
Thai cuisine is an ancient fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisines, jolted to an entirely new level with the addition of the capsicum chilies from the New World. I know less about Indian cooking than I do on just about every other major cuisine you can name, but it seems to me that the primary transformation from Indian to Thai cuisine seems to be the shift of curry mixtures from powders in India to pastes in Thailand. This generalization may be all wet, but it is quite true that virtually all curry bases described in this book are pastes, making the mortar and pestle a very important tool in the Thai kitchen. I agree entirely with the author and millions of Mexican home cooks and Jamie Oliver and everyone else who wants to weigh in on the subject that the mortar and pestle is simply a superior tool for making pasty mixtures than any modern blender or food processor. If you want to make serious use of this book, get a good, heavy set and find yourself a good source of Thai ingredients.
To reinforce this point, the author opens with a 15-page chapter devoted to chili and curry sauces. These recipes also reinforce the fact that you will not succeed with these recipes unless you can find a source for galangal, Kafir lime leaves, and lemongrass. Most of the other ingredients should be no problem in Mittelamerica. In my darkest Pennsylvania, my local farmers market carries fresh lemongrass and cilantro with roots and my local megamart has all the chilies, bean pastes, and tamarind you want.
The next chapter on salads and snacks includes easy recipes with that oh so distinctive Thai taste based on peanuts, lemongrass, chiles, cilantro, and tamarind. This chapter includes a recipe for the famous Pad Thai salad, where, unlike many famous French salads, the only difficult task is finding all the ingredients. The chapter also presents rice as a salad ingredient, something rather uncommon in western menus. And, if rice isn't your dish, there is always tofu.
The chapter on soups brings back my most indelible memory of eating Thai food when I asked for clear Thai soup to be done `spicy'. It was very, very, very spicy hot! Chef Mingkwan immediately scored points with me when I saw his vegetable stock recipe. My fussiest and most highly respected French sources on stocks insist that vegetables are simmered no more than an hour in a stock, and Chef Mingkwan puts his daikon and cilantro and chiles to the hot water for no more than 45 minutes. This chapter also includes a great foodie talking point recipe with a `Hunter's Soup'. This is the Thai vegetarian version of the soup one makes when the hunting has not gone too well.
The next chapter deals with stir-frying, one of the strongest influences from China on the cuisines of Southeast Asia. I have seen street food people from Burma to the Philippines use woks with almost exactly the same techniques as you may see in Shanghai or Beijing. The introduction to this chapter is a fair example of the author's sense of humor as he points out that uses for the wok include steaming, smoking, deep frying, floating on flood waters and sledding in the snow. While the stir fry recipes are very good, this book is no primer on stir-frying technique or stir-frying equipment. If you are not familiar with the wok through experience with Chinese techniques, I suggest you check out Ken Hom's `Quick Wok'. I suspect Martin Yan's earlier books are also good sources, but I have not gotten around to reviewing them yet.
This is a sample of the good Thai cooking experience available to you in this book. The value of this little book is capped with an excellent bibliography that oddly omits a reference to the definitive new work `Thai Food' by David Thompson.
A recommended easy intro to Thai cooking for vegetarians.