Sweet basil chicken is a big go-to of mine in Thai restaurants. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s spicy, it’s fragrant, and it nestles oh-so-nicely over a pile of jasmine rice. Plus, because it’s stir-fried to order, I’ve now started asking for it without garlic or onions, which makes it lower in FODMAPs and easier to digest.
Until recently, I never would have thought to make Thai sweet basil chicken at home. But it’s turned into a staple dish in our household. As with so many stir-fries, it’s easily customizable–add or subtract vegetables you like, and dial the spiciness up or down as you prefer. Plus, unlike the no-garlic-please restaurant version, you can use tricks like garlic oil and scallion tops to restore some of that familiar allium spike.
I make no claims to authenticity here. Bringing this into my American kitchen–and adapting it to be low-FODMAP–means I’ve had to make a few tweaks and tucks to the recipe. It’s not an exact match for the restaurant version, and it’s not trying to be. But it is a darned tasty stir-fry, and much easier on my digestive system than the stuff in the takeout box.
Here’s the first bit of sacrilege: you don’t have to use Thai basil. Oh, you should, if you can find it–the sweet, licorice-y aroma will get the dish closest to what you’d find in an American Thai restaurant. But Italian sweet basil from the grocery store is just as delicious, and often much easier to find. If you’re forever buying a bunch of basil just to use a few leaves, then this is the recipe for you. Just toss in the rest of the leaves, and watch as the wok swallows them up.
I’ve had a couple tubs of Thai curry paste kicking around in my fridge since the summer. But when butternut squash came into season this year, I started putting them into heavy rotation. I love butternut squash soup as it is, but lately I’ve been liking my winter squash on the spicy side. So I make a very simple soup–just leeks, garlic, ginger, and squash, plus enough broth to make it soupy–and add a little dollop of curry paste. Squash loves curry in all forms, and its sweetness really welcomes the spiciness of Thai curry. It makes for a really terrific soup.
I’ve used red and green curry here, and they were both great. The red curry is a cleaner, sourer heat, and I find I need a little less paste to do the job. Green curry is richer, darker, maybe slightly less spicy, and I use a little more of it to really zing. In either case, the effect is both surprising and subtle: lots of fire up front and a quiet thrum of curry in the background.
The soup is nice enough on its own, but adding a little pile of fried shallots to each bowl really makes it special. Pureed squash can be a bit sugary and boring on its own, and the fried shallots add a lovely crackly-crisp texture and bittersweet contrast that I just love. If you’re serving the whole batch of soup at once, I’d suggest frying all the shallots right in the soup pot, then using the shallot-infused oil to make the soup. But if, like me, you like making soup ahead of time and freezing it for later, just fry up a little batch of shallots whenever you’re ready to eat.
I’m not normally one for adding cream to pureed soups, but this soup really benefits from something rich stirred in at the end. The curry paste I use is very spicy, and it needs a bit of fat to tame it so that the other flavors come through. Coconut milk is the obvious choice, but I don’t always want to open a whole can just to use a drizzle. I’ve finished this soup with different dairy and non-dairy milks, depending on what was in my fridge at the time, and it comes out great every time. The recipe includes a bunch of options; use what you like, or what you’ve got on hand. It’s that kind of soup.
A few weeks ago, I impulse-bought a couple tubs of Thai curry paste. Since then, it’s been curry central in this household. I love how these pastes provide deep flavor and powerful heat, without any work involved: no chopping, no mashing, no nothing. If you have Thai curry paste in the fridge, coconut milk and rice in the pantry, maybe some fish sauce and limes, you can follow the recipe on the label and turn pretty much any combination of protein and veggies into a quick and powerful meal. But even beyond that, I’ve found these pastes are terrific for everything from dumplings to lentil soup to a simple coconut sauce for fish or chicken (which I’ll get around to posting sometime soon).
I bought two kinds of curry paste: red and green. The red curry is a bit sharper and tangier, while the green curry is rich and deep and slightly sweet. I actually like the green better for straight-up curry, but the red has proven to be a bit more versatile overall. When I learned that red curry paste is a key ingredient in Thai fish cakes, it was only a matter of time before I tried it in one of my favorite seafood dishes of all time: crab cakes.
This is a total mash-up recipe, in the best way. These little nibbles have all the flavors of Thai fish cakes–red curry, green beans, scallions, fish sauce, lime–with the texture of an all-American crab cake. Unlike the Thai version, which requires a food processor and deep-frying, these can be made in a matter of minutes in just one bowl, with minimal mess and less fuss. The crab mixture benefits from a little time in the fridge before cooking, but it’s really not necessary. I can–and have–made these on a whim for Sunday lunch, in 20 minutes or less. They’re terrific that way.
How big or small you make these is totally up to you. I go for a sort of middle ground and make 8 smallish cakes, which I think are ideal for an at-home appetizer or light lunch. You could make 4 giant cakes, or 16 itty-bitty cakes to serve as a party snack. If you go bigger, I’d suggest covering the skillet while the cakes cook, so that they heat through by the time they’ve browned.
I have the flu. Third time this year I’ve been sick.
So, for the third time this year, I made a powerful, brothy soup to combat the bug. This time my weapon of choice was tom yum, or Thai hot and sour soup. It’s fiery, sharp, and a little bit sweet–terrific stuff, even if you’re the picture of health.
Where Chinese-style hot and sour soup uses white pepper and vinegar, tom yum gets its punch from red chili and a trio of tart aromatics: kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and lime juice. Some recipes add a small amount of sugar, which I think works well to offset the aggressiveness of the other flavors.
My favorite Thai restaurant does a simple vegetable tom yum that I love: straw mushrooms and baby corn in a lipstick-red broth, topped with cilantro sprigs. I tried to duplicate that here, with some degree of success. Working from this base recipe, you could include your favorite soup vegetables–carrots, broccoli and cabbage work beautifully–or add chicken or shrimp for a more substantial meal.