Some cookbooks don’t live up to their titles, but Leela Punyaratabandhu’s “Simple Thai Food” is just what the title indicates. The recipes are for popular Thai dishes such as pad thai, green papaya salad, mango salad, etc. but the recipes are simple and quick to prepare. For example, once I was able to find all the ingredients to make the pad thai, it took me about 40 minutes to make the dish, which includes the 30 minutes of soaking time required for the dry rice noodles because I was able to do some chopping and other prep work while waiting for the noodles.
This leads to me to the bigger issue: finding the ingredients. The author includes substitutions and makes harder to find ingredients optional. To get all the complex flavors, you really should include the optional ingredients. Most of the ingredients can be found now in the ethnic aisle of grocery stores. However, there were a few that stumped me and required a special trip to the Asian store, namely dried shrimps, and preserved radishes. I found tamarind concentrate at a higher-end grocery store and figured it would work as tamarind pulp (the dishes I tried tasted fine). The dried shrimp was optional, but I wanted to get maximum flavor so I hunted them down. The preserved radish threw me for a loop. The Asian store had pickled radish, salted radish, and sweetened preserved radish, but nothing labeled just plain “preserved” radish. I grabbed the sweetened radish because it was already chopped and hoped for the best. Just as Italian cooking has the holy trinity of garlic, onions, and olive oil, it seems that most of the dishes in this cookbook required: sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, and Thai chilies (by the way, these are the ingredients in Vietnamese nuoc cham, too).
If you’re not very familiar with Thai cooking, you should be warned about the stench from the fish sauce, dried shrimp, and preserved radishes. Don’t worry, though, once everything comes together, the smell is dampened somewhat and it tastes great. I didn’t try all the recipes, but the ones that I tried were pretty quick and easy to put together once I got all the ingredients ready. It’s really important to have all of the stuff prepped ahead of time because once you start cooking, it goes pretty quickly. This is something that I wish the author had pointed out in the book.
Another issue that I had with this book was that some of the measurements seemed off. For example, 8 oz = 1 cup. Now, volume versus mass differ somewhat, but the author listed 4 oz bean sprouts as 2 cups. I don’t think this is right, even with the volume vs. mass. I doubled the pad thai recipe and used a 9 oz bag of bean sprouts, which I am positive wasn’t 4 cups. Also, the recipes called for a bit more fish sauce than was necessary. Making the dishes again, I would definitely decrease the amount of fish sauce. If you are someone who is used to eating fish sauce with many of your dishes, you probably won’t mind, but if fish sauce isn’t part of your regular diet, I would definitely decrease the amount of fish sauce in the recipes in this book.
Overall, I would give this book 4 stars. It has simple, easy to follow recipes that gives beginners a nice introduction to Thai cooking and the illustrations made the dishes look beautiful. I always prefer cookbooks with nice illustrations because they look appetizing and make me want to try the recipes.
I received this book from and this book was reviewed for Blogging for Books.