The Six Healthiest Staple Foods in Thai Cuisine
Traditional Thai cuisine strives to incorporate five major
flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy. While a typical
meal will include a blending of these tastes, individual dishes
may include all of them or may favor just one. For those who
have never tried Thai food before, it has a resemblance to
Chinese stir-fries and Indian curries, but with a distinctive
flair all of its own.
Thai cuisine is known for blending together five
tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy.
Fish sauce and rice -- particularly jasmine rice --
are two main ingredients in most Thai dishes, as are
fragrant herbs and spices that give the food an intense,
fresh flavor. Many of the popular entrees -- soups,
curries and stir-fries -- are also rich in vegetables,
making Thai food a healthy treat that you can enjoy
with your family.
Following are six of the healthiest ingredients commonly
used in Thai cooking, and don't miss the recipes at
the end of the article (they're tempting enough that
you may want to try one tonight!).
Contrary to popular opinion, coconut milk is NOT the water
inside a coconut (this is called coconut water or juice).
Coconut milk is made from pressing the white coconut meat
and mixing the resulting coconut cream with water. This rich
and fragrant milk is used as a base in numerous Thai soups,
curries and desserts.
Health Benefits: Coconuts are a rich source of vitamins,
minerals and anti-microbial properties. They also contain
compounds that may help lower bad cholesterol and boost the
good kind, and support the immune system.
Turmeric is a spice used in curries (it's also what gives
curry the characteristic yellow color). It has a warm, peppery
flavor with a citrus-like fragrance similar to ginger.
Health Benefits: The active ingredient in turmeric
is curcumin, an anti-inflammatory that studies have found
is just as effective as drugs like hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone
and Motrin. It is known to protect the heart and liver, and
among the many health conditions that turmeric has been found
to benefit are inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's
disease and ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic
fibrosis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
The sour, citrus flavor in limes and lime juice is a staple
addition to many traditional Thai soups, curries and stir-fries.
Kaffir lime leaves are also a crucial element in most Thai
Health Benefits: Limes are, of course, an excellent
source of vitamin C, but that's not all. They also contain
potent antioxidant compounds that help protect your body from
free radicals, have anti-cancer properties and may help protect
against rheumatoid arthritis.
Fresh basil is often used in Thai dishes not only for its
unique flavor but also for its fragrance. You'll find it in
Thai soups, curries and stir-fries.
Health Benefits: Compounds in basil have been found
to protect DNA from radiation, protect against unwanted bacterial
growth (basil has potent anti-bacterial properties), provide
anti-inflammatory effects and help support heart health.
Roasted chili paste is a staple in Thai cooking, used to
flavor main dishes and dipping sauces, dress salads, and even
top rice or crackers. Various versions of both green and red
chili peppers are used in just about every traditional Thai
dish and condiment (usually in very generous amounts).
Health Benefits: Capsaicin, the compound in chili peppers
that makes them so spicy (the spicier the pepper, the more
capsaicin it contains), is also incredibly healthy. It is
an anti-inflammatory compound that helps with pain relief,
boosts immunity, reduces cholesterol, helps prevent cancer,
and helps prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria.
Coriander (known in the West as cilantro) is a bold herb
that adds intense flavor, fragrance and freshness to Thai
Health Benefits: Coriander is a rich source of beneficial
phytonutrients, flavonoids and active phenolic acid compounds
that have been found to help control blood sugar, lower cholesterol
and fight inflammation and free radicals.
Try Some Thai Tonight!
Whether your love Thai cuisine or are trying it for the first
time, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the fresh and tasty
flavors in the following Thai recipes.
Tom Yum Soup
Tom Yum soup is credited as being the most popular soup in
Thailand, and it's also been studied for its ability to boost
the immune system! It has an irresistible hot and sour flavor.
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 3 kaffir lime leaves (these can be found in Asian food
- 12 medium or large raw shrimp, shelled
- 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
- 1-2 small red or green chilies, finely sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 handful of cherry tomatoes
- 1 handful of fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
- 1 green and/or red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 can coconut milk
- wedges of lime for serving (key limes or regular limes)
- 1/3 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- optional: additional Thai red chilies, chopped finely
with seeds removed
- optional: Thai rice noodles
- Pour stock into a deep cooking pot and turn heat to medium-high.
- Add processed lemongrass to the pot, including the parts
of the lemongrass stalk you didn't slice. Boil for 5 minutes,
or until fragrant.
- Add garlic, chili, and lime leaves to broth. Continue
cooking for another 5 minutes.
- Add noodles (if using) and stir until broken apart. Add
shrimp, mushrooms, and bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes.
Cook for 5-8 minutes, or until noodles are done.
- Turn down the heat to low and add the coconut milk and
fish sauce. Test the soup for spice and salt, adding more
chilies and/or fish sauce (instead of salt) as desired.
- Serve in bowls with coriander sprinkled over and quarters
of fresh lime on the side.
Thai Green Curry
A classic Thai dish!
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp green curry paste (according to taste)
- 1 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
- 1-2 thick stalks lemongrass, fat ends bashed with a rolling
- 1½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken, cut into
chunks (use breast and/or leg meat)
- 6-8 kaffir lime leaves, torn into pieces (if unavailable,
use the grated zest of 1 lime)
- 14fl oz coconut milk
- good shake of Thai fish sauce or light soy sauce
- small handful of coriander, roughly chopped
- ½-1 lime, juice only
- Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan.
- Add the green curry paste and sugar and cook over a fairly
high heat for about a minute, stirring with the lemongrass,
- Reduce the heat slightly and stir in the chicken pieces
and lime leaves or zest until coated in the paste.
- Add the coconut milk, fish sauce or soy sauce and bring
to a simmer, cooking for 25-30 minutes until thickened slightly.
- Stir in the coriander and lime juice.
- Check for seasoning, adding more fish sauce or soy sauce
- The curry is now best left to sit for a few minutes so
the sauce becomes creamier.
- Serve with lots of fragrant Thai jasmine rice.
Pratt, Nation's Favorite Food