Nam Prik Pao: Thai Chili Jam

Every time I go to a Thai joint I think to myself that I must try to make Nam Prik Pao , the delicious sweet chili jam that is always served as a relish. I usually end up eating it by the spoonful even before the food arrives!

Finally, I got around to doing it.

First of all, I should mention that this is the vegetarian version of the actual recipe. It was not really a deliberate decision though.

I needed dry red chilies for making another dish. The grocer below my building only had these huge packs, so that’s what I bought. That packet was kinda staring at me; I had to make use of all that lovely looking chilies.

Then I remembered, Thai Chili Jam! But all the recipes that I found asked for dries shrimp paste, which I didn’t have. Then I thought what the heck, I will make it without the shrimp paste and see what happens. I must say I don’t miss it in the final product.

So here we go, the recipe.

Nam Prik Pao - ingredients :

  • 75g whole dried chilli, substitute about 7 tbsp chili powder
  • 100g garlic, about 2 medium heads
  • 150g shallots, about 5 medium shallots
  • 1 cup, 250ml oil
  • 100g palm sugar, about 10 tbsp, chopped
  • 1/3 cup tamarind pulp
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup water

Set a pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the dried whole chilli. Stir vigorously, until the chilli pods begin to smoke and burn in places. Remove the chili from the heat. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, peel garlic and shallots and cut into thin slices. Keep the garlic and shallot slices separated for now, they will have to be fried separately.

Add 1 cup of oil into a pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic slices. Keep stirring to make sure that all the garlic is cooked evenly. When the garlic turn light golden brown – don’t let them turn too dark now as they will continue to cook a bit more off the heat – use a colander or slotted spoon to fish out all the garlic flakes. Set aside.

Add the sliced shallots into the remaining oil in the pan. Cook until they are golden brown, stirring frequently to prevent hot spots. When the shallots are done, turn the heat off, fish the fried shallot flakes out and leave the oil in the pan. Set aside.

Using a pestle & mortar OR food processor, combine the prepared chili with the shrimp paste, fish sauce, sugar, tamarind and water. Also add the fried garlic and shallots. Pound or process all together to form a thick paste.

Return this paste to your frying pan and stir it into the oil over low heat, gently simmering until you get a fairly even consistency. Adjust the consistency by adding a little more water if you find it too thick, or more oil if you prefer a "shinier" sauce. Adjust the taste, adding more fish sauce if you'd like it saltier, or more sugar if you'd like it sweeter.

Transfer the Nam Prik Pao into an airtight container – I love to use old jam jars for this. Nam Prik Pao will keep in the cupboard for a few months and longer if you keep it in your fridge.

Use your Nam Prik Pao as an addition to Thai soups, or added as a flavor booster to Thai stir-fries and curry sauces. Also wonderful when stir-fried with seafood, or as an accompaniment to dumpling, noodles or almost anything! Enjoy!

Salted Honey Peanuts

I am trying to eat healthy these days. Cutting down on unnecessary calories et al. But let me tell you, it is not easy for me!

Take last night for example. I have stopped keeping junk food at home in an effort to control the munchies. So what did I do when I got serious craving for something to nibble on? I made Salted Honey Peanuts. Yummy sweet and salty peanuts that can get dangerously addictive!

It did not help that this was super easy to make.

First I heated up 2tbsp of butter and 5tbsp of honey together in the microwave.

Then I added 2 cups of peanut to the mixture with 1tsp of cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt. I mixed them really well, coating all the peanuts with the syrup.

Usually these peanuts should be roasted in an oven. But as I still haven’t set up the OTG that my ex-rommie left me; I decided to do it on the stovetop.

I roasted the peanuts in a pan in an even layer on medium low heat. Tossed them after 10 min so that all that lovely bubbling syrup coats the peanuts evenly. Another 2-3 min and it was done.

Letting it cool down was the hardest part of the whole process. :P

They turned out so good! The slight bite of salt to cut the otherwise sweet coating was just right!

I took these photographs in the middle of the night and wasn’t very happy with them. The plan was to take some again in the morning. But a friend came over and they are no more. RIP Salted Honey Peanuts, you were delicious!

Kitchen Mishap Gone Right AKA How I Made Sandesh by Accident

I had some khejur gur (date jaggery) sitting in my fridge for quite some time and thought I will use it up by making some payesh (Bengali kheer, payasam) with it. But what I ended up with is some lovely Gurer Kachagolla (Bengali sweet).

Here is how it happened.

I brought the milk to boil and added khejur gur to it.

And it immediately began to curdle!

This is how it looked. I was utterly mortified!

Then I remembered my mom making chhana at home which looked exactly like this।। Chhana is the raw material for most Bengali sweets. And this one had all the fabulous flavour of khejur gur in it! So I decided to roll with it.

I let the whole thing come to boil once before switching off the flame and letting it cool down.

The liquid separated as it cooled down.

Once it was completely cool, I poured it through a sieve to separate the chhana from the liquid.

Then I realized that this sieve was not fine enough to get all the liquid out of the chhana.

So I used some cheesecloth and let it drip for couple of hours।

Lovely khejur gur flavoured chhana, all ready to be shaped into sandesh.

Voila, Gurer Kachagolla!

Mussels in White Wine Sauce

Mussels are one of those things that I love to eat but were always apprehensive to cook. Mussels and crabs. So when I finally worked up the courage to make them I wanted to start with a pretty uncomplicated recipe. I wasn’t in the mood for anything spicy plus there was an open bottle of white wine sitting in the fridge which I wanted to use up. The result, Mussels in White Wine Sauce.

Mussels in White Wine Sauce

Mussels are best if served as quickly after purchase as possible. If you must store them, keep them in icy cold water in the refrigerator. When you are ready to prepare them, check to see if any of the mussels have opened. If so, discard them.

• 1kg of mussels, washed and beards removed
• 1 tablespoons butter
• 1 cups chopped onion
• 1.5 cups light white wine
• 2 garlic cloves

Place the mussels in a large colander or strainer in the sink. Rinse the mussels well, taking care to remove any hairy growths on the mussels, sand, and other dirt. Throw out any mussels that are already open and will not close, as uncooked mussels that stay open before being cooked, are a sign of being bad.
Mince the garlic for your mussels, and chop the onion. Place both in a large pan with about a tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. Sautee until the onion is mostly translucent, stirring often. Add some fresh ground pepper and salt to taste. Add wine to the pan, and stir well. Let wine mixture heat through for a few minutes to properly incorporate the flavors. Add mussels to the garlic wine sauce, stir mussels to coat well, and cover to let mussels steam for about 5 minutes. Uncover, and stir mussels again. Repeat this process until the vast majority of your mussels are open. Any cooked mussels that do not open, are bad, discard those. You will be cooking mussels for about ten to fifteen minutes total.
To serve your mussels, place mussels shell and all into bowls. Ladle several spoonful of garlic wine sauce over mussels. Garnish mussels with chopped fresh rosemary.
I learned a nifty way to eat mussels. Empty one shell, but make sure the hinge stays intact. Then use that shell almost like tweezers to pluck the meat from the other shells. Use some bread to soak up the fantastic garlic wine sauce.

Grilled Peaches with Honey Balsamic Dressing

Come summer time and I OD on fruits. It gets too hot and humid to cook or eat anything warm most of the time. I usually go to the 4 Bungalows market to buy fruits. I think it is much better than a supermarket in terms of freshness, variety and price! After a few days though it gets a bit boring to have same old fruits the same old way. Every once in a while I give in to my urges to spurge on more exotic albeit expensive varieties. And that’s how I ended up buying some peaches.

I have had peaches before as part of some kind of a dessert at restaurants but never as a whole fruit. So I got it home, washed it and bite into it. It was nothing like I remembered. It was a bit hard and not as sweet as I expected. I was disappointed.

And then I remembered all those cooking shows where I have seen people grill fruits. It makes the fruit tender and wonderfully caramelized. So that’s the way I decided to go. The grilling did all that but something was still missing. So I decided to add the balsamic dressing. And oh boy, did it take the peaches to a whole new level! This is one of my favourite desserts now.

Grilled Peaches with Honey Balsamic Dressing

As this recipe was developed on the go, I don’t really remember the exact quantity of ingredients. But this is what you will need:

• Fresh peaches sliced into halves, pits removed
• Neutral oil like vegetable or sunflower oil
• Any kind of balsamic vinegar
• Honey
• Chilli flakes

Slice the peaches in halves and remove the pits. Brush them with some oil so they don’t stick to grill. I don’t have a grill but use a griddle pan. You can use a heavy bottomed normal non-stick pan too but then you won’t get the nice grill marks on the peaches. Grill the peaches for around 10 min per side so you get nice caramelization, and flip them when they look good and become tender. Let them cool down a bit before slicing them into smaller pieces.
While the peaches are cooling down, mix together some balsamic vinegar and honey. I used about 3 parts balsamic to 1 part honey. You can alter this according to your preference of sweetness. Once you have sliced the peaches toss them in the dressing. Sprinkle some chilli flakes on top before serving. The chilli flakes add a nice heat to the sweet and tangy dessert.

p.s. the next time I made this I removed the skin of the peaches. It comes off really easily after the peach has been grilled. The skin adds a slightly unpleasant texture otherwise.

Seared Lemon Pepper Salmon

At long last I have managed to stop procrastinating and start the food blog I have been thinking and talking about for ages! This blog will be mostly about my kitchen experiments, my favourite dishes and general food related activities happening around me.

As a Bong, my love for food is something I was born with. But in the last few years it has grown into a mild obsession and I have become a compulsive cook. Many a sleepless night is spent watching Food Network or Cooking Channel. Yes, I am addicted to cooking shows! And then inspiration strikes and experiments follow. I hardly follow recipes. I adapt them to whatever ingredients I have available at that time. Which is also the reason that even though I cook certain dishes again and again, they are never exactly the same. At times I add something on a whim and don’t even remember that the next time I make the dish. So hopefully this blog will act as a reminder for me too.

So anyway, here goes. The very first recipe from the Insomniac Cook.

Seared Lemon Pepper Salmon:

I love salmon! It tastes awesome and it’s healthy. Only thing is it’s quite expensive. So when I want to reward myself for a job well done, I make salmon. I like the natural flavour of salmon and try to keep it as simple as possible.

Seared Lemon Pepper Salmon is easy to make, requires very few ingredients and tastes really good.

You will need:

• 2 Salmon Fillet
• 1 large lemon
• 2 tablespoon cracked pepper
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• Salt to taste

Heat up the pan to medium to high heat. Add enough olive oil just coat the pan. Season the salmon fillets with salt and cracked pepper on both sides. When the oil is hot enough add the salmon skin side up. Cook one side without disturbing it. You will know it’s done when it feels like the salmon will come off easily and then cook the other side. It will take around 5-6min on each side depending on the thickness of your fillet. When both sides are done, take out the salmon and let it rest. Add the juice of one lemon to the pan. Scrape up all the yummy bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add freshly cracked pepper and rest of the olive oil. Add a pinch of salt. Let it cook for around 5 min and your sauce is done. Put the salmon on the serving dish and pour the sauce over it.

You can have green beans and potato as sides with this. Even some garlic bread to soak up all that delicious sauce. I was in the mood for peas so I boiled some and tossed them with a touch of olive oil and salt-n-pepper.