Updated: Sep 7, 2021
It's been a busy 8 weeks in this last term of culinary school in Bangkok. The term has been condensed from 12 weeks to 8, so the weeks have been really jam packed.
I've been working on my final exam menu which I'll cook for local expert judges on Oct 20th. The prompt for the final exam is to create three dishes to be served with rice, so it's a very open ended prompt, and we are allowed to choose our audience. I've created a menu to essentially feed my family. The idea is to combine Thai food with California cuisine, focusing on seasonally local produce with lots of herbs and just a bit of animal protein.
Very few dishes we've learned this term have been vegetarian and in my normal life I eat mostly vegetarian. So I've been itching to try out vegetarian versions of the recipes we've made in class. I thought I would pick something easy and go with a laab, which is a meat salad with herbs and special spice mix or sometimes lime juice and toasted rice. After some trial and error, I landed on a vegetarian salad inspired by the Norther style Laab Kua. Laab Kua is traditionally a raw meat salad, so my version is a big departure from the original. While I was testing the recipe, I played around a lot with the spice mix. In the end, for my exam I have to use the traditional Laab Kua spice mix. However, I know I wont be able to find that mix in the US, so I experimented a bit with other options. My favorite option uses a spice mix from another Northern Thai recipe, hung ley. The benefit of hung ley spice mix are two fold. The first is that it is easily substituted with garam masala and turmeric, and the second is that I like it in the salald even better than the Laab Kua spice mix.
Corn and Tofu Thai Inspired Salad
1 cup of corn, kernels removed from about 1 ear
1/2 cup firm tofu, cubed and patted dry
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1T mint leaves, finely sliced
2T coriander, finely sliced (or sawtooth corinader/culantro)
1 spring onions, finely sliced
2 teaspoons fish sauce (light soy sauce or vegan fish sauce for vegan sub)
1/2 teaspoon palm sugar, or maple syrup
2 tablespoons crispy fried shallot (optional)
oil for deep frying
To make crispy fried shallots slice your fresh shallots as thinly as you can. Add a thick layer of cooking oil in a small nonstick pan, about 1/2 inch of oil. Add the sliced shallots and turn the heat to medium. Cook on medium heat, the oil will start to bubble and eventually the shallows will turn golden. Remove them from the heat before they are deep golden brown, because the color will continue to develop after you pull them from the oil. You can remove them with a slotted spoon or use a metal strainer, rest them on a paper towel to drain the oil. You can keep with frying oil for a few days and use it for your savory cooking.
In a nonstick or saute pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil, the minced garlic and 1 teaspoon of chili flakes, turn heat to medium. Cook this for one minute so the oil infuses with the chili and garlic flavors, and then add the tofu. (Remember to pat dry your tofu, it gives it a better chance to brown). When the tofu has a little color, add the 1/2t turmeric and 1t garam masala, cook this for just a minute, then stir in the corn. Cook for another 2 minutes. Then add the fish sauce and the palm sugar (or maple syrup), continue to cook until the corn is to your liking, be sure to cook for at least one minute after you add the fish sauce, as you want the fishy fragrance to mellow. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
This dish is eaten warm or room temp, so wait for the corn and tofu mixture to cool before adding the herbs. Mixing the herbs into a hot dish will degrade their freshness and turn them brown.
To assemble, mix the corn and tofu mixture with the fresh thinly slice spring onion, coriander and mint and some of the fried shallot. Garnish with fried shallot, and fresh herb sprigs on the side.
This dish pairs very well with jasmine rice or sticky rice.