Updated: Nov 2, 2021
You guys, my following is so massive (jkjk). I posted a picture of this dish in my Insta stories this week and the recipe requests slid into my DMs. So here I am, sharing the recipe.
This recipe was brought to Thailand by Southern Burmese immigrants. It became a staple of Royal Thai cuisine when Burmese people began working in the Royal Court and adapting their native recipes to Thai flavor preferences. Royal Thai cuisine made its way to the general population when those working and studying in the palace (sort of a domestic work/study program) brought the dishes they learned back to their families and communities. Most likely, Yam Ta-wai is very similar to the original Burmese dish, with the Thai influence showing up in the curry dressing. The dressing is essentially a concentrated Thai red curry with dried fish added for body and aroma. The original curry dressing likely calls for fewer aromatics than the Thai version.
As this is a Royal Thai dish, all of the ingredients should be cut very thin and should not exceed the length of a spoon in size (specifically, the spoon you'll be eating with). All of the vegetables should be similar in size, so that no one vegetable overpowers the others. A nice guide for your cutting size and shape is the bean sprouts in the recipe. As long as you're not cooking for the King of Thailand, you don't have to do prep to the bean sprouts, so just cut all your vegetables to be similar in size to the sprouts. (** If you are cooking for a Thai royal, you need to remove the tops and tails of the sprouts- but I don't need to tell you that. As a Royal Thai chef, you know that already ;-) what are you even doing reading this blog?!)
Ok, on to the recipe!
Yam Ta-Wai, Southern Burmese Salad Recipe
1 cup (200 grams) coconut cream*
3 cups (600 grams) water
1.5 cups (80 grams) morning glory (substitutes: cabbage or even better, Swiss chard stems sliced very very thinly on the bias)
1.5 cups (80 grams) bean sprouts
1.5 cups (80 grams) bamboo shoot
1.5 cups (80 grams) string beans
1.5 cups (80 grams) green bell peppers
* Look for Aroy-D or Chaokoh brands of coconut milk. The box will say coconut milk, but since they are quite concentrated we call it coconut cream in my Thai cuisine class. Shake before pouring!
** The idea is to get a good mix of mellow flavored vegetables, so you can really substitute for whatever fresh vegetable you like. Canned options that would also go nicely here are baby corn and water chesnuts.
Khua Curry Paste
1T (15g) galangal, finely chopped
3T (30g) lemongrass, finely chopped
2T (30g) shallot, chopped
1T (20g) garlic
1t (8g) coriander root or stems, finely chopped
Zest of 1 entire kaffir lime or any available lime
1/4 t (2g) white pepper corns
1/2 t (10g) shrimp paste (omit for vegan version and double salt)
1/2 t (5g) salt
1/4 cup (15g) dried smoked fish meat (vegan sub: nut milk pulp, or nut flour / coconut flour. For coconut flour try 2T as it is quite dry. The intention for this ingredient is to thicken)
Paste Cooking liquids and seasonings
2 cups (400g) coconut cream
2T (50g) palm sugar
1.5 T (30g) fish sauce (vegan version sub. vegan fish sauce or 2 pinches of salt)
3T (60g ) tamarind juice (substitute 30g lime juice, add off heat)
*If you can, use a scale for the paste, measuring by volume is very imprecise for fresh chopped herbs
** Unfortunately for a curry paste, there are not many substitutions. But if there is only one or two ingredients you can't find, just omit those ingredients. The one substitution I would suggest is for the kaffir lime zest. Try using whatever lime you can find.
For the protein: Add water (1C) and coconut cream (3C) to a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add chicken and reduce heat to simmer. Poach chicken breast in the simmering coconut milk until fully cooked, about 7 minutes. Let chicken cool and shred it by pulling it apart by hand. For tofu, simmer the tofu for about 5 minutes to infuse with coconut flavor. Cool and slice into matchsticks.
***After cooking the protein, keep this liquid to cook the vegetables.
For the vegetables: wash and slice all vegetables to a size similar to the bean sprouts.
Boil each vegetable separately in the coconut milk, by submerging the vegetable in the boiling coconut milk and removing the vegetable with a strainer after roughly 1-3 minutes. Start from the mildest vegetable (bean sprouts) to the most aromatic (bell pepper). If you have substituted any ingredients that might alter the color of the cooking liquid, (rainbow chard stems, beets, purple cabbage) cook these last to maintain the color of the cooking liquid. Allow vegetables to come to room temp after cooking.
For the curry dressing
Clean and chop all ingredients as specified in the ingredients list.
In a mortar and pestle, pound the white pepper to a powder. Add lime zest and pound finely. Remove the pepper zest and add the fried fish. Pound the fish in the mortar and pestle until fluffy.
In a blender, add the lime zest + pepper powder, and all over curry paste ingredients except the dried fish or (nut flour for the vegan version). Measure out your 2 cups of coconut cream, and add a portion of this to your blender carafe to help you blend, use just enough to cover the blades. Blend on high until very smooth. Add dried fish (or nut flour) and blend again to combine. Remove the curry paste from the blender. If you have a lot of left over paste in the carafe, add your remaining coconut cream to the carfare and blend on high for a few seconds, to just clean the blender and get those remaining good bits, keep this curried coconut cream separate from the paste.
In a non stick pan, add the coconut cream that you just cleaned the blender with to the pan. Cook this on medium, constantly stirring, until you see the oil from the coconut cream release and separate from the liquid. This will be a nice red or orange oil. You'll also notice a really beautiful curry aroma at this point as well. This does not happen right away, you will likely be stirring and cooking this for about 5 minutes.
Next, add the curry paste to the pan and continue to cook on medium low heat until you see the oil separate again. You will stir constantly to ensure the paste doesn't burn, but stop once in a while to check on your development. Once you get another round of oil separating from the paste, you can move to the next step which in seasoning.
Add the palm sugar to the pan and melt it into the paste. Then add fish sauce and tamarind juice to the pan. Cook for a few minutes to infuse the sauce with the seasoning, and then taste the sauce to adjust the seasoning. The seasonings should be fairly rounded, with salty sour sweet essentially equal in strength. (This will taste very strong, stronger than a standard red curry, because it's very concentrated, but once it's on the watery vegetables it will be perfect - so don't worry!)
Continue to cook to thicken the paste, the final product should be similar to a thick tomato sauce which is very thick, but is just thin enough to be pour-able. When you scoop the sauce with a spoon it should thickly coat the spoon but doesn't clump up. If you've reduced it too much and it's clumping on your spoon, add a bit more coconut cream or water to dilute. Let the sauce cool. When it cools, it will no longer be pour-able.
It's time to assemble!
Make lovely little piles of cooked vegetable and protein around a plate, in any design you like. Add a generous amount of dressing to the plate, likely twice as much as you think you should add. For the portion I'm showing in the photo, I used about 1/4 - 1/3 cup of dressing. Top with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, I used white but I think black sesame would look much nicer. This can be enjoyed with our without a side of steamed rice.
Other simple sides that would pair nicely to munch on the side include:
- cold fresh fruit like pineapple, mango, strawberries,
- fresh tender herbs like basil and cilantro,
- some raw veggies to add some crispness to the meal like cucumbers, green beans,
- romaine lettuce for lettuce cups,
- soft boiled eggs if you fancy some more protein.
*You may end up with more dressing than you need. So you can either boil up more vegetables to have it again, or use it as a dipping sauce for home fries (omg yum) or veggie platter, add it to your grain bowls, or spice up some steamed vegetables or artichokes. You could also use it to dip fried sea food / vegetable tempura, or BBQed foods... top your mashed potatoes with it. The possibles guys, they're endless!