The Advantages of Gluttony

“Gluttony is a lust of the mind”.         -Thomas Hobbes 

Despite my size, I don’t eat “like a little bird”; however, I rarely seek out the tasting menu format for two reasons. First, because I like to be in control of the meal, and second, because the quantity is always more than is absolutely necessary. But, sometimes it is the only format available, and all you can do is reconcile yourself with the prospect of sheer gluttony (or, shall we say, piggishness :-)), marvel at the intricate interplay of flavors and textures, and hope to learn something in the process. It is always wonderful, and it is always too much food.

But, after all, I am currently in training for Provence, where one spends several solid hours eating daily, and I have to build up my chops. Following the old adage, “Practice makes perfect”, I spent Saturday and Sunday consuming immoderate amount of Thai food, served family-style at two fantastic restaurants here in DC called Little Serow and Thai X-ing.

Besides the immediate gratification of this extravagant indulgence, I was hoping to draw inspiration from those meals to cook Thai food at home (which I had never attempted before). Especially with Little Serow (the second brainchild of the incredibly talented Johnny Monis, I wanted to identify some of the flavors I was interested in replicating in my kitchen. Both family-style meals were big on flavor and low on presentation, which was exciting and liberating for me as a home chef.

Little Serow focuses on Isan cuisine native to the NE part of Thailand bordering on Laos; it is all about spicy, salty, sour, and herbacious flavors. You see a lot of spicy sour meat and herb salads (larb), and lots of vegetables, herbs, limes, and sticky rice served alongside the meal. The curries are a bit different, too: more bright, sour and salty from shrimp paste, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass.

All that sounded right up my alley! The only drawback was that pretty much all of the dishes at Little Serow were meat- or seafood-based. But, at Thai X-ing, as part of their all-vegetarian line-up(!), I had a fabulous curried pumpkin dish, which inspired me to do things to kabocha squash and tofu so that my husband does not starve to death during my Thai experiment.

I bought the basics (such as Thai chilis, herbs, Thai jasmine rice, peanuts, coconut milk, lemongrass, fish sauce) at a neighborhood store, and ordered a few items online from Grocery Thai.com (hot and sour paste Por Kwan, shrimp paste, and kaffir lime leaves).

Dish #1a: spicy Thai salad with shrimp

Briefly saute large shrimp in a galangal, crushed chili flakes, and lemongrass stir-fry sauce (use the WorldFoods brand, or feel free to make your own). Toss with cilantro, lots of lime juice, crushed peanuts, julienned cucumber or zucchini, basil (Thai basil if you have it), red onion, mirin, ginger, and diced Thai chilis.

 

 

 

Dish #1b: same dish, but with tofu cubes sautéed in the same sauce and roasted in the oven for improved texture, together with some red and yellow bell pepper strips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dish #2: spicy sour chicken larb salad

Chop the chicken breast very fine (I prefer to cook with air-chilled boneless skinless chicken breast), and marinade in lime juice and mirin for 10 minutes. Saute till the meat turns white (fully done), and cool completely. Add mint, cilantro, green onions, basil, ginger, fish sauce, finely grated and sliced lemon peel, Thai peppers or chili flakes, minced garlic, diced fresh lemongrass, salt and pepper. Serve with romaine lettuce leaves as wrappers.

 

Dish #3: Curried kabocha squash

Heat 1 can of coconut milk (I used Native Forest Organic Light coconut milk, which is 60% lighter than regular stuff) with 2 spoonfuls of the hot and sour Por Kwan paste (made with lemongrass, galangal, chilis, dried shrimp, kaffir lime leaves, and palm sugar). I adore the flavor of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, so I added a whole stalk of lemongrass, and a half-dozen or so kaffir leaves to the curry. Place pieces of squash into an oven-proof ceramic dish (you can leave the skin on for presentation, if you want) and submerge them completely in the curry.Cook in the oven for 15-20 min at 400F, and serve with the fragrant Thai jasmine rice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dish #4: Leftovers! The next day most of the squash was gone, but there still was a fair amount of curry left. I combined it with tofu slices and mung beans for Jeff, and chicken and mung beans for myself. Even better, more integrated flavors a day later!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All these dishes were washed down with a bottle of 2007 Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc Reserve from Alsace purchased from a local shop for a mere $10.99. I specifically wanted to list the price point, lest I be accused of my ever-so-snooty wine tastes :-). Wine should be appropriately chosen for the occasion, and here we are talking down-to-earth, casual eating.

All in all, it was a success, and I have assurances from my husband that I will be allowed to make this again :-). I like quotations, and so I will leave you with yet another quote, this time from Nigella Lawson:

“Moderation in all things including moderation”.

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22 thoughts on “The Advantages of Gluttony

  1. This is my kind of day! 2 Thai places and lots of larb. You can bet I am a freak for salty, sweey, sour, and herbaceous. We are planning to go to Thailand and Malaysia in January. This is what it is all about. Much love to you and Jeff!

    Cheers,
    M

  2. Everything seems so tasty, my stomach is growling. Can’t wait to hear about Provence for real.
    I will add this to my list of things to try when I feel like cooking again. I’m cooked out for now.

  3. I love Thai! I love your writing even more… Your words make me hungry… “prospect of sheer gluttony… marvel at the intricate interplay of flavors and textures”…. I think if you talk about boiled eggplant (which I despise!), you will make me crave it!

  4. I was particularly interested in the Kabocha squash – unfortunately I can’t seem to get it here. Congrats on putting together such a complicated meal. I’m glad I’m following your blog 🙂

  5. For me it’s quite the contrary, I always seek out the tasting menu and try to get wine pairings with it as well. The nice thing is that I get to experience new things instead of having scallops and rack of lamb all the time (which is what I would probably pick).
    If the restaurant is really good, you will NOT get too much food and the pace will be such that you can taste and taste and taste for hours and hours without getting stuffed or bored! This does not happen all the time, but for me is the perfect restaurant experience.
    Not all restaurants/regions understand this concept though…
    In Puglia this might not be a good idea, because there I usually have a hard time just finishing the antipasti 🙂 Or in the US the pace is usually simply too high, especially if there is another ‘sitting’ after you. Also in the US the portions are often too big, especially away from the coasts in my (somewhat limited) experience.

    Matching wines is a concept that not all restaurants get either, in some cases (especially in Italy) it just means start with light wines and go up to stronger wines, and have white with fish and red with meat. In places with a good sommelier (such as Librije in Holland — can’t wait for our next visit in June for our 10th anniversary) they have tasted many wines with each dish to find the perfect match.

    Your thai stuff looks great btw!

    • Stefan, the tasting menus I have partaken in were paced impeccably; and I have had some incredible wine pairings done for me…I simply cannot eat more than a couple of small courses (say, antipasto and pasta) before I get full. But, as a true glutton, I will eat through the discomfort if I have too. 🙂 Provence, here I come!
      I know what you mean about Puglia, as we had a 14-dish appetizer spread as our first course.

  6. Looks absolutely delicious — a successful experiment. Especially appreciate the term “herbacious” in the restaurant description. I’ve been hearing about Little Serow and now have no excuse not to check it out.

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