One of my favorite parts about cooking is the fragrance of the food. I grew up eating fresh homegrown produce. I remember how we rarely purchased any ingredients other than fish sauce and occasionally seafood. Fresh herbs were picked in a garden behind the house. They were galangal, lemon grass, Thai ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and along the line of our fences, there were chilies and eggplants. Ivy gourd naturally crept on the rails of our land. Its leaves are the most nutritious thing, packed with vitamins and iron. We made soup out of it.
A small piece of garden took care of us. We were self-sufficient. Mangoes, guavas, custard apples, rose apples and gooseberries were our fruits. Bamboo shoots, banana flowers, raw jackfruits, and many other things were added to our vegetable list. Papaya; when it’s ripe, we had it as fruit; and when it’s raw, we used it as vegetable in salad and stew. We only picked what we would use in the cooking at the time, and the rest would flourish the garden. When the ingredients are fresh, the scents of them are pungent and beautiful. That’s why we would keep them fresh and rarely let them wither in the fridge.
The most humble dishes can be made from papaya. My memory always draws me to meat cooked in pungent preserved fish liquid with lemon grass, shallots, garlic and chili, in loads of fresh raw papaya. This dish was finished with a handful of Hairy Basil which is much potent than any other basils. Another dish that is equally cherished was Mackerel in Hot and Sour Papaya Stew. It’s an example of good recipe which all ingredients come together heavenly. The perfume of deliciousness is strong and alluring. The smell like this excites your pallet. And it’s how food should be.
I had already posted the recipe before. But I decided to share it again anyway, because it’s worth talking about again and again. You can be a bold as you want with the chilies and fresh herbs, and I think it’s important in Thai cooking to be confident and daring. Less is always less. More is more! And you want more, trust me.
Hot and Sour Fish and Green Papaya Curry
500 gm mackerel- cleaned
200 gm raw papaya- peeled and roughly sliced into small pieces
Oil for deep frying
4-6 dried red chilies- soaked hot water
4 cloves garlic
1 stalk lemon grass- sliced
3 tbsp chopped Krachai (Finger root or Thai ginger)
2 tbsp tamarind paste
2 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
1 tbsp sugar
4 kaffir lime leaves
Deep fried whole mackerels in hot oil until golden brown and keep aside. Discard the bones of one fish and reserve the meat. Roughly mash the reserved meat with wooden spoon into a rough paste.
Add red chili, shallots, garlic, lemon grass and Krachai into food processor, add a little water and blend until smooth paste.
Bring vegetable stock to boil, and add the paste and ground fish.
Add papaya and cook further for 15-20 minutes or until papaya becomes tender.
Season with fish sauce, tamarind paste and sugar.
Add deep fried fish and kaffir lime leaves, and simmer further for a few minutes.
Serve hot with some rice or rice noodle.