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Thai Cooking in a Sufi's Kitchen

This review was prepared by Bunnee of Anna+Food.
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This slim volume is as much a philosophy of life as a cookbook. The author, Alima Ravadi Quinn, has a restaurant in Richland, Washington. She brings her poetry, anecdotes and spiritual vision to each recipe, incorporating her love of family and appreciation for her customers. The photography is lovely, with orchid accents in many of the pictures.

There are about 50 recipes, along with a few more for sauces she uses regularly in her dishes. Many of them are very quick to prepare – a boon for people who want a meal without hours of prep. The cookbook also has a glossary of commonly used Thai ingredients, helpful for those unfamiliar with Thai cuisine.

Thai food is a favorite of mine. I love the spices and flavors, the heat (not required!), and the ingredients which make up Thai cooking. I tested five recipes in the cookbook: a soup, two appetizers, a curry, and a stir-fry chicken dish. Although I liked some better than others, all were good. Some of the recipes are influenced by other Asian cuisines (Lao, Chinese, Polynesian, Indian).

Lemon Grass Shrimp Soup is a classic soup which is very light but spicy. Flavors of chili paste, lime, fish sauce, lemon grass, kaffir lime, galangal and fresh hot chiles join vegetables and shrimp in a chicken broth which allegedly has curative qualities. My husband slurped down three bowls and savored every spoonful. The heat can be varied, but we loved the spicy chicken broth. I’m not a big fan of baby corn and if I were to make this again, I might substitute some other fresh vegetable such as snow peas or carrots. Might not be traditional, but I suspect the flavors would go well with the soup.

I’ve made chicken satay before, but I tried this recipe to see how it differs from others. I think the concept of satay as a street food has some appeal, but it would not be my first choice in a restaurant. This recipe uses coconut milk, curry powder, lemon grass, curry paste, tamarind juice, fish sauce and kaffir lime leaves along with peanut butter. Lots of ingredients, some of them a little hard to find unless you have access to an Asian market or a very well-stocked grocery store. Frankly, satay all tastes pretty much the same to me, no matter how many ingredients are included and this seemed like a lot for what was an acceptable but not memorable dish.

The Pork Curry with Pineapple was quick and good over rice. It was not as spicy as I would have liked and I did modify the cooking instructions a bit (more on that later). I would increase the amount of curry paste in the recipe to add more heat. Or you could add fresh hot chilis.

Finally, the Spicy Garlic Chicken , which the author describes as a comfort dish, was extremely fast to pull together. I did not taste much garlic, which may be because she recommends granulated rather than fresh garlic. The recipe called for 4 tablespoons of oil to cook the chicken – way too much!

I had some minor problems with the way the recipes were written. I find listing ingredients in the order used makes following a recipe much easier, especially the first time you make something. While for the most part, the author follows this convention, there were some exceptions and I found myself re-reading the ingredient list when I was assembling the dish, looking for the item mentioned in the directions but not grouped with other ingredients in that step. Good reason for assembling your mise en place!

I also questioned the cooking directions. Some of the recipes said to cook the chicken or other protein until done and then add additional ingredients and leave on the heat until the additions were cooked or heated. I decided that might result in overcooked proteins, so I usually added the other ingredients at an earlier point. And in one recipe, the optional ingredient was listed at the end of the directions – long after it should have been added if it was being used.

Overall, this collection of recipes has a variety of flavors and dishes which a regular to Thai restaurants would recognize. It is easily within the reach of Daring Cooks – assuming you can find some of the less common ingredients (all are available online). The recipes are probably tailored to a Western palate and none are strikingly unusual. For someone new to Thai, this might be a good starting point.