You’ve heard of superfoods, but how about supercuisine?
With its delicate coconut sauces, fragrant lime kaffir leaves, warming chillies and natural spices, Thai food is one of the most delicious cuisines in the world. Whether you’re going out for a meal, or cooking at home, once you start exploring the possibilities of traditional Thai ingredients you’ll realise that the recipes don’t just taste good, they’re good in every other sense too. From nutritious vegetarian dishes to low fat seafood and meat options, it’s comforting to know you can enjoy most Thai food guilt free.
Atique Choudhury, proprietor of Yum Yum Thai Restaurant in London’s trendy Stoke Newington has been a champion of Thai cuisine for over 20 years. He trained as a chef at the age of 17 and over the years has experimented with all kinds of international cuisine from Bangladeshi to St Lucian, but it was Thai that captured his tastebuds and his passion. He explains: ‘Like most British people, I love curry but Thai is so different to other curries. We use ingredients that come from the Earth, giving the dishes a natural, home-cooked flavour.’
Get to know your Thai spices!
L-R green peppercorns, garlic, mushrooms, red onion, galanghal, lemongrass, Kra chai (Thai aubergine), ginger, lime, button mushrooms, mint leaves, coriander, pea aubergines
Key ingredients in Thai cooking that help create the signature flavour include lemongrass, turmeric, coriander, coconut milk and chillies – all of which have their own individual health benefits. Lemongrass is highly regarded for its anti-bacterial properties and is excellent for common colds and reducing high blood pressure. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. Coriander is rich in vitamins and nutrients like iron, coconut oil can control blood sugar levels, while chillies boost circulation and can thin the blood.’
When you’re opting for ingredients to cook Thai cuisine, it’s always best to go for the freshest; Atique explains why: ‘When you’re using chilli, you never get the same effects from a powder. When your fry fresh chillies the aroma is tantalising, enhancing the cooking and eating experience.’
It’s not just what goes into a Thai dish that makes it such a special cuisine, preparation is also key, starting with portion size. Atique explains: ‘In British culture we’re used to having three main meals a day; breakfast, lunch and dinner, yet in Thailand, they send to eat more smaller dishes throughout the day. Rather than a huge plate of rice, it’s better to have smaller bowels spread out.’
Size also matters when it comes to ingredients - smaller is better! Atique believes; ‘Cut meat into small, manageable chunks like cubed chicken. It’s much easier for your digestive system to consume that larger pieces.’
Whatever kind of diet you prefer, the most important factor is ensuring it’s varied and balanced, and as such you shouldn’t eat the same things every day. Atique reveals; ‘Coconut milk is non-dairy and low in cholesterol however is does contain natural fats so rather than daily consumption, introduce coconut dishes into your weekly food plan.’
One of the problems most health conscious people face is eating out. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to add artificial flavours, extra salt and fat, of which you have no control over. But if you’re opting for a Thai restaurant like Yum Yum, you can feel confident that you’ll get healthier options. Atique reveals: ‘Sometime you can see your food swimming in oil and you have no control over the salt content, something everyone is concerned about today. At Yum Yum instead of salt we use healthier soy and fish sauces which have just as much flavour.’ He adds: ‘If you’re watching your weight, there’s nothing better than Thai food. There’s always a selection of vegetables like morning glory and white turnip and herbs that will cleanse and revive your body. Eat these along with rice, meat and fish and you’ll feel immediately healthier!’
Across Thailand itself you’ll find a host of regional dishes. The most popular way to eat is street food, healthy rice, vegetable and seafood dishes cooked fresh –so much more nutritious than the ‘fast-food’ culture we have in the UK. Atique assures: ‘Noodle dishes are very quick, simple and satisfying, cooked in a simple sauce with flavours like mustard leaves, and served with tofu. In the UK beancurd is considered something only vegetarians eat but in Thailand, tofu is a low fact protein that everyone enjoys.’
Whether you’re enjoying a flavoursome jungle curry, light broth or steamed rice, Thai food will entice your tastebuds and fulfill your stomach. With so much variety when it comes to dishes, there’s a favourite for everyone. So next time you’re planning a meal, consider cooking something inspired by the East, or enjoy a night out at a Thai eatery and discover a whole new world of food.
Yum Yum Thai was awarded Best Thai Restaurant at the Asian Curry Awards
Yum Yum Thai, 187 Stoke Newington High Street, London, N16 0LH.
020 7254 6751 www.yumyum.co.uk