This book flew off the shelves as soon as it appeared in 1997, and readers tell me that they cook from it often. Vegetarians tend to be dedicated, adventurous cooks, and I figured the dazzling flavors of Thai food would be most welcome in their kitchens.
I love it as a way to increase my family’s vegetable intake beyond salad, baked sweet potatoes and frozen peas. While my mission was to translate Thailand’s authentic cuisine into vegetarian form, I ended up with more than I planned to create: An abundance of simple ways to make the greens, squash, snow peas, asparagus, baby carrots, broccoli and other good-for-you vegetables that we all need to eat lots of, taste fantastic.
Modeled on my first cookbook, Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking, this book contains my vegetarian versions of the traditional cuisine of Thailand. Though a small and growing vegetarian community thrives in modern Thailand, the authentic cuisine of the Thai kingdom includes meat. The quintessential rural Thai meal is rice with fresh fish, dried chilies, and preserved fish and seafood-based seasonings, but meat of all descriptions is central to Thailand’s traditional cooking. This fact took me off the “authentic” trail and onto a creative path.
Leaving out meat was the easy part. My big challenge was capturing Thailand’s vibrant, boisterous flavors, without using fish sauce. Thai cooks seem to season everything save sweets and Thai iced tea with this ubiquitous salty dark-brown seasoning known as nahm plah in Thai.
I found that vegetable broth and salt filled the gap nicely. I was able to capture Thai food’s signature flavors in classic dishes from mussamun curry and paht Thai to crispy corn fritters and satay with spicy peanut sauce. While Real Thai is organized by region, this book presents my Thai recipes in a menu format, from snacks and soups to curries, stir-fries and sweets.