Tips, Hints and Substitutes for Thai Cooking

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We all love Thai food and on the whole it is easy to make.
Having the right ingredients on hand can sometimes trip us up, it is essentially having a well stocked pantry and also knowing what we can and cannot substitute.
Here are some of our tips, hints and substitutes when it comes to Thai ingredients and we would love to hear yours as well.

This feature is brought to you by Valcom, makers of quality Thai Ingredients.




Palm sugar is the preferred sweet component of Thai recipes as it has a rounded caramel flavour unlike the pure sweet effect of white cane sugar.  Brown sugar will work as a suitable substitute if palm sugar is unavailable.

Does your dish need salt?  Try adding fish sauce first as this not only adds a salty flavour but also has a broader depth of flavour than you will get from adding salt.

When to use coconut cream vs coconut milk?  Coconut cream has thicker consistency than coconut milk, it is much creamier.  if you want a thick luscious sauce then coconut cream may be it or for something thinner then use coconut milk.  If you only have coconut cream but want coconut milk then just thin down the cream with water.

Leftover coconut cream or milk?  Freeze this in small plastic pottles or an ice cube tray for using at a later date.

Which cooking oil for Thai cooking? Thai recipes generally require a neutral flavoured oil for cooking.  Head to something with a high smoke point such as rice bran or canola oil.

Need a flavour burst but not sure what?  A good squeeze of lemon or lime juice can do wonders in bringing out the flavour of ingredients so before reaching for the salt jar try this first.

What is galangal and do I need it?  Galangal is a rhizome that looks like ginger, it has a lemony/woody flavour and while it has some heat it is not as spicy as ginger. Once bought it will last for ages in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer.
If you can’t find galangal then substitute with root ginger.
Just grate either as needed.

Kaffir lime tress grow well in the more temperate areas of NZ.  These can be frozen in a sealed plastic bag or buy prepared Valcom chopped kaffir lime leaves.  A suitable substitute is grated lime zest.

Limes add a lovely citrus note to Thai recipes but have a fairly short season in NZ, during the summer they can be prohibitively expensive.  Try chopping and freezing them while in season or freezing juice in ice cube trays.

Thai Basil does have a lovely unique flavour but isn’t that easy to find so try substituting with regular sweet basil leaves.

Lemongrass is quite fickle to grow as it needs warmth and water but not necessarily direct sunlight. It can be bought finely chopped in frozen blocks or try Valcom chopped lemongrass in a jar.

Coriander has a polarising reaction but is popular in Thai cooking.  For those who like maximum flavour then use the roots in your base recipes and leave the leaves to look pretty at the end.

Dry Rice Noodles for Pad Thai.  Soak these in room temperature water until a strand can be wrapped around your finger without snapping.  Drain well and then proceed with using them in stir fries such as Pad Thai.  If you boil them first then you run the risk of them over cooking and going mushy.

What are some of your best tips and hints for Thai cooking?

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