Note: While this dish has chicken in it here, it may be made fully vegetarian by replacing the chicken with firm tofu and using vegetarian oyster sauce. (a sauce made from mushrooms that provides a similar umami flavour)
In a recent entry, I mentioned basil and its relation to tulsi. Thanks to San for leaving a comment adding some clarity to that. Later in the day the two of us were talking a bit more about basil and how various cultures use it. She mentioned Krushan Tulsi and I looked it up to see if there was any culinary use. As it turns out, it’s used in one of my most favourite Thai dishes: Chicken Pad Kra Pow.
Talking about it in the morning kept it in my mind all day and by 4PM I knew I was going to have to make it for dinner.
And so, we head off in to the cold. Our weather here has made a very abrupt switch from sunny 25-27C days to what we have now: 3C and rainy. A damp wind was blowing and so so Sage and I are lazy and hop on a bus to take us what would normally be only a 15 minute walk away. But the bus is cozy and warm so we think it is worth the trip.
The grocery store is one of my favourites. It has a mix of all of my favourite cuisines. There is a huge produce section with fruits and vegetables from around the world, lots of Chinese ingredients, Mexican corn tortillas, Thai and Vietnamese fresh herbs, Korean kimchi, Indian spices and dals, Taiwanese snacks and sweets. If you have a sweet tooth you can get rasmalai, mochi ice cream, or Filipino corn flavoured ice cream. Chances are good that if there’s a dish I want to eat, the ingredients will be there.
Tonight I notice something else odd that’s there: fake palm trees with built in surveillance cameras in them. I’d noticed the trees before (but strangely enough it was not immediate – I made 5-10 trips there before Sage asked me if I’d noticed them and said “What trees?”)
Given the location of the bus stop to get home it doesn’t make so much sense to take the bus home – and now we have a whole bunch of groceries as well so we make the walk home. To take our minds off the cold and entertain ourselves we play a game – trying to name all 50 US states. When we finish that we do a rapid fire game of “word association” with people we’ve met. No pausing: just name a person, then the other person says “This person makes me think of (other person) because (reason).” Soon we are home just as it is getting dark.
I set to work making the dish. I start with the recipe from here. I know we’re going to love it so I double the recipe right off the bat. I grab about a dozen Thai red chillies.
I toss them along with ten cloves of garlic in to a mortar and pestle.
I spend a good 5-7 minutes smashing the two ingredients together until the room smells spicy and delicious. After that I chop up a couple of pounds of chicken and gather the ingredients for the sauce while the wok heats.
After that I unwrap the package of basil. Here’s what it looks like – though it’s a relative of tulsi, it’s nothing like the ones I’ve seen in India. If this dish is meant to be made with that, this isn’t correct. An article I read earlier today talked about how many varieties of basil there are and how in many cases, what is marketed as Thai Basil is not holy basil so it may not be exactly right. Still it smells delicious.
I take the leaves off of the stems and then tear them a bit smaller since some of these leaves are pretty big.
Finally, with the wok really hot, I add a bit of oil and then follow it with the garlic and chillies.
In seconds, the kitchen smells delicious. Ten seconds after that, I’m coughing and sneezing. It’s going to be a spicy batch tonight for sure.
I follow it with the chicken pieces. Once they’re cooked, I add the sauce to it, stir it a bit to let the flavours blend and then add the basil. This doesn’t need to be cooked much – a quick stir to mix everything together, and a few seconds to heat it up and it’s time to take it off of the heat.
And that’s it. I will be surprised if it took more than ten minutes in front of the stove. I’ve made a few different versions of this dish before but this one is, hands down, the most delicious. Daegan is working late tonight, and as soon as I smelled the finished product I knew we’d have to exercise some self control. I put a portion of rice and a bunch of chicken in the fridge for him. And then Sage and I carefully divide what was left and eat it within minutes. The flavours are really well balanced and the spiciness with this many chillies was exactly the way we like it.
I think we could have safely tripled the recipe and still had no leftovers!