My Favorite Food Items of 2011 from A to Z and Giveaways

M: Mang-lak (Lemon Basil) Seeds (เมล็ดแมงลัก)

Lemon basil grew so lushly in my herb garden this year, and I have used it in so many dishes of which I’d previously been deprived. This year, I’ve also taken to incorporating a lot of lemon basil seeds into my diet.

I’ve drafted a post on how to prepare and the various ways in which to enjoy this wonderful albeit odd-looking food. It will be posted sometime in 2012. In the meantime, keep an eye out for basil seeds at your local Asian grocery store.

N: Nittaya Curry Pastes

Having heard that I’d never before cooked with Nittaya curry pastes, a somewhat newcomer to the international scene, the kind folks at Temple of Thai have sent me a few samples to test-drive. And if I hadn’t liked them, I would not have added Nittaya to my list of favorite things. I really do like this brand of curry pastes, especially their red curry and massaman curry.

Apropos of nothing, I also love the fact that they call kaeng kari, “kari cury” instead of “yellow curry” which is a confusing moniker that can get on people’s nerves. But more on that later. For now, if you can find this particular brand, you may want to try it out. The pastes come in resealable plastic bags making it very easy to scoop out just what you need and store the rest without having it dry out on you in the fridge.

As a courtesy to my readers, Temple of Thai will include a free gift with every purchase of three Nittaya curry pastes. To take advantage of this offer, follow this link.

(Also, scroll down to the bottom to find out how to win a giveaway of Nittaya paste sampler pack.)

O: Oatmeal with Coconut Milk and Palm Sugar

Who else stirs an egg into their oatmeal like I always do? Oatmeal with fruits and nuts is great, but without added protein, it always leaves me unsatisfied. In fact, it’s the presence of the eggs in my (prepared steel-cut) oatmeal that got me thinking that if I’d just replace the regular white or brown sugar with palm sugar or unprocessed cane sugar (or a combination of both) and use coconut milk in lieu of cow’s milk, I’d end up with hot oatmeal that reminds me of a Thai dessert.

It worked, and I’ve been making my morning oatmeal this way ever since. Don’t forget to add a tiny pinch of salt for it makes a big difference. A little bit of pandan extract in this would take you even closer to Southeast Asia, but that’s completely optional. You can leave out the eggs, but if should you choose to add them, do so towards the end. Whisk them in after you’ve taken the pot off the stove so they get cooked gently with the residual heat and yield creamy oatmeal instead of one speckled with tiny eggy bits.

P: Pad Thai (ผัดไทย)

A five-post series on a single dish might seem like an overkill. Heck, it may very well be an overkill. But as I’ve stated in the final post (which is where the complete Pad Thai recipe can be found), I’ve decided to err on the side of over-explaining so that 1.) as many (expensive and frustrating) mistakes as possible can hopefully be prevented, and 2.) you will know how to make Pad Thai and no longer need to depend on a recipe.

Besides, there’s a point being made somewhere in there: Though not extremely difficult to make, Pad Thai is one of those dishes that the Thai people usually buy off the street instead of making at home. Too many ingredients. Too much preparation. Not economical. Those in Thailand who insist on making their own Pad Thai at home can do so (and more power to them); I’m part of the crowds that buy theirs.

I’m not a contrarian, and I have nothing against Pad Thai. Yet, the fact remains: I’ve never considered Pad Thai the quintessential representation of what Thai cuisine has to offer, and I still stand by the comment I’d made earlier in my post on Easy Thai Green Curry that Pad Thai doesn’t even make the list of my 50 top favorite Thai dishes. I don’t hate it; there are simply too many other Thai dishes that I like more.

But Pad Thai is on this list, because in the course of writing the Pad Thai series this year, I’d come to make (and eat) it more frequently and appreciate much more this internationally-adored dish. After all, when done right, it truly is a noodle dish like no other.

Q: Quail Eggs

thai egg salad
What you don’t know (or care to know) is that after I’d shot that top photograph for my post on Pad Ka-prao, I dragged that fried chicken egg down from atop that mound of rice and replaced it with 3-4 fried quail eggs before proceeding to eat the whole plate. I’ve been eating more quail eggs this year than ever before after updating the post on my minimalist Thai spicy fried egg salad.

Have you tried fried quail eggs? With every bite you get not just part of a fried egg but a whole fried egg — the crispy bits, the creamy bits, and everything else. Every bite.

R: Roti (โรตี)

I feel bad about promising a post on Thai-style roti, one of the beloved street foods (we’re talking carb fried in ghee, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, and sprinkled with sugar), last year and never actually had a chance to finalize my recipe. I spent the latter part of 2011 refining the technique, though. And, as a result, I have been eating way too many rotis. I shouldn’t have, but you know …

20 Responses to My Favorite Food Items of 2011 from A to Z and Giveaways

  1. Tangled Noodle December 31, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    Looks like 2011 was a delicious year for you! Here’s wishing you an equally tasty 2012! 😎

  2. Anonymous December 31, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    I will just use the opportunity to say how much I love this blog, and I hope 2012 will be just as good, or even better, than 2011. 🙂

  3. Bville Yellow Dog December 31, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    That Lime oil looks great. Ordered! If it tests out I won’t buy the tree I was considering. Indoor citrus in pretty hopeless. They always get spider mites and die inside in the winter.

  4. Anonymous December 31, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    “I” Isaan sausage at Tac Quick in Chicago. I completely agree with you. It is fantastic and my good friend Andy is the chef and part owner of the restaurant. TAC Quick is one of the best and most authentic Thai restaurants in Chicago. Thanks for posting.

  5. Anonymous January 1, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    Leela, I’m interested in hearing more about your experience with the kaffir lime oil. Is it true as they say on the website that you don’t need more than a few drops? This stuff is pricey! But if you think it’s worth the money …


  6. Admin January 1, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    Jeff – I’ve found that, for my taste, I prefer to use more drops than recommended on the website. For example, to make about 2 cups’ worth of Tom Kha Gai, I use about 2-3 drops of the 5% oil; for the same amount of panaeng curry, I use twice as much.

    Could be a personal thing. I really like the scent of kaffir lime.

    Also — and thanks for asking this question because I should’ve said all this in the post — I’ve found that it’s best to add the oil to the dish *after* it has been cooked. This is not always possible; you can’t do this with deep-fried dishes such as Tod Man Pla (Thai fish cakes). But when it comes to panaeng curry or infused soups such as Tom Yam or Tom Kha, this works extremely well.

    I guess heat renders the oil less potent.

  7. Laura January 1, 2012 at 6:33 am #

    I tweeted because boy am I intrigued enthused excited to try the som vinegar. Fingers crossed! Also intrigued by the kaffir oil but would feel guilty winning it given that 3 limes just fell off my tree this weekend. 😉

  8. Kevin January 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    That is a lot of tasty looking food! Happy New Year!

  9. kita January 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    I love this post. A lot of things perked my interest and I have a lot of open tabs now. I believe that eggo ice cream sandwiches are best with mint chocolate chip ice cream too. 😉

  10. Hyosun Ro January 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    You have a beautiful blog! This post on your 26 favorite food items is very interesting. Great job! My goal this year is to learn how to make pad thai from this blog. Wishing you the very best in 2012!

  11. OysterCulture January 2, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Whoa, that’s a heck of a list, you’ve inspired me to branch out as I’ve been in a culinary rut lately. Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

  12. brillsec January 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Loved this post! I can’t wait to try the kaffir lime leaf essential oil. I live in Alaska, 90 miles from the nearest Asian market; they do carry lime leaves, but the price has gone up from $3.00/half pound to $6 for 12 leaves! Yikes. So glad to hear there’s an alternative, because my family loves Tom Yum Gai.

  13. Rachel A. January 8, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    I just discovered your blog, and I am in love! I live in Atlanta, and have yet to find Kaffir lime leaves, even at some Asian markets… The idea of the essential oil is fantastic. Thanks for all of your hard work and inspiring me to branch out in the kitchen.

  14. Anonymous January 10, 2012 at 5:08 am #

    Happy New Year, Leela. Must make G and I immediately. Guess who got the new 17″ Lodge pan for Christmas. Major daily hint dropping did work this time. Love your list.


  15. Admin January 11, 2012 at 4:36 am #


    I have listed all the entries here. Then I’ve asked @DwightTurner, the man behind Eating Thai Food to randomly choose the numbers (he had NO idea what the numbers were for).

    His choices are as follows:
    For Giveaway#1: @brberliner, @sundevilpeg, @JMWeishaar, @abredro, and Anthony Robinson from my Facebook page.
    For Giveaway #2: John Weber from my Facebook page
    For Giveaway #3: @katraena9, Joseph Spacone from my Facebook page, and @JBudd451

    Thanks for participating, everyone!

  16. Rick January 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    That’s a great year end recap… eying that grilled pork again…

  17. Mikey September 1, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    Where can I find a recipe for the salad (the yam part?) that goes with yam khai yiao ma? I recently found a store where I can buy these eggs (stoked, been hoping to find them in my country after eating them many times in Thailand), and I want to learn some traditional ways to prepare them. Thanks.


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