One of the ingredients which I miss the most when living away from Thailand is fresh young green peppercorns. I also miss young tamarind leaves, water mimosa, lotus stems, and a few edible flowers. But at the top of the list is these little berries.
Referred to as Prik Thai (RTGS: phrik thai), literally “Thai pepper” or even “Thai chili,” as a way of differentiating it from the other kinds of pepper/chili that were not part of our cuisine until the arrival of European visitors, this type of pepper has been part of the diet of the inhabitants of what is presently known as Thailand since time immemorial. I’ve recently read an article  written by Professor Usanee Thongchai of Chiang Mai University’s History Department which asserts that Prik Thai seeds have turned up among archaeological finds, dated as far back as nine millennia ago, from the area that is present day Mae Hong Son.
Somehow that makes me feel more comfortable with my obsession with them. I love these peppercorns more than I do bird’s eye chilies. There’s something about the gentle heat that warms your throat that appeals to me more than the over-the-top, titillating kind that burns your tongue. I add young green peppercorns to pretty much everything that has chilies in it (I don’t replace chilies with peppercorns; I add peppercorns to a dish in addition to chilies). I also eat them whole. No, not just the whole berries but the whole bunches of berries, stems and all (which often freaks people out when they dine with me).
Given my love of unreasonable proportions for young green peppercorns, it frustrates me that they’re not widely available in the US. You can find them in a jar at local Asian markets, but those brined peppercorns have lost much of their potency by the time you open the jar. I shouldn’t complain, though. Brined and limp peppercorns are better than no peppercorns at all, I guess.
If you can find fresh young green peppercorns in your area, by all means use them more in your meat-based Thai curries or spicy stir-fries. Beef panaeng curry is terrific with young green peppercorns added about 5-10 minutes before you take it off the heat. I also love them in wild mushroom stir-fry, stuffed calamari braised in Sriracha sauce, and poached shrimp in red curry sauce. A rich dish such as this spicy pork belly stir-fry with Thai basil also tastes better when you eat half a bunch of young green peppercorns with every bite of fatty pork.
How do you use young green peppercorns in the food you grew up eating?