Young Green Peppercorns (Prik Thai On พริกไทยอ่อน)


green peppercorns
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 [1] 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?

[1] Source

19 Responses to Young Green Peppercorns (Prik Thai On พริกไทยอ่อน)

  1. Dorrie February 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    I didn’t grow up with it, but I love love love Pad Cha!

    But as a German, I grew up with Koenigsberg Meatballs, and here is my recipe, if you like:

    http://www.cooksunited.co.uk/recipes/693261322297558/Koenigsberg-Meatballs.html

    🙂

  2. Admin February 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    Dorrie – Yes! Pad cha is a great way to use these. Thank you.

  3. Kristen February 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    thanks for introducing me to a new ingredient. I’ve had the brined peppercorns, but now if I see the fresh I will pick some up. Cheers!

  4. Thip February 3, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    I like using it with kra-chai (pickled rhizome). 🙂

  5. Georgie February 3, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    Do you lovingly keep them wrapped in the blanket in the photo? 😉

    I love your blog.

    Georgie

  6. Admin February 4, 2012 at 2:48 am #

    Georgie – Why, yes, Georgie. Of course, I do.

  7. Adam February 4, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    If you are ever in SF Lers Ros restaurant on Larkin makes pork dishes with this ingredient, and I think it’s fresh, not brined. I had it with wild boar (see the left of this photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scaredykat/6003813889/) but I think the regular pork version there is probably better.

  8. Admin February 4, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    Adam – Man, does that look delicious. Next time I’m in SF, I’ll definitely go there and order this dish. Thanks.

    Having said that, the peppercorns look brined to me judging from the color and the fact that very few berries are still attached to the stems (which are consistent with how brined green peppercorns behave in my experience). That, or they overcook them by a lot.

    When fresh green peppercorns are used in Thai dishes, they stay bright green and tightly clustered on the stems — like what you see in some of these images.

  9. Admin February 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Adam – Or like this.

  10. Kate February 4, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    I remember eating dishes made with fresh green peppercorns when I was in India – I’ve not cooked with them back in the UK but absolutely love this kind of fresh, bright flavour.

  11. Anonymous July 22, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    the first time I had green peppercorns was in Cambodia. The dish was unremarkable but the peppercorns were sublime. I long to find fresh peppercorns…

  12. EJourney October 20, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Saw these at an Asian grocery store in Paris and thought them beautiful. I had no idea what to do with them but I just had to try them. I mixed a twig’s worth of them in a leak soup mix and was surprised to find them soft, not hard. Gave the soup a distinct character. With the addition of crème crue at table, the soup turned out sublime. My next post will include my experience with them, including their use in lamb curry.

  13. اشكان January 1, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    When I read this post I immediately thought of a link I’d bookmarked a few months back.

    If you’re game for growing your own, Colonial Creek Farms sells the vine and it apparently works well as an ordinary house plant. Unfortunately, I’ve not looked any further into its cultivation but this is certainly on my long term wish list. If you do pick up a plant or two, I’d love to hear how it went for you!

    The link to the specific plant is: http://www.colonialcreekfarm.com/Black-Pepper-Vine_p_185.html

    I love your blogs by the way, this one and the linguist one.

    • Leela January 1, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

      Oh, thank you very much!

  14. Altie August 18, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    Is there a substitute for green peppercorns?

    • Leela August 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

      Altie – For Thai cooking, I don’t think so.

  15. Pepper Galore September 8, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    I wish you could come over to my house and get some fresh green peppercorns. (I live in Honolulu, Hawaii in case you actually *could* come over. I also have lots of avocados and guavas, but that’s another story.) We have a black pepper vine in our yard which is bearing so prolifically at the moment that I’m getting a bit desperate. The ones that are shown in your picture look like they’re fairly mature (hard). Is there any use for the younger, softer ones for anything? I have them at all stages of development, from the flowering stage to the fully mature kind that your photo shows.

    • Leela September 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

      Pepper Galore – These are actually softer than they seem — nowhere near as hard as black or white peppercorns. I’m sure there are ways to use peppercorn berries when they’re less mature, but I have no experience cooking with them.

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    […] commenter at SheSimmers suggested pad cha as a way to use green peppercorns, an idea echoed by my parents, […]