Spicy Tuna Salad with Young Ginger and Lemongrass (ยำปลาทูน่า)


Spicy Tuna Salad with Young Ginger and Lemongrass
Here’s a further argument for the fact that once you’ve learned to make one Thai salad, yam (ยำ), you know how to make many. I have said this before in my post on Scallop-Orange-Cucumber Salad, but I’ll recap it here: The most basic yam dressing consists of some lime juice, some fish sauce, and some sugar in a few cases. Fresh or dried chilies provide heat which is optional. The only thing to watch out for is when you deal with ingredients that are naturally sweet, sour, or salty in which case you need to be mindful of how much fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar you need.

There are more elaborate, complex salads. But this represents the most basic.

Can’t afford to make the scallop yam mentioned above? Join the club. There are a lot of ingredients that are much less expensive and just as yam-worthy. You’ve seen a humble yam of canned sardine in tomato sauce  before, and now you’re looking at a yam of canned tuna with young ginger and lemongrass which I adore (here’s the recipe). I used to live on these.

The Thai people love their yam. Fast food companies have certainly picked up on this. Both McDonald’s and KFC, arguably two of the most successful foreign franchises in the kingdom, have added yam items to their menus, serving them with rice (the way the locals eat their meat salads). And it’s not like these menu items are extremely creative; the Thai people already possess a natural inclination to turn anything edible into a yam.

And if you have followed this blog for a while and made yams with me along the way, you, too, know how to turn anything into a yam. In fact, as I’m writing this post, an email from a reader came in asking whether I’ve ever made som tam (which is a yam) with spaghetti squash. The answer is, I have not (but I’m intrigued by the idea). However, I have made som tam with carrots and radishes and loved them both.

What have you yammed lately?

11 Responses to Spicy Tuna Salad with Young Ginger and Lemongrass (ยำปลาทูน่า)

  1. Bryce October 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    This is somewhat off topic, but since the recipe includes lemongrass I think it’s fair. I bought some fresh lemongrass, used a bit and then froze it. In your opinion how useful is the frozen stuff? Are there applications you would specifically discourage it’s use in? How long should I continue using it. Should I microwave it first?

    • Leela October 23, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

      Bryce, I wouldn’t use lemongrass that has been previously frozen in a salad. It would be fine (not the best, but okay) in a curry paste or a soup like Tom Kha Gai. Frozen lemongrass (well wrapped and stored in a freezer bag) should stay fresh for a couple of months. To thaw frozen lemongrass, I wouldn’t use heat. Best to leave it out at room temp; it doesn’t take long for it to thaw out.

  2. Mikael Eriksen October 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Hello Leela!

    This dish looks absolutely amazing and I am going to try it in the near future!
    My post is not just about this particular post however. I would like to begin by saying that I am a major fan of your blog. This is the only blog I keep returning to, and your dishes are beyond anything I have ever seen in a cookbook of any sort. Straight through amazing, and the new layout with the recipe index is perfect.

    There is just one thing I miss (or haven’t seen). On the recipe index it says “Things to eat with rice”, but there are no rice recipes as far as I can tell (except the fried rice with pork, but that’s not exactly something I’d serve next to a lime steamed fish). Of course I know how to boil plain rice, but I’m curious if you have any rice recipes to use next to those other perfect dishes of yours.

    A while back I came over a pretty nice recipe for rice with lemongrass, lime leaves and ginger. Melt som butter, fry the rice a minute with shredded ginger in the molten butter, add some cocunut milk and a little water, bring to a boil, add lime leaves and lemongrass and cook for 20 min under a lid on very low heat, removing the lid 10 minutes in, stirring, and placing a clean towel between the lid and the casserole for the last 10 minutes .

    Since finding that recipe I haven’t had regular plain rice, and I’ve been using it for pretty much everything. I would however like to add a second rice recipe to my repetoire, and I wonder if you have anything that can be used to bring some variety next to the main courses.

    Kind regards from Norway!

    • Leela October 23, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

      Thanks, Mikael.

      That category is named after the literal translation of kap khao (“entree” or what is considered “main course” in the West); that is, (things to eat) with rice. The rice being plain, steamed rice is understood.

      Rice is at the center of a traditional Thai meal, serving as a blank canvas, if you will, for all the entrees, soups, relishes, etc. This is why we prefer our rice plain; it’s the best way to allow the different flavors of the accompanying dishes to shine. (When rice is served pre-seasoned, it’s almost always presented as a one-dish, stand-alone meal, such as fried rice, as opposed to the main part of a typical Thai meal ensemble. So your instinct is right on about not wanting to serve fried rice with the steamed fish dish as it wouldn’t be considered typical in Thailand.) Pre-seasoned rice may go well with some dishes served at the same meal, but clash with or obliterate some, so plain rice is the most practical. The closest thing to seasoned rice that we have is coconut rice. Still, it’s pretty plain and is typically served with a handful of dishes — nowhere near as common as plain rice.

      In other words, we serve our rice plain not because we don’t know how to season it; we just don’t want or feel the need to do so because we prefer it plain. And if we need variety, we tend to apply the creativity to creating new dishes or adding new variations to the existing ones.

      This explains the lack of rice recipes on my blog. But I wouldn’t let this put a limit on your fun in the kitchen thinking up rice recipes that you like. That recipe you’ve shared sounds delicious! I personally wouldn’t serve that as part of a traditional multi-dish meal, but I can see that with grilled meat or something like that.

  3. Kathy voyles October 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Would just like to mention that Tuna is not being fished for in a sustainable way – and it would be far better to either make this with tofu or fishing with a line and hook to catch your own fish! see The sea first foundation and the last sea!

  4. Dorrie October 23, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    I love yams, and I just made a Yam Hed (a yam with mushrooms).

    One of my new favorites is Tam Dtaeng, a delicious yam with cucumbers. I wonder why this recipe isn’t much more popular outside of Thailand – specially when it’s difficult and expensive to find a green papaya.

  5. Fork and Whisk October 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    Sounds delicious. My first time here and really like your site. Nice job.

  6. Fawn October 24, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    I “yammed” seared halibut, which got added to a gingery carrot soup, along with coconut milk, lime and cilantro…kind of a “cleaning out the fridge” event, but turned out amazingly good.

  7. Laura October 24, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Napa cabbage with shredded carrots. :)

  8. Vivian October 25, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    Sawadee-ka Leela!

    Great recipe although I would lean more toward grilled than canned tuna like Alfredo above.

    I have a related question… I’m looking for a recipe for Papaya Som Tam like street vendors in Thailand make. If there is a recipe on your site, can you please point me in the right direction or perhaps share this delightful salad in the future. Also, green papayas are hard to come by so what would you recommend as an alternative?

    • Leela October 25, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

      Vivian, I’ve written a post on one version of som tam and linked to it from this post. Click on the word som tam.

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