Reviewed by Gail Davis
Buddha’s Table: Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style
By Chat Mingkwan
Book Publishing Company
The colorful bounty and diversity of Thai cooking is unparalleled by any other cuisine. To have savored it only once is to have a permanent culinary impression etched upon one’s soul. No other cuisine combines a more sensuous variety of vegetables, herbs, and spices. Each dish catches the eye with its rainbow of colors and tempts the palate with its spicy aroma. With the flavorful recipes in Buddha’s Table, Chat Mingkwan has made it possible for veg*ns everywhere to indulge in these culinary delights at home.
It is true that Thai restaurants have become as ubiquitous as fast food restaurants. So, why bother to prepare Thai food at home? One reason is that many otherwise vegan Thai dishes are made with a very un-vegetarian ingredient––fish sauce. All of the ingredients in Buddha’s Table are plant-based.
At the beginning of the book, exotic ingredients like holy basil (Bai kaprow) Thai eggplant (Ma-kheau pro) and galangal (kha) are explored. While most of these ingredients can be found at any Asian grocery, many more are available online at such websites as importfood.com
Tantalizing color photographs held the promise of mouth-watering results. Since this was to be my first endeavor into Thai cooking, I began with a familiar recipe, Galangal Coconut Soup (Thom Kha). At least I’d have an idea of what it was supposed to taste like! Once I successfully procured the necessary lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal, (a rhizome which is similar to ginger) I was ready to begin. Finding the galangal was a bit tricky. My local Asian market did not carry it, but a Vietnamese market at the other end of town stocked it both fresh and frozen. It was worth the trip, as I quickly learned that while they are similar in appearance, you simply cannot substitute ginger for galanagal. Galangal has a very unique taste and it is one of the ingredients that gives Thai coconut soup its distinctive flavor. The recipe allowed me to adjust the intensity to my personal liking by adding fewer or more Thai chilies. Since I like my Thai food spicy, I added a bit more. Following the recipe was made infinitely easier with the book’s thoughtful lay-flat binding (ALL cookbooks should have them) and also its compact size (7” x 8”). In little more than 30 minutes, I had an aromatic pot of soup that rivaled the flavor of any Thom Kha I’d tasted at any Thai restaurant.
There were many dishes in this book that were unfamiliar to me, so I wanted to tease my tastebuds with something totally new. The creamy-sweet freshness of my first bite of Pineapple Coconut Noodles (Sour Nam) exploded in my mouth with an unexpected burst of flavor.
Venturing back to try my hand at a few favorite dishes like Panaeng Curry, (Gaeng Panaeng) Sweet and Sour Vegetables, (Pad Praew Wan) Sticky Rice with Mangoes, (Khao Neaw Mamoung) and of course, the infamous Pad Thai all yielded equally delicious results. And with so many more recipes yet to be explored, like Stir-Fried Eggplant with Holy Basil, (Pad Kaprow) Baked Mushroom and Asparagus (Pak Oop Pong Garee) and Floating Lotus, (Bua Loi Sawan) I don’t know when I’ll find the time (or desire) to eat out. With its generous bounty of recipes for soups, salads, curries, stir-fries, noodle dishes, desserts, and beverages, Buddha’s Table would make the perfect gift for anyone who enjoys cooking and Thai food.