The well-stocked Thai pantry
Although you can produce our menu entirely with familiar ingredients, for more authentic flavor and some shortcuts, look for these items in Thai or other Asian grocery stores (many of them are available in the Asian section of your supermarket). We’ve found www.importfood.com or www.templeofthai.com to be good mail-order sources. Except for the fresh herbs, most of these keep for months if tightly covered and refrigerated.
Lemon grass. Fresh tropical grass with a citrus aroma. Peel off tough outer layers and mince tender inner stalk. Use lemon peel (yellow part only) as an alternative.
Pickled garlic. Sweet-tart whole, unpeeled heads. Chop the garlic and use it all, including the skin. Or pickle your own.
Thai basil. Fresh anise-scented basil has a purplish-red tinge on stems. Fresh sweet basil can be substituted.
Dried bean threads (saifun). Thin, brittle dried noodles, made from mung beans, look like fishing line. When boiled, they turn clear and slippery, which accounts for their other names: glass or cellophane noodles.
Green curry paste. Prepared paste made from green chiles, garlic, and spices. Sold canned or in plastic tubs. You can also make your own: see our recipes.
Thai roasted-chili paste (nam prik pao). Roasted chiles blended with soybean oil to make a dark reddish brown paste. Imparts mellow, savory flavor. You can also make your own using our recipes (listed above).
Dried shrimp (goong haeng). Dried, salted tiny shrimp. They add briny flavor to homemade roasted-chili paste.
Star anise. Brown, star-shaped spice with cinnamon-anise flavor. Use anise seed as a substitute.
Coconut milk. Rich, unsweetened milk extracted from grated coconut, mixed with water. Enriches curries and desserts.
Pearl tapioca. Granular forms of tapioca that come in varying sizes, from as small as a mustard seed to the size of a pea. Quick-cooking tapioca can be substituted, but it cooks faster and the texture is softer and less distinct.
Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam). Thin, pungent, amber-colored sauce made from fish and salt. Use like salt or soy sauce, both of which can be used as substitutes.
Kaffir lime leaves (makrut). Pairs of bright green, shiny leaves that give off an intense citrus aroma. Sold fresh or frozen. Use fresh lime peel (green part only) as an alternative.