Top Must-Have Items in My Kitchen
Before I even talk about my food, I have to bring you to my must-have tools and the basic stuff in my kitchen. These items are good to have, and I'm not going into a panic mode if I don't have them. But it brings a little bit of convenience when it comes to playing-with-food!
Krok, glorious krok! - my stone mortar
If there's anything that I'm proud of, that would be my krokhin, or stone mortar from Aangsila county - a hilly town on Thailand's eastern seaboard where high quality mortars and pestles are manufactured because of the high grade of its stone.
Stone mortars come in different sizes, from a baby size of 2-3 pounds all the way to a very large size that weighs up to 50 pounds for household use. In the old days, they could get much bigger with industrial use. Now, I doubt that any food industry has somebody manually grinding or pounding any ingredients since they all have gone the hi-tech route. The big mortar that I own weighs 25 pounds. It's sturdy, very durable, and I use it for various kinds of things.
This is my grinder, kneader, mixer, blender, cracker, and much more. No electricity, and a great work out for my arms and shoulders! I use the stone mortar for grinding herbs and spices for curry paste. Somtum, curry fishcakes, shrimpcakes, meatballs, and dumplings - even guacamole are made with this mortar. Depending on the amount of my dipping sauces, I alternate between the large and the small mortars.
The krok won't work without 'Lookkrok' or stone pestle
I have with me five different sizes - three stone pestles and two wooden ones. The wooden ones are used for something that doesn't need a lot of 'pounding' such as somtum - the papaya salad and its variations of fruit and veggie salads which cannot take a lot of 'beating'. I have a wooden krok still packed in one of the boxes since we moved back to the US. It will stay there until I need to use it.
An electric rice cooker - it's not a must, but is so convenient if you can put your hands on one.
When we lived in Thailand, we had a Thai brand rice cooker, 'National,' and it did a wonderful job for me. But somehow I had a hard time finding a National rice cooker in the NY-NJ-PA area that is large enough to fit the size of my growing family. Because of that, I had been cooking the long grain scented Jasmine rice from Thailand right on our stovetop, and even prided myself on the expert I've become! It did take away a space on my much too small stovetop, though. (The previous owner of the house had a small family of three.
And, yes, one of these days, I will build a kitchen of my dreams!) Then, sometime last year, my husband spotted a large enough rice cooker, and although it wasn't a Thai brand, he bought it so I wouldn't have to toggle my stove surface space. It's been cooking rice just fine, but is not capable of handling 'sticky rice' - gluten rice - which features regularly on our menu since I often make somtum - papaya salad, laab ghai - a famous North-east chicken dish, (or pork or beef - which will make it laapmoo or laapnua) nuanamtok - similar to steak salad, and, grilled chicken - ghaiyang. So, I still cook my sticky rice in the microwave.
A knife that fits well into my hand
I know that there's a separate knife for every different purpose. For me, I found out, after several sets of good expensive knives and a lot of cheap knives, that I end up using just one particular knife all the time - my all purpose knife. Now, I don't go carve a melon with that - but I cut, slice, chop, julienne and flatten all my vegetables and my meat from the same knife (yes, I wash it after every cutting job).
You chop and slice your food all the time and you must understand how inconsistent in size your ingredients will turn out if your knife isn't right for your grip - and the inconsistency in cutting will play a role in the outcome of your dish. The pain factor due to discomfort from a wrong-fitting knife can also be quite overwhelming on a long, bad day. I don't want to make my family feel miserable because I use a knife that doesn't fit me, therefore, in choosing a knife, what is most importantis not about using the sharpest knife made of a certain material and a high price tag, but, rather, how a knife fits my grip.
A wooden cutting board
The best cutting board comes from a full grown tamarind tree. It's strong and sturdy and works well with a cleaver. Well, I don't own one here. But since it's highly likely that I will not use a cleaver to chop any meat with bones any time soon I have settled on a regular, rectangular-shaped cutting board. One thing of which you are already aware; always make sure that all wooden equipment is cleaned very well after each use.
What's a stove top cooking without a large frying pan - with a deep bottom- or a wok?
Although I must say it's so difficult to find a pan that is deep enough, or a wok that is large enough, for my deep- frying, or even making my simple yet delicious kaijiew-omelet. I use a cast iron wok and am not one hundred percent happy. The design is important since we want it to heat up evenly. This will have to be it until I find a wok of my dreams.
Again, it's all about how they fit my hands. I use two spatulas, almost always, to stir-fry large amounts of food. I like mine to be flat with only a little curve that meets at the end. The ones I've been using are getting quite beaten up. Again, I have been searching for something similar to replace them, and so far nothing has come up. I like wooden tools because the wood, unlike the harshness of the metal, feels 'soft' in my grip, yet strong enough to lift heavy food. What a great way to exercise my arms!
Although the core of my cooking is really Thai, I am very innovative when it comes to my food creativity. As I start introducing some simple dishes (Please, I am not capable of complexity in anything but the stuff inside my own head!), I hope that you will come to the undestanding that you, too, will start exploring and have fun with your own creations. Lifestyles today make us keep going non-stop and applies a steady stream of stress on us already. It's up to us to reverse the process and start enjoying and appreciating. Be on the lookout for my first dish! Enjoy your creations, and since it's your own, name it, too!
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