Serious Eats

Serious Entertaining: A Summer Thai Feast

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[Top photograph: Robyn Lee; other photographs: Leela Punyaratabandhu]

Why do people from hot climates eat the spiciest food? To be honest, I'm not sure of the answer. Some theorize that the heat from chilis fools your body into producing sweat, which cools you down more rapidly, helping you to beat the heat. Others think it's simply a matter of ingredient availability—chilis just grow better in warmer climates (which raises the question, why?). Whatever the answer, one thing I know for sure: When the weather is hot, I crave spicy food.

Spicy but refreshing, complex yet light, with a heavy reliance on fresh vegetables, grilled meats, and plenty of herbs, Thai food is at its absolute best in the late summer. When planning the perfect Thai night on the deck, I like to make sure that I have a mix of make-ahead recipes and appetizers, as well as a few grill-based main courses. Here's what we got:

Make Ahead: Pork Larb and Corn Som Tam

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Hot, salty, acidic, and sweet, Thai salads are a study in contrasts. The key to a great Pork Larb is to chop the meat yourself, instead of relying on pre-ground meat. Chopping in the food processor or by hand results in pieces that are uneven in shape and size, giving you nice textural contrast before you even get to the crispy fried shallots, ground toasted rice powder, or fried pork rinds I like to top mine with.

My version is intensely flavored, but balanced. If you can't handle the heat, I'd suggest taking down some of the sugar.

For a lighter, more summery approach with the same basic flavor profile, check out our Corn Som Tam, a riff on the classic made with green papaya. Our recipe calls for boiling the corn, but if your corn is perfect, you can even leave it raw. Its sweet crunch works beautifully with Thai flavors.

Both of these salads can be prepped several hours ahead and served straight from the fridge or at room temperature. Just make sure to leave off any crunch elements until just before serving.

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Appetizers From the Grill

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Grilled marinated meat-on-a-stick is an essential Thai fare when you've got a few cold crisp beers that need a good partner. These skewers of Gai Yang Khamin feature chicken thighs marinated in a combination of cilantro, white pepper, coriander, garlic, and turmeric, with a dash of fish sauce and a sticky glaze made with oyster sauce and dark brown sugar. Essential sweet-savory Thai flavors in a neat, finger-friendly package.

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Main Course: Crying Tiger

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It's one of the most popular grilled meat dishes on any Thai menu, and our version of Crying Tiger (Thai-style Grilled Steak with Dry Chili Dipping Sauce) keeps it simple. Strip steaks marinated in a combination of soy, oyster sauce, and sugar, grilled to a perfect medium rare, and served with an herb-packed dry chili dipping sauce flavored with tomatoes.

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Dessert: Grilled Pineapple with Coconut-Condensed Milk

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Juicy pineapple grilled until charred and caramelized, drizzled with a coconut-condensed milk sauce. Simple, perfect, and fantastic with rum.

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