Serious Entertaining: A Thai-Style Tapas Dinner
As the weather turns hot and humid, I find myself increasingly indecisive about what I want to eat. Maybe my cravings are scrambled by the constant passage from sweltering New York City streets and subway tunnels to sub-zero air-conditioned stores and offices; maybe it's the explosive vegetation, or the expanse of summer produce suddenly available at the market. Regardless, summertime stresses me out—there's just so much food out there, and I want all of it.
The solution? Tapas everything, all the time.
Yes, I'm using tapas as a verb. Critics of this method might describe it as the bastardization of a Spanish culinary tradition, the justification of greed in the form of myriad small plates, joined together beneath a thematic umbrella concept.* Thai food, for instance.
*They would be right. But I would be eating Thai tapas...so I'm pretty sure I win.
And I love to tapas Thai food. Not only does it make a stunning sight, laid out in a lavish, colorful spread, but the boldly sweet, sour, and spicy notes seem to physically lower my body temperature—even when the dishes themselves are fiery-hot. These particular recipes are quick, easy, and hot weather-friendly. Many also call for the same ingredients, so don't be daunted by the volume—once you've gathered staples like citrus fruits, herbs, and fish sauce, the rest of it's a breeze.
Green Papaya Salad
Shredded into thin, crisp strips, green papaya makes a lightly sweet, crunchy, and refreshing salad. The fruit's natural sugars—mild and slightly starchy in its unripened state—anchors the spicy-tart dressing of fish sauce, lime, and chilies. This salad also happens to be extremely versatile: Toss on some parboiled shrimp or squid for a more substantial meal, or mix in other vegetables, like carrot or cucumber, for added color and flavor.
Stir-Fried Clams with Thai Chili Jam and Basil
Clams and summer go together like, well, clams and summer. But the real key to this recipe is the Thai chili jam Nam Prik Pao. You get the tartness of tamarind, the saltiness of fish sauce, the smokiness of dried red chilies, and some punch from garlic and shallots. It shouldn't be too tough to find a jar at any Asian grocery, but if you can't get your hands on any, consider substituting a homemade sauce, like our Thai Sweet Chili Sauce (make some extra for the shrimp cakes, below). Between the jam and the briny juice released from the clams, this stir-fry packs a ton of flavor. And, like all stir-fries, the entire dish is a quick 'n' easy one-pot deal.
Thai-Style Marinated Flank Steak and Herb Salad
The dressing for this salad doubles as a marinade for the flank steak, and the recipe closely mirrors that of the papaya salad. To save time, you can just make a big batch right off the bat and adjust your seasonings accordingly. Once it's all mixed up, you just have to marinate the meat and throw it on the grill for a few minutes on each side. The steak gets a beautiful charred crust, thanks to some palm sugar. In the summer, I like it best chilled, but you can certainly serve it warm if you prefer. Sliced over some fragrant herbs and shallots, with a crunchy base of sprouts, it's a definite crowd pleaser. Not in the mood for steak? Give this Thai Herbal Salmon Salad a shot, instead.
Chicken is a tricky protein, all too often dried out and painfully bland. Not so with this recipe. Though it's only marinated for an hour, it's juicy and flavorful, with a lingering herbacious aroma of lemongrass. To really step up your game, take the skewers for a dip in some spicy peanut sauce.
Thai Shrimp Cakes with Sweet Chili Sauce
If you have a food processor, this recipe is virtually effortless. A quick whirl transforms shrimp, cilantro stems, garlic, and white peppercorns into a flavorful blend. Rolled in some bread crumbs or panko, the patties fry up crisp, golden, and fluffy. Serve it with some of that Thai Sweet Chili Sauce for dipping.
- For something savory, try a cooling cucumber-infused lemonade, fragrant with basil and lemongrass.
Get the recipe for Cucumber-Basil Lemonade with Lemongrass »
- Craving a little heat? This lemonade packs a punch, combining Thai chili and tart lemon juice, balanced with the floral sweetness of fresh lychees.
Get the recipe for Lychee-Thai Chili Lemonade »
- Those with a sweet tooth will fall hard for this take on Thai iced tea. Brewed from strong black tea, it's mixed with spices like star anise, cardamom, or crushed tamarind. Usually, its creamy sweetness comes from the addition of condensed milk. This recipe gives the classic beverage a nutty, dairy-free twist, using light coconut milk, instead.
Get the recipe for Coconutty Thai Iced Tea »
Dessert: Banana-Coconut-Sesame Cake
Fried bananas and brown sugar caramelize in this upside-down cake, flavored with a nutty dose of toasted sesame seeds. Dust it with some powdered sugar and serve it hot or at room temperature; either way, it looks almost as good as it tastes.
About the author: Niki Achitoff-Gray is the associate editor of Serious Eats and a recent graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into oysters, offal, and most edible things. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatandcry.