Leela Punyaratabandhu's leaf-wrapped salad bites don't look like much. But these diminutive snacks in her new cookbook, Simple Thai Food, are far more intriguing than their name implies. Each wrap is filled with an array of Thai flavors—hot, sour, salty, and sweet all take a turn. Ginger and chilies bring the heat, lime adds tartness, dried shrimp gives each bite a burst of salinity, and coconut and peanuts contribute sweet nuttiness. If it looks like a pile of garnishes, wait until you drizzle the assemblage with the ultra-sweet and funky sauce. Instead of fighting with the toppings, it brings everything together into a bright, refreshing bite.
Why I picked this recipe: I was curious about this recipe because it didn't sound like it could possibly taste good. (I was wrong.)
What worked: The is an excellent integrator—each seemingly disparate ingredient in the wrap tasted cohesive when drizzled with the sweet and salty sauce.
What didn't: I would definitely recommend rinsing the ginger before serving.
Suggested tweaks: There's not really a good substitute for galangal, so if you can't find it, you can just leave it out of the sauce. You can find dried shrimp and shrimp paste in Asian grocery stores; look for larger, meatier shrimp. If you can't find them, you can use a bit more fish sauce in the sauce. You can exclude the dried shrimp from the wraps if necessary. I couldn't find cha-phlu leaves, so I used Chinese broccoli leaves. They worked well.
Reprinted with permission from Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen by Leela Punyaratabandhu. Copyright 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 1 tablespoon meaty dried shrimp
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened dried coconut flakes
- 1 shallot, about 1 ounce, peeled and sliced thinly against the grain
- 2 (1/4-inch-thick) slices galangal, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped peeled ginger
- 1 teaspoon shrimp paste
- 1/2 cup packed grated palm sugar plus 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar (or substitute 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped roasted peanuts
- 1 lime
- 1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 shallots, about 1 ounce each, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
- 5 or 6 fresh bird’s eye chilies, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 1/3 cup meaty dried shrimp
- To Serve
- 20 to 30 cha-phlu leaves or 3-inch squares collard green or Chinese broccoli leaves
To make the sauce, soak the dried shrimp in hot water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, trim off and discard the leafy parts of the lemongrass stalk, remove the tough outer leaves of the bulb portion until the smooth, pale green core is exposed, and trim off the root end. Working from the root end, cut the bulb crosswise into paper-thin slices, stopping once you reach the point at which the purple rings disappear. Set the slices aside and discard the remainder.
Put the dried coconut flakes in a wok or 14-inch skillet and toast them on medium heat, stirring constantly, until medium brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the toasted coconut flakes for the sauce and set the remainder aside for the salad. Wipe out any toasted coconut sediment from the wok. Add the lemongrass slices, shallot, galangal, and ginger to the clean wok, then toast over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and the shallot slices are dry to the touch, about 5 minutes. Place the toasted mixture, drained dried shrimp, and shrimp paste in a mortar or a mini chopper and grind to a smooth paste.
Put the prepared paste, sugars, fish sauce, and water in a 1-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. When the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 1 cup, after 2 to 3 minutes, take the saucepan off the heat. Let the sauce cool completely. Once the dressing is cooled, stir in the chopped peanuts and the reserved 2 tablespoons toasted coconut flakes and transfer to a small serving bowl.
To prepare the salad, quarter the lime lengthwise and trim away the core. Cut the quarters into 1⁄4-inch dice, leaving the rind intact. Alternatively, for those who are sensitive to the bitterness of the lime rind, cut the lime into wedges (as shown in the photograph) and invite diners to squeeze about 1/2 teaspoon lime juice onto each composed salad bite.
Arrange the lime, ginger, shallots, peanuts, chilies, dried shrimp, cha-phlu leaves, and the dressing on a large serving platter.
To eat, put a leaf on your palm, add a bit of each component to the center of the leaf, top with a small spoonful of dressing, gather up the corners of the leaf to form a bag, and eat the whole thing in one bite.
Note: If the diced ginger tastes too spicy hot, rinse it in cold water three or four times until the water runs clear and blot it dry.