The Little Epicurean

Apr 05 2013

Spicy Basil Two Ways

IMG_6852I love Thai food.  I’m obsessed with this one Thai restaurant in my neighborhood called Wat Dong Moon Lek.  It is hands down my favorite Thai restaurant in LA.  I dine there too frequently and order take out way too often.

Last summer I went crazy when they were closed a few months for renovation.  My boyfriend and I would drive up every so often to see if they were closer to opening.  Some nights we would call the place to order our usual, only to be answered by a recorded message.  We sought out other restaurants but nothng could fill that void.  It seemed like forever, an eternity, but it was really only closed for three months.

IMG_7198I felt so paralyzed without my spicy basil dish.  During that time I began to experiment by making my own version of Thai cuisine.  My favorite ingredients to work with are Thai bird chilies, Thai basil, and fish sauce.  With these ingredients, I’ve made a very simple dish that I’ve done two ways- one with tofu and the other with sliced beef.  Both use the same ingredients, with the exception of the protein.  Its a quick dinner to put together.  You can prep ahead of time and keep everything ready in the fridge.  It takes less time to cook this dish than it does to order and pick up take out from your favorite Thai place.

Thai chilies, also know as Bird’s Eye chilies or Bird’s chilies, are pictured above.  They come in green, orange, or red.  The latter colors usually mean they are more mature.  These are often used in Thai and Vietnamese dishes. If you cannot find Thai chilies, you can substitute serrano chiles.  It will provide similar heat but not much fragrance.

IMG_7200Thai basil, or Asian basil or anise basil, has shiny pointy green leaves with purple stems.  Another variety called holy basil, has narrower leaves and is duller in color.  Thai basil can be found at Asian markets and is relatively inexpensive.  I bought mine from 99 Ranch Market.  If you cannot find Thai basil, I do not suggest substituting with the European variety.  The flavors are quite different.

Thai basil can be used fresh, cooked, and also tastes amazing deep-fried.  Thai basil imparts a fresh and spicy flavor.  Holy basil is very similar but only releases their flavors when cooked.  When purchasing basil (or any herbs in general), look for the freshest-looking sprigs.  Make sure they are free of blemishes.  Store fresh herbs in a plastic bag in the fridge.  Do not wash herbs until are you ready to use them.

IMG_6858When I first starting dating my boyfriend, he couldn’t understand my love for fish sauce.  I grew up my entire life around it- stinky ones, sweet ones, salty ones.  I could put it in all my food.  He has grown to tolerate it and accept it.  It adds a certain umami, savory flavor that is hard to imitate (unless you use MSG).

Fish sauce is essential when cooking Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.  Brands and variety of fish sauces are plenty.  The color of fish sauce varies from light to dark.  Fish sauce is often used as a seasoning, but it is also made into dipping sauces when combined with sugar, chilies, and garlic.

Fish sauce can last indefinitely.  If you don’t plan on using fish sauce often, I suggest storing it in the fridge.  Otherwise, if you use it all the time, its okay to leave it out on the counter away from sunlight.

Be careful when purchasing fish sauce as many Asian countries have their own types.  Filipino fish sauce is very different with a saltier and much heavier flavor.  Thai fish sauce, with Tiparos being the most popular brand, is very dark in color and has a strong, pungent smell.  I prefer to use the lighter Vietnamese style fish sauces.  Viet Huong’s Three Crabs is my favorite, followed closely by Flying Lion.  I tested this recipe using all three fish sauces mentioned.  In my opinion, Three Crabs tasted the best.  Feel free to explore and try out your own brands.

Another word of advice- be careful when transporting fish sauce.  Trust me, you DO NOT want it to spill in your car.  Good luck trying to get that smell out.  Also, after you have opened the bottle, it will never close quite the same way.  Be sure to keep the bottle standing upright in your kitchen cabinet or counter.

When a dish tastes like its missing something, a splash of fish sauce is often the solution.

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Print Recipe

Spicy Basil Tofu

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 12 oz firm tofu, drained and cut into small cubes
  • 4 Thai chilies, chopped
  • 1 small onion, sliced, about 1/3 cup
  • 1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

 

Directions:

  1. Heat large skillet or wok over high heat.  Add peanut oil.  Once oil is hot, add garlic and chilies.  Cook for 30-40 seconds until garlic is fragrant.  Add cubed tofu and cook until warm, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add sliced onions and whole basil leaves.  Toss to combine.  In a small bowl, combine oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and black pepper.  Add sauce mixture to skillet.  Toss combine.  Continue to cook until onions are translucent and basil has wilted.  Remove from heat and garnish with sliced green onions.  Serve with Jasmine rice.

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Spicy Basil Beef, serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound sliced beef, tenderloin
  • 4 Thai chilies, chopped
  • 1 small onion, sliced, about 1/3 cup
  • 1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • sliced green onions, to garnish

Instructions

  1. Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat.  Add peanut oil.  Once oil is hot, add garlic and chilies.  Cook for 30-40 seconds until garlic is fragrant.  Add sliced beef and cook for 45 seconds or so until beef starts to brown.
  2.  Add sliced onions and whole basil leaves.  In a small bowl, mix together oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper.  Add sauce mixture to skillet and toss to combine.  Continue to cook until onions are translucent, basil is wilted, and beef is cooked.  Remove from heat and garnish with sliced green onions and fresh Thai basil.  Serve with Jasmine rice.
   

2 Responses to “Spicy Basil Two Ways”

  1. April 6, 2013
    8:47 pm

    Love tofu! Both all look very flavoursome and delicious.

    • Maryanne replied...

      Thanks, Angie!

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