Salty, sweet and sour: Smoking Goat’s recipes for Thai salads | Food

Som tum of clams and garlic

The back streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown are a heady mix of humidity, noise and delicious plates of food at every turn. The first time I got out of the taxi, straight from the air-conditioned airport, I was overawed. On a busy corner, at a small grill with lobsters slowly charring and a pok-pok (or mortar) drumming a beat, I found a moment to take a breath with a bowl of blood cockles in a warped wooden bowl. This central Thai style of som tum is rich, sweet and heavy on the garlic and chilli. The fresh Dorset clams we use give some salty sweetness, which helps break up the fire. These flavours are satisfying alongside smoky, slow-grilled meat and fish, where the charred flesh and fat make an alluring contrast. At the restaurant, we use a range of seasonal greens in this dish: the earthy greens of turnip tops add great texture and steady the chillies and citrus, while other ideas would be radish leaves, watercress, kohlrabi tops and, when in season, wild garlic and three-cornered leek.

Prep 10 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 4 as part of a meal

About 20 clams
1 garlic clove
, or 4 Thai garlic cloves if you have access to a south-east Asian grocer
3 red bird’s eye chillies
1
tsp white sugar
10g palm sugar
, or 10g extra white sugar
5-6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
10-12 green beans, cut into 2cm pieces
Juice of ½ lime
6 tbsp fish sauce

About 20 turnip, radish, daikon or kohlrabi leaves, or watercress

Rinse the clams, discarding any with broken shells, then put in a bowl of cold water and agitate. Leave to settle, then change the water and repeat at least six times, until the water is clear.

Heat a large, dry pan, add the drained clams and, once the shells are warm, add a splash of water and cover for about three minutes, until they are all fully open. Take off the heat, leave to cool, then pick through the clams and remove the empty half-shells; discard any clams that haven’t opened. Strain the liquor and set aside for later.

In a mortar, pound the garlic and chillies to a coarse paste, add the sugars and grind until they dissolve. Add the halved tomatoes and chopped beans, and pound again until they begin to break down, but not so much as to turn them into a paste.

Add the lime juice, fish sauce and a splash of clam liquor, then stir to combine and taste: it should be spicy, funky and salty, with a lingering, shellfish sweetness, so adjust as necessary.

Add the cooked clams and the turnip or radish tops, toss to mix, then pile on to a large plate and serve alongside grilled meat and vegetables.

Hot-and-sour asparagus, artichoke and samphire salad

This dish hails from Isaan in the north-east of Thailand, where the food is more spicy, herbaceous and less sweet than the above som tum. To the uninitiated westerner, sup nor mai is a slightly intimidating-looking, dark bowl of bamboo shoots and bitter yanang leaf, funky from unfiltered fish sauce and with a floral fragrance and a spicy kick.

We love these homely dishes and their immediate expression of local produce. When cooking them in the UK, we substitute bamboo for a mixture of earthy, fragrant and vibrant vegetables. We love how dishes such as these come together depending on the season, and so change throughout the year. We use salsify and parsley root in spring, and sometimes monksbeard instead of samphire, too. Each substitution changes the style of the dish, so take your time when adjusting the seasonings, and embrace seasonal changes. Roasted rice adds a mellow base layer to the sweet, sour and salty notes in much Isaan cooking. To make it, gently toast a handful of sticky rice in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for about 20 minutes, moving it about to avoid burning, until dark golden brown all over and smelling toasty. Once cool, pound in a mortar to a texture resembling table salt and store in a sealed jar.

Prep 15 min
Assemble 10 min
Serves 4 as part of a meal

For the dressing
Juice of 1 lime
4
tbsp fish sauce, or 2 tbsp fish sauce and 2 tbsp nam pla ra (unfiltered river fish sauce)

1 tsp chilli powder
2 tbsp water
1 tsp white sugar

For the salad
1 large fresh artichoke heart, sliced roughly into batons
1 small handful washed samphire
3-4 mint or Thai parsley leaves
, shredded
3 large asparagus stalks
, trimmed and cut into very thin ribbons with a peeler
1 tbsp roasted rice powder, to finish (see introduction)

Put all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, mix until the sugar dissolves, then taste: it be sour, then spicy, so adjust as necessary.

Put all the salad ingredients and the roasted rice powder in a large bowl, and dress liberally with the dressing – the roasted rice brings a balancing texture and aroma to the sharp flavours. Pile high on a plate and leave to sit for a moment before serving.

Home-style Isaan pork laab

Laab is a chopped meat or fish salad, and varies greatly across Thailand. It’s a dish that relies on knack and regular practice to be really on-the-spot delicious, so it’s no surprise that our favourite recipes come from home cooks who have generations more of both than we do. This version is from the family of Wanida and Nalisa Stavely near Ubon Ratchathani in the north-east of the country, who have over the years been very generous to us with their time and knowledge. The two key points when making laab are the ratio of meat to salad and the chop of the protein. It’s important to hand-chop the meat, so the texture, once lightly poached, is of small bites, rather than the mush of mince.

Prep 20 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 4 as part of a meal

200g boneless pork, hand-chopped into roughly 2-3mm pieces (if possible, include some heart and liver in the mix, too)
2-3 tbsp fish sauce, to taste
5g palm sugar
(ie, an M&M-sized lump)
1 banana shallot
, or 4 Thai shallots, peeled and very thinly sliced
5-6 Thai parsley stems, finely chopped
1 big handful mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 lime – you may need only half, depending on how juicy it is
2-3 bird’s eye chillies, or to taste, sliced (it’s nice to have a variety of slice sizes)
1-2 tsp chilli powder, to taste
1 tbsp roasted rice powder (see previous recipe)

Put a medium pan on a medium heat, add four tablespoons of water, the chopped pork and fish sauce, and poach very gently for about four minutes, until the meat is cooked through and without boiling off the liquid. Add the palm sugar, stir to dissolve, then turn off the heat and stir in the shallots. Leave for about two minutes, until the onions are fragrant rather than harsh.

Tip the pork mix and all its liquid into a large bowl, then add the chopped Thai parsley and mint (visually, you’re aiming for a similar volume of herbs to pork). Squeeze in the juice of half the lime, then stir in the chilli powder and sliced chillies, so the mix is speckled with chilli powder. Add the roasted rice powder, then toss everything together. The dish should be wet but in no way soupy.

Adjust the seasoning with extra fish sauce or lime juice, to taste – it should be a strong but balanced mixture of sour, spicy and salty, though your own preferences will inevitably influence that – and serve with sticky rice.

Recipes by Ben Curtis, head chef at Smoking Goat in London.

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