Just kidding. In my mind, I returned to this beach known as Ao Phra Nang in southern Thailand.
I was lucky enough to have spent two glorious weeks in Thailand in the summer of 2008, where I think I ate my weight in curries and Thai noodles, spicy papaya salad with fresh octopus and shrimp, and succulent, exotic fruit that was offered as often as were deep bows of respect.
Although I adore Thai food, I need help mastering this complex cuisine in my own kitchen. The four pillars of Thai cuisine are sometimes not the most intuitive combinations for our Western palates: sweet, spicy, sour, and salty. Additionally, when I crave Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, or Chinese food, whatever I whip up at home can NEVER compete with my takeout options.
The following recipes are now two staples in my kitchen, so I can get through those Thai cravings without having to pick up the phone. I plan to use both of these dishes to entertain, as they are fabulous served warm or at room temperature, and can both be made well in advance.
Thai-Style Chicken Legs (barely tweaked from Smitten Kitchen, July 12, 2010, who barely tweaked from Food & Wine)
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1/4 c. Asian fish sauce
1/4 c. vegetable oil
4 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black or white pepper
4 whole chicken legs (original recipe calls for 8, but I used 4 and didn’t find there was excess marinade at all)
Thai sweet chili sauce, for serving (I omitted)
Combine all ingredients (minus the chicken) in a blender until smooth. Arrange chicken in a large, shallow glass or ceramic dish. Pour marinade over the chicken and turn to coat the pieces thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cover baking dish with a lid or foil and roast chicken for about 25 minutes. If the sauce begins to char, sprinkle a few tablespoons of water into the dish. Remove lid or foil and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the skin is crisp and the meat is cooked through.
Peanut Udon Noodles and Vegetables
1/4 c. smooth peanut butter
1/3 c. rice wine vinegar
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/3 c. warm water
1/3 c. dark sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
few splashes of Tabasco or chili oil
1/2 tsp. Chinese five spice
generous handful of basil, mint, cilantro, or combination of the three
8 oz. udon noodles or linguine
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While the water heats, mix the first eight ingredients in a food processor or with a whisk. Set aside. Cook noodles until firm, but tender. Drain, and combine noodles with sauce in a large serving bowl. Add any combination of chopped herbs, scallions, diced cucumber, grated carrot, shelled and cooked edamame, baby corn, cooked green beans, cubed tofu. May be served warm or at room temperature.
Enjoy a brief, exotic respite before the onslaught of holiday cheer!