I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but I had the good fortune of spending an entire month in Thailand last November. I have a bad case of chronic wanderlust, but Thailand seemed to satiate that need…at least for a little while. I mean, let’s be honest, does it get any better than lounging on a beach, partying with locals and fellow travelers, and exploring all of the sights, sounds, and tastes that a different culture has to offer? When the food of said culture is f***ing phenomenal and affordable, I’d say yes. Yes, it does. (Excuse the expletive, I have a potty mouth as it is and this really required a 4-letter word to get the emotion across.)
Going into the trip, I figured that after maybe a week I’d be sick of eating Thai food and would be craving more western flavors. Much to my surprise, that day never came. The food consistently blew me away and I couldn’t get enough. It was as if I was addicted to its multidimensional flavors and foreign ingredients. I ate Thai for almost every single meal that month: Thai omlets for breakfast, Tom Kha Gai for lunch (see here for that recipe), and stir-fry or curries for dinner. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the (almost daily) craving for spring rolls somewhere in between. How I managed to lose weight on that trip is beyond me, but I’ll take it!
One of my favorite ingredient finds while in Thailand was a root called galangal. It’s similar to ginger in both appearance and flavor, but has a harder, woodier texture and an extra hint of citrus that you don’t find in ginger. During a cooking class in Chiang Mai, I spoke to the chef at length about this curious little root. I, rather confidently, told him that we probably would never find galangal in our markets, but that I’d be sure to look around. Well you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled across a big ole bucket of galangal yesterday at the market! I knew I had to buy some and create a dish just for this special ingredient. (And for my newfound Thai chef buddy, of course. See photo below. I was laughing at his dirty jokes about the mortar and pestle used to make curry paste…I’m sure you can use your imagination here…and realize that I clearly have the maturity level of a teenager 😉
I snagged some other ingredients that I thought would go nicely with my little root-based find, including red bell peppers, bok choy, and some lemongrass, which sadly didn’t make the cut for the final dish. But I have to say, I think my new Thai chef friend would be quite proud of what I’ve put together here: a garlic-y shrimp dish that packs a punch in spice and has citrusy sweet undertones. I topped it with cilantro to balance out the spice and served it with jasmine rice. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
I hope this recipe finds its way into your kitchen so that you can enjoy the tip of what Thai cuisine has to offer. As for me? I’m already dreaming about my next international culinary adventure. It probably won’t be to Thailand, but I’m confident it will be just as delicious.
Thai Garlic and Chili Shrimp
- 1 lb of shrimp, preferable w/ shells on
- 1 bunch of bok choy
- 3 tablespoons of canola oil
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 thumb size piece of fresh galangal (or ginger), grated
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
- 2 dried thai chilis, sliced in half
- ½ lime
- 1 tablespoon of thai garlic chili sauce
- 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons of soy sauce
Mix together the marinade ingredients first. If shrimp have shells on, remove heads (if they have them and set aside) and, using scissors, make a thin cut across the back of the shrimp. Insert your knife tip under the vein and lift to remove, keeping the shell on. Toss the de-veined shrimp in marinade and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat canola oil and butter in a wok or large skillet on medium. (Note: If you have the shrimp heads, toss them in the oil and butter mixture and sauté for about 5 minutes and then remove and discard, leaving oil in the skillet. This will give the oil a super shrimp-y flavor.) Add garlic, thai chili pepper halves, galangal and red bell peppers and sauté until fragrant without burning the garlic (about 3-4 minutes). If garlic starts to burn before the bell peppers have softened, turn heat down to low until peppers are finished softening.
Add shrimp with the marinade and bok choy to the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until shrimp are just pink and bok choy is wilted, which should happen at around the same time, about 2 minutes per side for the shrimp. You can tell if your shrimp are cooked enough by their shape — shaped like a “C” means they’re cooked perfectly. Shaped like an “O” means you’ve over cooked them. If your shrimp cook before your bok choy is finished, remove the shrimp and set aside…rubbery overcooked shrimp are the worst! Squeeze the lime half over the shrimp and serve with rice or eat plain.