Sunday, April 3, 2016

Try the World Box: Thailand

We really enjoyed our Try the World box from Thailand. This was the first, official installment of the present our daughters gave us for our birthdays. They also made us a preview box representing Brooklyn that I blogged about previously.

The first thing we noticed about the Thailand box was how nicely it was packaged. Instead of all the contents being crammed in a standard USPS flat-rate box, it came in a neat box with a lid, which itself was wrapped in a cardboard outer box for shipping. We also noticed that the box was packed full. There was no cheating here. I hate companies that cheat on packaging.

Now for the contents:

The box also included a long, fan-fold "Culture Guide," which included a description of the contents, a map of where everything came from, a bio of the chef-curator, a recommended menu, recipes and a 20% off promo code at the Try The World e-shop. The guide was beautifully printed on hard stock. Again, no scrimping here; they put real effort into building the whole experience.

Our meal started with the three snacks: taro chips, coconut crispy rolls and dried coconut. We both liked the taro chips. I think we have had them in chip mixes before. They are sort of like potato chips with a sweeter, slightly squash-like flavor and texture. The coconut crispy rolls are a fun shaped little cookie. They weren't too sweet, so it didn't feel like dessert before dinner. I fell in love with the dried coconut. They obviously had added sugar, which was just enough to bring out great coconut flavor. I'll get these again.

To go with the snacks, we made a pot of Thai iced tea. The kit came with enough mix to make about a quart of tea, and a cloth net that acted like a tea bag. I think a drawstring bag would be easier to use. The tea is sweetened with the coconut flower syrup and served over ice. We couldn't get the added condensed milk to give a layered look like in a restaurant. The finished tea had a beautiful color and tasted just the way I like it.

Our next course was the tom yum soup. The kit included a set of four individually sealed ingredients with instructions that probably worked better in Thai. We struggled for a while to figure out what was in each packet and finally settled on red peppers, lime leaves, lemon grass (not scallions), and galanga  (not mushrooms). The recipe had us add our own mushrooms, onions and chicken.
The tom yum soup I've had before is a clear broth. You can see from the picture that our soup was not a clear broth. If you make your own, treat the four ingredients more like a tea and take them out before serving. We learned that none of the ingredients are edible. Oh, and take them out early in the process. The flavor get's strong fast.
It should be easy enough to get the ingredients again. Pepper and lemon grass are easy to find. I'm confident that ginger can be substituted for the galanga if needed. And, we found a small package of fresh lime leaves at H Mart for another dish and were able to dry the leftovers for future use

The main course was chicken curry with the jasberry rice. We've made dishes using Thai curry pastes before. It's remarkably easy to get an authentic result. I'd recommend you give it a try. Curry paste is easy to get in the international section of grocery stores in our area. You also need canned coconut milk, again easy to get. The final key is fish sauce. You may not be familiar with it, but it also might be in the international grocery aisle.

A few words about fish sauce. First, don't skip it: it is necessary for an authentic Thai flavor. Second, don't smell it: if you do that, you might not want to use it. This stuff smells like fermented fish, which is probably good, because it is fermented fish. You are only going to use about a tablespoon. Trust me, it will be fine.

Our curry also included the fresh lime leaves I mentioned earlier, some potatoes and carrots, some basil and onion, and a little tamarind paste. The tamarind paste was new for us. We had trouble finding it in H Mart, but it was right there in front of us. We were looking for a jar, but it comes in a plastic wrapped brick. Tamarind is the base of Worcester sauce, and the paste is like a paste of figs or raisins. You can make a good curry using almost any firm meats or vegetables you like. Proportions are really up to your taste. You can skip the tamarind, but not the fish sauce.

Our recipe called for the curry to be served with the jasberry rice. Although any rice will work, it's most common to use jasmine rice. Jasberry rice is a new kind of organic rice bred with high levels of anti-oxidants. And, while it is supposed to be healthier for you, I think the real appeal is the dark purple color. It tastes like a good wild rice, but doesn't have the fibrous husks.

The dessert course was a rice pudding also made with the jasberry rice. Rice pudding was new for me. It came out like a firmer tapioca pudding, and I'm sure I could have cooked it a little longer, soaking up more of the liquid. I liked it and it didn't go to waste, but pudding has never been my go-to dessert.

Finally, I repurposed the coconut flower syrup into a Thai-inspired cocktail I called a Thai Mai Tai. Really just a Mai Tai with the coconut flower syrup. The syrup is pretty much just a honey substitute. It made a good Mai Tai, but to really get a Thai flavor, I think a little Coco Reàl and some lime would be called for. I'll try that.