Destination Samui Island Thailand and Menus to Thai For

I’m back but still mentally on holiday in Thailand.  What a wonderful country: friendly people, fabulous sites, and the food is to Thai for. This is the first time in years I’ve not had access to a computer (highly recommended.) With batteries recharged, a stronger back after cures of Thai massage, enjoy a taster of Thailand.

On arrival at Koh Samui, Thailand’s 3rd largest island, the girls were presented with the most beautiful orchids. Surrounded by such lushness of coconut trees, frangipani and hibiscus plants, we were instantly struck by the heat and humidity: not the best climate for making macarons I dare say. But, I was on holiday and the ‘M’ word was strictly forbidden for at least two weeks; no guesses that I must drive the family completely mad.

After a few days at Bophut in the north of the island, our next home -from-home was in the south at Ban Sairee, the most idyllic location with a beach more-or-less to ourselves.  We even discovered we had our own Gecko – these lizards are actually cute: not only great for making the mosquitos disappear but they make such an amazing song, too.

Typical Thai teak villas at Ban Sairee

Smoothly run by Jul, all the staff were so attentive to detail. One of the most wonderful luxuries was having our own cook: meet chef Ton.  Always with an amazing smile, he let me into his kitchen to show how to whip up tasty Thai dishes in no time:  2-3 dishes took him just 30 minutes.

Chef Ton’s Thai Homecooking at Ban Sairee

It was funny to see the table set here with fork and spoon.  No knives are needed, as everything is served in convenient bite-sizes. Apparently this is a custom that dates back to the royal court of Rama IV in the 19th Century. We had just taken it for granted and continued to eat with our fork. What’s wrong with that?  Well let me tell you, in Thailand it’s the Western equivalent of licking your knife at the table!  The fork is just used in the left hand to position your food on the plate and you eat with the spoon.  Just to warn you on your next trip.

Fork and spoon? Watch your table manners.

One of our most memorable dishes was a simple green mango salad. With the most fragrant of local ingredients, notably lemongrass, this was no normal mango salad.

Normally a red chili is added but it was omitted for the children (especially after Julie had eaten a chili flower one evening as it looked so pretty – you can imagine her surprise.) The other secret addition was tamarind sauce, something that is used often in Thai cooking – I must find this in Paris this afternoon. I’m in mango salad denial!

Mango salad with Lemongrass

We could easily have eaten this every day but Chef Ton had so many other dishes for us to thai.

A Penang Chicken Curry to Thai for

As in other Thai dishes we’d seen, they are really into decoration in a mind-blowing way. This bird was a beautiful addition to a plate of prawn and vegetable tempura, for example. Then another of Chef Ton’s creations was his papaya salad. I’ve now posted the recipe, but with my version back home in Paris: Papaya Nests, Prawns and Skinny Sweet Potato Fries.

Flown away with the Thai edible decorations on the plate

I’ll share these over the next couple of weeks on the bonus recipe pages. These satay prawns didn’t just have a tomato rose but look at that fish decor!

For Lucie’s birthday, Ton carved out her favourite watermelon. A plate of tropical fruits was always a simple but refreshing dessert. The mango here is just so sumptiously sweet.

Another main ingredient in Thai cooking doesn’t come as a surprise: coconut milk. With over 4 million coconut trees on the island and with tourism being their biggest economy, there’s a real monkey business going on to protect the tourists’ heads.

You would soon know if one of these hit you!

Monkeys are trained to climb the trees and force-fall the coconuts who could land on roofs or unsuspecting heads below. The trainers below shout instructions to them and pull at their cord, as the monkeys look like little men upside down, turning the coconuts until they fall in a controlled manner.  What an impressive sight!

A real monkey business

After watching this spectacle, we managed to pull the children away for a steep walk to visit a few Buddahs and the view of the island.  En route, we just about bumped into a monk (they are dressed in orange.) Beware, women. You are strictly forbidden to touch a monk or even bump into one by accident.  This one, however, didn’t seem to even notice: he was too busy walking and answering emails on his i-Phone!

Offerings are left at each monument

Offerings are left normally at each statue. This one looks uncannily like a glass of Guinness.  Just so you know, food is incredibly cheap but spirits here are rather expensive – especially wine.  It brought me back to drinking Gin and Tonics – great for mosquitos with the quinine content (my excuse, anyway.)

Speaking of spirits, you’ll see Spirit Houses dotted all over the island.  These are built on properties to keep the spirits happy on your land and again, they normally have offerings on them.  Here there were 2 houses, so no doubt that kept them happy here.  Other Spirit Houses could be much more elaborate with gold and many flower garlands.

A Thai Spirit House

I’ve blethered more than enough for one day so why not join me in a refreshing gin and tonic with something a bit different to chill out?

Thai red curry macarons. Fab with a G&T

Thai red curry macarons. If you think this is completely insane, then you should try them.  They’re knock-out with plenty heat!  (Turn to page 105 of the book for the recipe for Thai Green Curry Macarons.)

Next stop, Bangkok. Fasten your seat belts – it’s a different pace from island life.


Note: This is not a sponsored post.  This was our private family holiday but I wanted to share the experience we had.

 

Sweet Potato, Crab & Thai Herb Croquettes

There’s something magical about holidays.  It’s not only a precious time to reconnect with the family, unwind, stand back and gather our thoughts – but it’s also a vital break from the kitchen. There’s nothing more inspiring than eating out and discovering new flavours.

Just before Paris shut down for the holidays in August, Antoine and I headed to KGB in Paris to tickle the tastebuds.  Don’t you love the name, KGB?  When you book, there’s that inner excitement thinking that Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore could be reserved at the next table – although I’d prefer the original James Bond via my favourite Scot, Sean Connery (even if he came up to me and complained that we’d run out of programmes during the Edinburgh Festival, as I was ushering people to their seats as a student – but that’s another story.  All is forgiven, Sean: I couldn’t have agreed more with you – I was just swooning so much I did nothing about it.)

However, KGB stands for Kitchen Galérie Bis, as it’s the bistro version of William Ledeuil’s Michelin-starred restaurant in the same street, Ze Kitchen Galérie, on rue des Grands Augustins.

As we were headed for Thailand this summer, this was the perfect restaurant featuring fusion food at its best between Thai cooking and French cuisine. The service was just as attentive as its big brother and it was a privilege that the Executive Chef, Yariv Berrebi, invited me for a look behind the scenes in the bustling kitchen. What an impressive team they have that can produce such amazing dishes out of such a stifling small kitchen!

KGB “Zors-d’oeuvre”, cod croquette on basil béarnaise

The menu is almost like a Tapas menu in style, with the first array of amuse-bouches arriving called “zors-d’oeuvre”. I was immediately inspired with the cod croquettes with a basil béarnaise sauce and couldn’t wait to get back in ze kitchen back home to try out one of the recipes in my new cookbook, Ze Kitchen Galerie: La Cuisine de William Ledeuil.  The nearest was his Sweet Potato Croquettes, Crab and Thai Herbs with an Spicy Artichoke Condiment – although I’ve adapted it a bit, made a quick spicy basil mayonnaise instead, plus made bigger portions for a first course starter.

Crispy balls of sweet & spicy thai flavours

Sweet Potato, Crab & Thai Herb Croquettes with Spicy Basil Mayonnaise

Serves 4

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Chilling Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: Approx 30 minutes total

Croquettes

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 lemongrass sticks
3 cloves garlic
240 g tinned crab (Ledeuil uses 200g fresh crabmeat but I didn’t have any to hand)
5 branches of fresh Thai basil, leaves only (chopped)
5 branches of fresh coriander, leaves only (chopped)
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 lime, untreated
3 tbps olive oil
salt

Coating

100g egg whites
100g flour
150g panko breadcrumbs

1.  Cut the sweet potatoes into small cubes.  Cut the bottom off the lemongrass, remove the first 2 outer hard layers and cut in 2 horizontally.  Peel the garlic and chop finely.

2.  In a heavy frying pan, heat 3 tbsp olive oil then sauté the garlic and lemongrass for a couple of minutes until fragrant.  Add the sweet potato and kaffir lime leaves and leave to sweat with the lid on for about 20 minutes.

3.  Once the sweet potato mixture is cooked, remove the lime leaves, crush the potato with a fork or masher (still over the heat to dry it a bit) and add the salt.  Take off the heat, add the crab, chopped herbs and the zest of the lime.  Mix well and leave to cool.

Mixing ourselves up before the messy palm roll

4.  Form the mixture into small balls, using the palm of your hands.  Place them on a baking tray and put them aside in the freezer for 20 minutes.  This will make it easier to work the mixture with the coating later.

5.  Prepare 3 separate bowls of egg white, flour and the panko (Japanese breadcrumbs.)

Roll in flour, egg white and panko

6.  Roll the balls successively in the flour, then egg white and finish off with the panko.  If the ‘phone rings, only pick up with these hands if urgent. 🙂

7.  Prepare the sauce: whisk up 4 tbsps of mayonnaise with 2 tsps of lime pesto (without the cheese), adding a finely chopped half red chili.

8.  Heat the fryer to 180°C and when hot, plunge the croquettes in for about 1min30 or until they are crisp and golden.  Repeat the process until all the mix is used up.

Quick sizzle in the frier

9. Drain on absorbant kitchen paper and serve.

 

Et voilà. Ready for some holiday fun in Thailand?  First Thai island adventure is coming up shortly…

 

Basil & Lime Pesto: Quick and Saucy

Could you get me some basil, please? Antoine came back from the market with not just a few leaves but two huge plants of my favourite herb. There was only one thing for it; while it was so fragrant and fresh, I needed something that was quick to make: PESTO and pronto!

 

Only one problem: as I was finishing up stocks in the fridge before going on holiday, I had run out of fresh parmesan (and also the traditional pecorino) cheese.  So, the cheese was simply replaced with more toasted nuts and the juice of a lime.  Hey pesto, this could be adapted to add to all sorts of sauces at the last minute. It’s a great flavour enhancer to add to all kinds of dishes – even Thai rice noodles.  Adapt it to your own taste, using cashews or walnuts instead of pine nuts; add a red or green chili for some heat; use coriander instead of basil…

What’s more, the sauce freezes well.  As it’s oily, it won’t be a complete solid mass when frozen so you can use the amount needed without having to defrost a whole jar.

Hey pesto!

Basil and Lime Pesto

For 2 jam jars

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

2 basil plants, leaves only
2 garlic cloves, peeled and inside core removed
60g toasted pine nuts (or cashew)
1 untreated lime, zest and juice
140ml olive oil
seasoning

Throw all the ingredients in a blender, adding the olive oil gradually while mixing.  Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.