Crispy Papaya Nests, Prawns, and Skinny Sweet Potato Fries

I’m not into fried foods. It’s like an unspoken rule to avoid them at home since we try to eat healthily, s’il vous plaît. But who needs rules when you have a dish presented before you like this one?  When it came to Chef Ton’s Crispy Papaya Salad on holiday in Thailand, we took a different view on fried foods.  Things changed back home in our kitchen and the deep frier was no longer a hidden appliance in the corner.

thai fried prawns

Staying at Bain Sairee on Koh Samui island, we were surrounded by such lush vegetation. These papayas were picked when still green – not left to ripen into the sweet, orangey flesh as we know it.

papaya trees

As you can see, the papaya’s flesh was still white.  The other ingredients Ton used were so simple: a couple of tomatoes, limes, some unsalted cashew nuts, giant prawns, tamarind sauce and some tempura flour.

The papaya was shredded finely and tossed lightly in the tempura flour.  At the local Tesco Lotus supermarket up the road, tempura flour was so easy to find – ready prepared. No water was added, just a light dusting was all it took.

Then the papaya strands were deep fried for just a few minutes – keeping a eye on them until they reached a beautiful golden colour – then drained on kitchen paper.

The prawns were then given exactly the same treatment.

prawns in tempura batter

Chef Ton’s smile, as you can see, was contagious.

Thailand chefs

Then to finish up while the prawns were draining, Ton prepared the quickest, tangy sauce to serve alongside it.  Pounding the tomato in a mortar, he squeezed in the juice of the limes and added the tamarind sauce.

thai tomato sauce

This was so quick to prepare and definitely something I wanted to try as soon as we returned home – so here I got to it!

Papaya, however, was the problem to find here.  Instead, I substituted it with sweet potato.  I tried them Ton’s way, coating in the tempura flour – then another time without it.  They worked out great even on their own, as the sweet potato was drier.

My prawns were nothing like the same size as Ton’s Thai versions.  Mine were so small that to compensate, I threw in some onion rings and coated them in the tempura flour to add that extra taste..

And for the sauce, mortar-fied I couldn’t find the right tamarind sauce in a hurry, I added some fresh coriander (cilantro), some fish sauce, a good pinch of sugar, and some finely chopped spring onions.

Makes a change from French fries

Delicious! Now we’re hooked on these sweet potato ‘skinny fries’. They form a nest with marinaded curried chicken served with a cucumber salsa.  There’s only one thing missing….

thai red curry mad macarons

Thai red curry macarons. Fab with a G&T

A curry macaron would have gone perfectly with this, Thai green or red?  The recipe is in the Mad Macs savoury chapter in Mad About Macarons …

The Thai Tuk-Tuk Adventure to Sapphire Macarons

Why does it happen to me?  Perhaps because “gullible smiling tourist” is pinned to my forehead.

It all started so well. En route to Koh Samui airport – which is more like entering Disneyland’s main boulevard – we savoured the lushness of the island’s greenery: the pineapples, papayas, and these enormous banana flowers.

A couple of hours later in Bangkok, we quickly realised that our lazy island pace needed some acceleration.  Just the thought made us crave an energising plate of noodles.  Where could we get the best Pad Thai noodles and fast?

No big deal: just take the ferry boat across the river and in 10 minutes you’re there, said the Concierge. The Chao Phraya river is awash with bobbing, bustling boats bombing up its main diluted hot chocolate-looking artery; and with its canals going through the city, you can see why it’s called the Venice of the East.

Pad Thai Noodles served in a banana leaf boat

At Mazzaro restaurant (just off New Road between the Shangri-La Hotel), we couldn’t fault they were one of the best pad thai in the city.  What a beautiful presentation, served in a banana flower boat. It was spicy but by now, the children were into the heat.

They were also into,”We don’t want the kids’ menu!” No wonder when you tasted this mango and sticky coconut rice dessert. We parted with Antoine, who had to work but us girls carried on walking around to soak in the atmosphere.

Stalls of fruits and vegetables were jam-packed at the sides of the street and on each corner you could take in the bewildering aromas of seafood, satays, pickles, pastes, and all kinds of Thai dishes being prepared on the spot for passers-by.

Durian fruit were also being prepared at many stalls. Despite its popularity it does have a particular smell. Suddenly we turned the corner and we focused on the tuk-tuks.  They were everywhere, zooming in and out of taxis and buses with their familiar tuk-tuk motor.

Was this driver sleeping or was he just recovering after smelling that durian?

First impressions can be deceiving

After crashing out ourselves, next day it was time to visit some of Bangkok’s sights.  We were ready for an adventure. Luckily the concierge warned us of the riverboat cost, otherwise we would have ended up paying three times the tarif if we didn’t buy the ticket directly on the boat.  Goody.  That one was cracked.

Temple of Dawn

Leaving the high-rise modern buildings behind us, we chugged past the famous Temple of Dawn and Chinatown, aware we shouldn’t miss our stop with all these sights so close.

Get me to the palace!

We were heading for the Grand Palace, dodging sellers touting their wares before the entrance. Then, halt!

A perfectly normal, kind-looking gentleman in a suit came up to warn us that our sleeves or my trousers weren’t long enough. Did you know that only one part of the palace was open to the public this morning since the monks were using the rest? Come back later at 2pm and in the meantime you have to see a remarkable sight.  Today is a special day in Thailand: we give rubies to our wives for good luck. The government is hosting a once-in-a-lifetime event at the actual factory and there are great bargains.  Bargain?  Don’t forget I said I was gullible.

tuk tuk in Thailand

Lucie holding on to her monkey, Coconut, for dear life

And before you could say, “My boss will take you there and wherever you want for 100 baht” we were in that tuk-tuk, knocking knees wondering what on earth had happened. Mum?

This had to be worth shortening our lives by a week, inhaling the exhaust fumes from the bus right in front of us. My youngest had a ball – we’re on a tuk-tuk!  My eldest should have done the talking at the palace, on reflection.

You can tell I was shaking for the next part – I didn’t know what was coming next …

Taken briefly around the tiny room of craftsmen at the Royal Lapidary factory, we were led in to the labyrinth of cases displaying their rubies and sapphires.  It’s surprising how the special government initiative wasn’t known. TaDa!  We were shown this beauty.

Never Thai-tired of sapphires

After feeling in long denial, I opted for a pricey little souvenir of Thailand: a miniscule version of this one. Why not?  Well you try and get out of there without buying anything.  Do you have any tricks on squirming your way out of that one?  I’d love to know your tactics.

Back in the tuk-tuk, we were on to their game.  We wanted dropped off at Siam Centre but somehow he talked about stopping for gasoline.  Aha.  A tailor’s shop.  You buy a suit and I get free gasoline.  OK.  That’s it.  Just take us to Siam square.

Suddenly the tuk-tuk accelerated.  We were in a James Bond movie with Jaws at the wheel. This thing careered down hills, over bridges, screeching past taxis, as we tried to see the sights. While he was wailing, “I didn’t get gasoline”, I was wailing at the kids to keep their fingers and arms inside as they pointed out buildings.  Look Mum!  A palace.

Jaws soon accelerated wailing, “No gasoline..!”

He literally dropped us in Siam square, the shopping mall paradise where the girls and I celebrated our new souvenir investment and tuk-tuk experience with the sweetest, synthetic ice creams.  Back at the hotel I needed something a little stronger since I couldn’t stop kicking myself.  That was it: a long island ice tea.  That can surely pack a punch.  You must be kidding.  My forehead stamp must not have rubbed off yet.  Amongst the ice was some ice tea without the punchy long island bit.

I learned my lesson: I should have been dressed like our friend here, with LONG sleeves and trousers that cover the ankles.  I need to return to Bangkok and feast on the delights of the temples.  After all, with around 450 Buddhist temples, it surely can’t be that difficult to visit one. The next time, I won’t have “easy target” stamped on me and I’ll pretend to speak Norwegian.

blueberry macarons like sapphires

Sapphire Blueberry macarons

Believe me. I shall never look at sapphires in the same light again. And next time I bite into a blueberry sapphire macaron, I’ll consider it an adventure.  Tuk-tuk!

See recipe for Crispy Papaya with Prawns.


Note: This was not a sponsored trip. It was our private family holiday but I just wanted to share this touristic experience, so you can be wiser to the situation!

 

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.