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Contrasting textures, flavors key to Thai meal.

Byline: THE $10 GOURMET By Jim Boyd The Register-Guard

A casual Thai meal can be easy to fix, says Abby LaForce, who teaches Asian cooking classes at Cook's Pots & Tabletops.

Her $10 Gourmet menu, which may require a stop at an Asian market for some ingredients, features Thai Hot and Sour Chicken Soup With Rice Sticks, Asian Corn Fritters served with Coriander-Tomato Salad, and a refreshing drink, Fresh Mango Froth, that's made in a blender from mango, sugar, ice and water. Add light rum and the mango froth becomes a wonderful party beverage, LaForce says.

The Thai Hot and Sour Chicken Soup is made from chicken stock, coconut milk, lime zest and lime juice, fish sauce, salt, black pepper and a flavoring essential for Tom Yum soup that's labeled "instant sour shrimp paste" although it contains no shrimp (the ingredients are palm oil, water, salt, lemongrass, chili, MSG, sugar, garlic, galanga and citric acid).

This hot broth is poured into individual bowls containing bean sprouts, sliced chicken breast and Thai rice stick noodles. A garnish of coriander leaves and slices of red chili complete the soup.

"It's very traditional," LaForce said. "It's very simple. It's something that's eaten every day in Thailand whether it's hot or cold outside."

Corn is in season now and very inexpensive, LaForce said. Her corn fritter recipe uses coconut milk, sweet rice flour and finely minced coriander and scallions for Asian style. Corn fritters made in Thailand would have curry paste as an ingredient, she said. However, she wanted her fritters to be milder in flavor to go better with the spiciness of the soup.

Made with ripe tomatoes, lime juice, coriander leaves, sliced scallions, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, the salad is one that LaForce's Filipino mother often serves as an accompaniment to a beef stir-fry or grilled fish. LaForce served the salad on the same plate as the fritters.

"Basically, you have a light, hot, crispy corn fritter and then you have a cool, soothing salad, so it really balances," she said. "The whole idea of this meal is to have a silky soup combining different tastes and textures on the palate - the crunchy, the soft, the sweet. The rice fritters have a little bit of sweetness from the rice flour and the coconut milk. So you have a nice, well-rounded, balanced meal that's not too heavy. And you can have the mango froth as dessert or serve it with the meal."

The $10 Gourmet is a feature that allows professional cooks to give menu ideas to home cooks by preparing a meal for two on a $10 budget. Small amounts of staple ingredients don't have to be included in the accounting.

Doing all her shopping at the Willamette Market of Choice, LaForce spent $9.71 on ingredients (see Settling the Bill). She did not buy the egg, cream of tartar, baking powder, sugar, salt and black pepper that she used from kitchen supplies.

She also did not have to purchase three Asian ingredients that might be missing from a Western kitchen. They are instant sour shrimp paste (an 8-ounce jar costs $1.99 at Sunrise Oriental Market), sweet rice flour (a 1-pound box costs 99 cents at Sunrise) and the fish sauce that's now commonly available at conventional supermarkets.

LaForce has never visited Thailand; however, her mother learned a lot of Thai dishes from her Thai friends, and LaForce subsequently learned to cook the dishes herself.

"I grew up eating curry like it was my beef stew," LaForce said. "Thai food is actually one of my favorite cuisines."

LaForce is a senior pursuing a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism at the University of Oregon. She has worked at Cook's Pots & Tabletops for more than three years. She will teach cooking classes this fall titled Asian Small Plates (Sept. 23) and Casual Asian Chic (Oct. 11).

Thai Hot and Sour Chicken Soup With Rice Sticks

3 ounces medium-width Thai rice sticks (a type of flat noodle available in Asian food stores)

2 1/2 cups chicken stock (see note)

1 chicken breast half, skinless and boneless

1 1/4 cups coconut milk

2 1/2 tablespoons instant sour shrimp paste (used to make Tom Yum soup)

Zest of 1 small lime, peeled off in large strips

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 teaspoon fish sauce

Juice of 1 small lime

1 cup bean sprouts, washed and dried

1/2 cup coriander leaves

1 red chili, seeds removed and sliced thinly

Place the Thai rice sticks (flat rice noodles) in a bowl, pour boiling water over and let stand for 5 to 8 minutes or until tender. Then drain and set aside.

Bring the stock to a simmer in a small pot, add the chicken breast, cover saucepot and poach until chicken is fully cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove chicken breast and set aside.

Skim any cooking residue from top of stock. Add the coconut milk, instant sour shrimp paste, lime zest, salt, pepper and fish sauce. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove the strips of lime zest and then add the lime juice.

To assemble: Slice the chicken breast into thin pieces across the grain. In a large soup bowl, place a portion of rice noodles, bean sprouts and chicken slices. Ladle the hot soup over. Garnish with a sprinkling of coriander leaves and chili slices.

Note: To stay within the $10 budget, LaForce used water instead of chicken stock to poach the chicken breast during her cooking demonstration. The soup she produced was very tasty, but she believes chicken stock would produce a richer-flavored soup, so she has written the recipe with chicken stock as an ingredient.

Serves 2.

Asian Corn Fritters

1 cup fresh corn kernels, cut from 1 to 2 ears of corn

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup sweet rice flour

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to sprinkle on the fritters after then are fried

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons each scallions and coriander, finely minced

Pinch of cream of tartar

Canola oil, enough to fill frying pan 1 inch deep

Cut the kernels off the corn cobs. Measure 1 cup and set aside. Separate the egg and reserve the egg yolk and the egg white. Sift together the baking powder, sweet rice flour, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt into a medium mixing bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, coconut milk and black pepper.

Slowly add in the sifted dry ingredients and then add in the 1 cup corn kernels, scallions and coriander.

Beat the egg white with a pinch of cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg white into the corn mixture.

Pour about 1 inch of canola oil into a 10-inch fry pan. Heat oil to 375 degrees.

With a metal 1/2 -cup-size measuring cup, scoop out corn mixture and pour into the hot oil. Fry two fritters at a time. Fry for about 2 to 3 minutes per side, until each fritter is a light golden brown and puffed.

Remove fritters from oil and place on a paper-toweled plate to drain. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

Serve fritters hot with a portion of Coriander-Tomato Salad (recipe follows). Garnish with lime wedges and sliced scallions.

Makes 4 large fritters.

Coriander-Tomato Salad

1 large ripe tomato, cut in medium dice

1/4 cup coarsely chopped coriander leaves

1 scallion (green part only), thinly sliced

Juice of 1/2 lime

Pinch of sugar, or more to taste

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Fresh Mango Froth

1 ripe mango, peeled, seeded and diced

1 cup crushed ice

Juice of 1 lime

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and frothy. Serve immediately with a lime wedge.

SETTLING THE BILL

Pad Thai noodles: $1.69

Corn: $1

Cilantro: 50 cents

Bean sprouts: 20 cents

Red chili pepper: 30 cents

Limes: 75 cents

Coconut milk: 99 cents

Orange tomato: $1.27

Green onions: 50 cents

Skinless, boneless chicken breast: $2.01

Mango: 50 cents

Total: $9.71

CAPTION(S):

Abby LaForce's dishes include a Thai chicken soup, Asian corn fritters and a refreshing mango drink. Chris Pietsch / The Register-Guard Abby LaForce, who teaches Asian cooking classes, prepares Thai dishes.
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Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 8, 2004
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