A common ingredient in Thai cooking, the Thais use the leaves of the coriander plant much more than ground coriander seeds. Americans refer to the leaves as 'cilantro' and seeds as 'coriander', but in Thailand the words are the same and the plant has only one name. Throughout this site we refer to the plant as coriander, the leaves as coriander leaves and the seeds as coriander seeds. If in doubt its the leaves (cilantro)! In the above photograph, each leave is approximate 2cms across.
This tuberous root vegetable is widely available in Asia, grown in the east & north east of Thailand (in provinces such as Buri Ram) because, unlike rice, it does not require lots of water. It has a hard brown outer layer and a white or yellow flesh, only the cooked flesh is used. It is also known as Yuca or sometimes Tapioca root.
These are rovellon mushrooms, they're very common in Southern Europe, they have a soft spongy, almost jelly like texture. To clean them crush off any dirt or grass that sticks to them before cooking. Don't rinse them, and don't freeze them, they are too soft to survive freezing. You can make a soup and store that in the fridge if you don't want to eat them right away.
Fresh beansprouts (shoots of the mung bean) may not sound very exciting, but the freshness can really improve a stir-fry dish. Here's how to grow them from the soya beans you can buy in the grocers. It takes 3-5 days at normal room temperature, so it's very easy and quick to do.
In the photograph below you can see the soya beans, with the grown soya shoots in the middle and some shoots on the right with the seed head and root removed. You can eat all of the shoot, seed head and root included.
This green vegetable grows in central Thailand and is practically a weed. It has a very strong sulfur smell, thankfully when it's cooked the sulfur smell disappears. It's commonly eaten cooked in omelettes, and also boiled or steamed as a dipping vegetable with spicy chilli dip. Keep in the fridge and it can last about 2 weeks, eat only the soft tops of the stalks, not the woody lower parts.
Banana leaves are very common item in Thai cooking. They can be bought frozen from Asian supermarkets and in some places fresh. A common misconception is that they have a banana smell, they do not - they smell like leaves! The reason we use them is not for the smell, but because they are waxy, so food is easy to remove from the leaves. They are also natural and organic, so no waste and also they look good for presenting food.
Palm seeds are served in a sweet syrup and eaten in desserts. As you can see from the photograph, they're clear which makes them extremely difficult to photograph and virtually invisible when in water. The seeds in the photograph are 1-2 cms in length each.
This green leaf vegetable wilts easily. Clean it, leave it standing in water to recover, then dry it and keep it in the fridge and it lasts several days without wilting.
Palm seeds have a natural sweetness and can be bought in tins very easily from Asian grocers and supermarkets. They are normally sold in heavy syrup, as long as you keep the tin covered in the fridge, and enough syrup to cover the seeds, they can be kept for 2 months.
In the photograph above you can see sliced palm seeds, and a tin shown on the right.
At the left are Mango rollups, these are thin slices of mango preserved in salt and sugar. At the right is salted mango strips. The salting draws our the water causing shrinkage, but these are nice to eat as a gop-gam dish, a snack to eat with beer or wine. At the top are pieces of preserve dried mango.
We use the juice as a flavouring in some dishes, and also add the lemons to boiled dishes. Cheap cuts of pork can have a 'old' smell about them, and we use pickled lemons to take away that smell. When adding these pickled green lemons (or limes if you prefer to call them that), to boiled dishes, it is important to only boil them for 5 minutes or so. Any longer and the lemon will break open, making the stock bitter. You don't want the lime to open, only whole limes should be used in stocks.
Sala has a fibrous center with a complex flavour, I'm told it tastes of sherry trifle with slightly bitters notes next to the sweetness. If you want to try one Thai fruit this is the one I'd go for.
Sala also forms the basis for many cream soda drinks including Hales Blu Boy.
Called the 'King of Fruit', durian are large (40cm long) hard spiky fruit with a pulply flesh inside. They are supposed to have a stink and you'll sometimes see 'No Durian' signs in the hotels, but that's something of an exaggeration. The smell is very mild when compared to old fish sauce for example and is reminiscent of, well flatulence.
You split the outer case with a large cleaver, break it open and inside in pockets you'll find a soft pulpy flesh wrapped around large stones (shown below), this is the part you eat. The flavour is complex with some sweet and some bitter notes.
Dragon fruit have distinctive red orange leaves that look like flames. You can see this in the photograph, inside they have the edible white pulpy middle with many small black seeds. It's slightly sweet, the pulp texture means it's quite easy to scoop it out with a spoon to eat.
These look amazing as a garnish, but I maintain the Thai fruit to taste is Sala.
If you think of the taste of an yellow sweet plum and that's about right for the taste and texture of this fruit. Clean it carefully with clean water and you can eat the skin like other plums, but in Thailand we always wash the outside of fruit we buy with drinking water. In the photograph I've removed some of the skin on one so you can see texture inside.
Each fruit above is about 10-12cm across, they have inside a fibrous jelly like texture, this is the flesh you eat. They taste slightly sweet, but no strong flavours.
You can also find toddy palm juice, which is a sweet palm sugar drink made from tree sap. That is drunk warm and fresh.
Then there's toddy palm seeds, you'll see these sold in cans at your asian grocer and used as a side fruit with icecream and desserts.
Finally, toddy palm trees are one of the sources of unrefined palm sugar, the dark sugar with the complex flavours we use to produce a lot of Thai dishes.
Mangos are a popular fruit that grows all over Thailand. When they are unripe they are green and very sour and we eat them with chilli and sugar and something salty, like this Fish Hair and Mango recipe.
When they ripen they become soft and yellow and suitable for desserts. The most widely know dessert that uses mangos is Mango with Stick Rice and Coconut Sauce, see the picture below.
And two more recipes with mango's you'll find on this site, the ever popular Mango Ice Cream:
And mango syrup, a mango smoothy, diluted to make it more drinkable with sugar syrup.
Rambutans are very pretty Thai fruit, slightly sweet but with a fairly bland taste and jelly texture. Cut around the middle of the skin twist and the skin will come off. Eat the flesh, leave the stone.
Thai grapefruits are much larger, with much more pith and fibre, and far sweeter than their western counterpart. Since they're not sour, eating them is not such a punishment! They're also a bit dryer than the grapefruit you may be use to.
Cut off the pith, peal off the membrane and eat the flesh of the fruit.
At the farm, my star fruit are ripe! As you can see from the photo they grow on trees in Thailand and are ripe when they've mostly yellow. They're not quite so popular here, the flavour isn't strong and the fruits waxy skin makes it not so easy to eat. The taste is slightly sweet, slightly citrus, slightly rubbery. But slices of star fruit do look nice in fruit salads.
Thai Rose Apples are a little sharp, a little sweet and have the texture of crisp celery. You won't see them very often in the west, they're not so popular, but they're refreshing.
Above is the one you'll see in market stalls about the size of an apple, below is a smaller variety.
Another one of these really sour fruits that we eat sometimes with sugar & salt and chilli dip. You can see a small sachet of the sugar mix behind it.
You'll find this is markets in central Thailand, around the city of Bangkok, places like Saraburi, Nakhon Pathom, Pathumthani.
This is also nice pickled, the sour fruit with the sour pickle really cuts through fatty foods.
While up in the country, I decided to show you some of the berries that can be picked and eaten in Issan (North Eastern Thailand).
I like this picture so much, I'm cropped it and created desktop wallpapers for download. The berries have such an interesting texture and color! Choose the resolution you prefer, right click on the link and save as a JPG file then set it as your wallpaper!
Wall paper 320 wide x 480 high, iPod Touch and similar
Wall paper 480 wide x 800 high, Smartphones
Wall paper 640 wide x 960 high, Newer iPod
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Another famous Thai fruit, if Durian is the King of Fruit, then this the Queen of fruit. This one is less pungent than the Durian, but has similar perfume, the slight aroma of decay which is an acquired taste. But then people talk of the aroma of fine cheeses and to me they just stink.
We often use these meaty fruit as the main ingredient where you would normally use meat.
Cut the outer casing off, and pull out the softer fibrous pods inside and eat them straight away.
Confusingly we call this Lao Coriander and we often use it in Isaan as a replacement for Coriander in dishes where a stronger flavour is needed, but it's a variety of dill. It has a slight aniseed taste and a medicinal bite to it. When used in a recipe, fresh dill can be substituted instead.
You'll see this available in little plastic bags on the street, all prepped and peeled like this. It is white turmeric, similar to ginger. It's eaten raw like this, with chilli pastes (Nam Prik) as a dipping sauce.
It has a medicinal edge to it, it reminds me of swimming pool chlorine. Often claimed to have health benefits (even cancer fighting benefits), but that's typical of anything that tastes bitter or medicinal.
When eaten with Nam-Prik it blends to a sort of minty taste. An acquired taste.
These are sugar apples, a sweet, soft, melty fruit, full of liquid with a hard seed, and very pleasant to eat. There are two variations commonly sold, one where the outer skin easily peels off the flesh and a type where it doesn't - peeling the skins pulls out the segments too.
To peel the first type, simply pull all the peel off and eat like you would any apple, and spit out the hard seeds. With the second type, you pull out the segments with each nodule of peel, and eat the fleshy part, discarding the peel.
Santol is a soft, sour, pulpy fruit that's easy to find at the markets in Thailand. To eat in it's ripe form, you peel off the outer skin, pull out the pulpy seeds with your fingers and suck off the flesh from the large seed. A great deal of work for what is a sour, otherwise flavourless fruit.
However there is another way to eat it that's excellent.
These flowers are not from the same plant that provides the regular eating bananas. They're easy to grow and the whole tree can be eaten or used in cooking, we even eat the trunk too. The white center of the top of trunk is eaten, in a similar way to bamboo is eaten. We use the leaf in place of banana leaves to steam food and many other uses.
The flowers can be eaten raw, or we steam them and eat with chillie/shrimp paste, it's used in stews, and in salads, and as a side dish for pad-thai. Think of it as a more fibrous chicory (witloof/endive), it's bitter like an chicory too.
Lotus seeds can be eaten as they are and taste like a soft nut. You also use them to flavour soups and to add more texture to rice porridge. Dried, they're a common ingredient in noodle soup seasoning packets.
They can be ground to a paste which is then sweetened and used to make fillings in sweet dumplings, in a similar way to yellow soy bean or and almond paste are used.
Below you can see the seed head, you'll see these sold on the street in bunches exactly like this, the seeds needs to be broken out of the head, then the outer casing of the seed peeled off.
It's Thai Truffle season! This is a once a year event, when our version of the truffle is in season. The Thai truffle is a small round fruiting body of a fungus that grows underground. They are 1-2cms across, firm on the outside and soft on the inside. We call them popping mushrooms here, because they pop when you bite into them.
The taste and fragrance is very similar to a European truffle, a deep earthy flavour with very very strong mushroom notes. However the price is a lot cheaper: a little over $13 per kilo. This means you can use them as a vegetable. No delicate slices of truffle here, we can use them directly in place of mushrooms to turn a dish into a strong truffle dish!
Look for them towards the end of May. The name is 'hed pop'. Hed pronounced like 'head', meaning mushrooms, and 'pop' or rather 'po', the first two letters, the word that approximates the 'pop' sound in Thai.
This rather bizarre fruit is a Jam-Paa-Daa, similar to a jack fruit. It's from the south and it stinks! It's a real struggle to open too, I needed the help of my neighbor simply to prise the thing open!
What does it taste like? Well, a bit like Durian crossed with Jackfruit, but that doesn't really capture the smell and taste, but it does describe the texture perfectly.
Look out for it in Thai market in the south of Thailand.
This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Appon's Thai Food Recipes in the Thai Vegetables category. They are listed from oldest to newest.
Thai Rice & Pulses is the previous category.