03 April 2009

Jumping fish and a five year old dish

Having just finished a big birthday extravaganza, we now have a five year old in the house. And, I have spent the last couple days hearing about why former favorite foods are now "baby foods that a five year old wouldn't dare touch!" Consequently, my dinner recipes need a bit of invigoration. So, I happily joined in the exploration of a couple green markets with a savvy exotic produce buying friend.

First up: a very local market. Even if you've never found this particular market, you know what I'm talking about. Here's how the directions go: get off at the Skytrain station, walk several blocks, turn down the little covered alleyway, turn left at the next alleyway and to your right you'll see a dark covered building. Step over the stream of water being used to wash the fish and voila! Rows of tables laden with gorgeous vegetables, hand-made noodles and won ton wrappers, vats of curry paste and flaming colored fruits sprawl out before you. My friend, a long-time transplant to Thailand, wound through the market interacting with vendors in perfect Thai. And, the vendors were thrilled to explain their goods to us. We learned about pounded, toasted white rice that is added as a flavorful thickening agent to many dishes here. I bought wing beans and banana flowers and bitter greens, local to southeast Asia, for just a small handful of change. And, just as my mind began to spin at the culinary possibilities mounting in my market sack, a fish jumped off the table and landed at my feet. Time for another market...

The second market of the day is one widely known to Bangkok's chefs and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that your next fine dining experience in the city originated at this market. Billed as an all-organic market, this permanent structure is bright and clean and open daily. Rows and rows and rows of vendors stock this covered, open walled, white tiled building selling everything from truly stunning seafood (giant prawns, crabs of all sizes, snails, fish of every color) to Thailand's famous fruits (durien, jack fruit, dragon fruit, papaya, mango....) to noodles and vegetables and fresh meats. We stopped to sample a juicy fruit that I still can't find an appropriate name for and paused to watch 7-inch long prawns being loaded by the bucket full onto a hand cart destined, I'm sure, for tonight's prix fixe menu downtown.

Fast forward a few days: My daughter is sitting at our dinner table, slurping up banana flower soup with fresh crab (all ingredients sourced from the markets I visited) and proclaiming it her new favorite food. Apparently, I have successfully broken the code on appropriate five-year-old foods.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no 41:
Banana Flower Soup with Fresh Crab
When a regular reader of Loving Rice wrote and mentioned she was interested in a recipe using crab, I immediately thought of a dish that I ate recently. Prepared by a friend who considers banana flowers her childhood "comfort" food, this recipe is a beautiful mix of all things I love about Thai food. It's creamy and decadent while still being very simple and fresh. If you have access to a banana flower, use it! But, if not, you could substitute purple cabbage (prepared in the same way as the banana flower). The taste will definitely be different, but the texture will be similar and it should still be deliciously satisfying.

1 Banana Flower, approximately 5 exterior leaves removed (or 1/4 head purple cabbage)
4 tablespoons salt
1/8 cup water
3 cups of coconut milk
3-4 teaspoons of yellow curry paste*
1 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, skin removed and grated
1/2 onion, sliced 
1 cup shredded bamboo
1 large crab, cleaned and cracked

Slice the banana flower (or cabbage) into very thin slices. Place in a large bowl with the salt and water. Squeeze the mixture repeatedly, for approximately 5 minutes.** Rinse with fresh water, drain and set aside. In a large pot, add a splash of the coconut milk and the onion. Over high heat, saute until the onion becomes caramelized. Add the remaining coconut milk, the curry paste and the ginger. Cook for 3 minutes over high heat. Add the banana flower (or cabbage) and boil until the vegetable is tender. Turn the heat off, add the bamboo and the crab. Cover and allow to steam until the crab turns bright red (approximately four minutes depending on the size of crab selected). Serve with rice.

*The amount of curry needed depends on what type you'll be using. Start with less and you can add more as you go along. You want this meal to be lightly scented with curry, a subtle background flavor (it is not intended to be a spicy dish).
**Don't worry about crushing the vegetable. This process tenderizes the flower (or cabbage) and removes the bitterness as well.


  1. Happy Birthday! 5 is a huge accomplishment and does come with a very distinct palate; our daughter Ella just turned 6 on Saturday so we are experts on 5! :)

  2. Hi Shelby,

    The market had banana flowers yesterday. Needless to say, I'm whipping up the crab soup tonight. Thank you for fulfilling my crab recipe request!


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