Most Thai food is spicy hot. Even those labeled “mildly hot” are still too hot for people who didn’t grow up with chilies as a regular feature in their diet. That may sound like a common enough observation but we realized the magnitude of the truth in that observation when we bought ready-to-heat meals at a 7-11 outlet in Chiang Mai.
Early in 2020, my younger daughter, Alex, and I flew to Chiang Mai for a vacation. We arrived at around 6.00 p.m., we got to our accomodation an hour later, we were tired and we just wanted a good meal and bed. It just wasn’t the time to explore. Yet. We’d do that the next day.
So, after checking in, we walked outside. Right there on the street where the condo was, there were night markets on both sides. We took notice but did not go in. Instead, we bought food.
Back at the condo, we reheated the food in the microwave. Mine was a duck and noodle dish, not a soup, and it was great. Alex chose Thai chicken basil. I’m sure I wanted to take a photo of her food too, but she ate a spoonful and declared it was too hot, and my focus shifted. I tasted her food and I couldn’t blame her. The package did say “mildly hot” but I guess it’s only mildly hot for Thais. She did manage to eat most of the rice and a little of the chicken, and she washed them down with two glasses of milk.
So, if like us, too much heat in a dish burns your taste buds and leaves you unable to appreciate the rest of the flavors in your food, if you’re doing the cooking anyway, use less chilies. If using less chilies means a less colorful dish, fret not. Chopped red bell pepper will provide whatever lack in color there is. It’s true for whatever dish requires red chilies. It’s definitely true for Thai tamarind sauce.
The first time I made Thai tamarind sauce was in 2012. I tossed yellow bell peppers to give the sauce color and texture then I spooned everything on fried milkfish (bangus) belly fillets.
In 2020, I did another version. I used red bell peppers that were cut into small cubes. When the tamarind sauce was done, I stirred in mango cubes and scallions. Half of the chunky sauce went over fried fish. The rest was tossed with fried eggplants.
Yes, Thai tamarind sauce goes well with fish, vegetables, chicken and meat. Versatile. Delicious.
Thai tamarind sauce
- 4 cloves garlic
- 4 shallots or 1 large onion
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 2 bird’s eye chilies
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar brown sugar is an okay substitute
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 1 bell pepper any color, or half of a large one, cut into strips (optional)
- fresh ripe mango cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons sliced scallions
- With a mortar and pestle (or a blender or food processor), process the garlic, shallots (or onion), lemongrass and chilies to a paste.
- Heat two tablespoons of cooking oil in a small frying pan.
- Over medium heat, gently cook the paste with the fish sauce, sugar and tamarind paste until the solids separate from the oil. It’ll take about ten minutes with occasional stirring.
- Add the bell peppers, cook for another 30 seconds, taste, and adjust the seasonings if needed.
- Off the heat, stir in the mangoes and scallions, if using.