The Everything Thai Cookbook, by Jennifer Malott Kotylo
As someone who enjoys eating Thai food a great deal–spurred on by the time I spent in the country, where I found a couple of Northern Thai dishes I particularly appreciated–this is a book that I looked forward to reading to see if it would give me any ideas as far as other Thai dishes to try that I was not yet familiar with. There are certainly a great many dishes here that will be of interest to readers, although in my case unfortunately I found the author to be a bit too enamored with mango as an ingredient to suit my own appetite, given my own serious allergies to mango. At least as a reader I found the most interesting and noteworthy aspects of this book to be the author’s interest in writing about regional cuisines and Thai-Inspired cooking as being superior to the author’s offerings in Thai food itself. Even during the main portion of the book the author appears to want to create food that is inspired by the Thai dishes more than to faithfully record Thailand’s own interesting cuisine. This is a book about Thai food that is written for Western audiences, and as long as that is recognized and appreciated there are certainly some worthy recipes here to try out.
This book is between 250 and 300 pages long and includes 300 recipes in quite a few categories. The author begins with a look at Thai curry pastes, marinades, and other concoctions that provide the basis for many of the recipes (1). After that there is a chapter on dipping sauces, salsas, and vinaigrettes (2). It is only after these chapters are done that the author discusses more substantial food options with recipes of appetizers (3), as well as soups (4), and salads (5), which are often more of interest to Westerners who like Thai food than it is to the actual eating habits of Thais themselves. This is followed by a set of dishes that focus on various ingredients. So there are meat dishes (6), which is a somewhat rare phenomenon as Thais only tend to eat pork as far as meat options and pork is not on my menu to eat or cook, as well as chicken (7), and fish and seafood dishes (8). After this come two categories that seem a bit puzzling, vegetable dishes (8), given that the Thai are by no means a largely vegetarian culture, as well as noodle (9) and rice dishes (10), which seems redundant given the importance of noodles and rice in general to Thai eating. After that the author discusses desserts (12), drinks and teas (13), Thai-inspired cooking (14) that includes ingredients not very familiar to Thai palettes, as well as regional cuisines near Thailand (15), as well as appendices on Thai flavors and ingredients (i), Thai meals (ii), and resources on Thailand (iii).
The worth of a book like this, at least to me as a reader, is determined by how many recipes that can be profitably enjoyed given my own dietary limitations, and this book certainly has some recipes that are well worth trying and that look pretty tasty, although not as many as one would hope. Notably, for example, this book succeeds in talking about soups with options like chicken soup with lemongrass, Asian chicken noodle soup, lemon chicken soup, pumpkin soup, and Thai-spiced beef soup with rice noodles, and even a vegetarian lemongrass soup that may be of interest to many readers. For the most part, though, whole chapters of this book were largely eliminated from my own trying and enjoyment based on the author’s fondness for including pork, shellfish, and mango as ingredients, which greatly limits what I am willing to or even able to eat safely. Given my own tastes, it is unsurprising that I found the chicken chapter to be appealing with numerous dishes of interest (Siamese roast chicken, green curry chicken, ginger chicken, basil chicken, fragrant roast chicken, cashew chicken, lemongrass chicken skewers, brandied chicken, and chicken with black pepper and garlic). Similarly the chicken fried rices were also appealing, as were regional dishes that included tea-smoked chicken, honeyed chicken, Indian-scented cauliflower, and tandoori chicken, which allow the author to pad her book to 300 recipes without going into the mysteries of kao soy gai, one of the dishes I most wanted to see here but did not.
“The Everything Thai” wasn’t really everything then, was it? It’s difficult when one looks to a book by its cover with great expectations and finds that the focus is elsewhere–on Westerners–rather than the food itself. Oh well; I guess the author wanted to appeal to a wider audience.
Yeah, I was a bit disappointed by this book, but at least it had a few good recipes.