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Getting the Thai Ingredients Right!

Thais tend to cook by "feeling", they usually adapt the tastes into their family's preferences, you should always taste and adjust the seasoning to your own taste. If you're not used to the hotness of chillies, add a little at a time until you get a balance of what you like.

Thai cuisine emphasizes good fresh ingredients and uses fresh herbs and spices. To cook Thai cuisine at home, these are some of the essential basic ingredients you'll need; obviously the fresh herbs and spices should be bought fresh on the day you will use them for the best possible flavour:
Fish sauce or nam pla is an essential ingredient in many Thai dishes. It provides the salty seasoning to counterbalance the sweet element of coconut milk and sweet herbs. Made of small salt-fermented fish, it should be clear and brownish in colour and provides minerals and vitamins as well as protein.

Thai chilli peppers are used in so many dishes and sauces that Thai cuisine would be unrecognizable without them. Used to give heat to curry paste, in soups and dipping sauces, there are hot varieties and milder ones but no meal is complete without some form of chilli.

Kaffir lime leaves add aromatic fragrance and astringency to soups and curries giving a clean citrus flavour.

Lemongrass is a key ingredient in much Thai cooking. Its woody stem adds a lemony flavour and more fragrance to curry pastes and other dishes.

Garlic is used to start off most Thai dishes providing a stabilizing base note to the aromatic herbs.

Galanga is the Thai version of ginger, slightly milder than the common ginger we use. It has medicinal qualities to aid digestion and adds a light acidic note to the Thai spice combinations.

Fresh coriander is used both in its leaf and root form. The leaf is frequently used as a garnish and the root to give a deeper note to the cooking of a dish.

Coconut milk is used in savoury dishes and desserts, whenever a creamy rich element is needed. It replaces the dairy ingredients that predominate in European cuisine, but which are rarely used at all in Thai cuisine. Coconut milk is made by grating the meat of a ripe coconut and mixing it with water then squeezing out the juice, but can be bought in a can for easy cooking.

Jasmine or fragrant rice is indigenous to Thailand and is used to accompany every main meal as the main starch as breads are rarely used.

Basil Its flavour is remeniscent of aniseed and somewhat stronger than that of the western sweet basil.

Shallots Thai shallots have a lovely pinkish purple colour and are used extensively in thai cuisine instead of onions.