Once upon the time, in the magical land of Thailand, there was a crocodile lord called Chalawan who fell in love with a beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant and abducted her. Another merchant, Kraithong, courageously challenged fearsome Chalawan and rescued the young lady. The legend of brave Kraithong was so popular that it has become connected to the traditional festival Loy Krathong, a fantastic three-day event that falls on a full moon of a 12th month by the lunar calendar.
Many legends swirl around this spectacular festival, just like the waters swirling around lovely krathongs, and many traditions have formed throughout the ages, but some of them remain constant: the floating candles honor Buddha with light, while the krathongs floating away symbolize letting go of hatred, anger, and other negative emotions. Some people even cut their fingernails or hair and place the clippings on the krathong as a symbol of letting go of past transgressions and negative thoughts (Wikipedia). A wise, mysterious, and unbelievably beautiful country, a place where several ancient cultures converged to create unique poetry:
Music has all encompassing merits,
its worth is of a city, it can be as useful as you wish,
May it be the race of men, Garundas, or Indra — the Lord of gods,
or any beast that walks on four feet upon this Earth,
Should they ever hear the song of my flute,
All wrath and anguish would disappear from their minds,
Their souls ameliorated, they will be sound asleep,
The faith in music is always rewarding,
If you still have doubt in your heart,
Lay down and I will play my flute for you.
(from an epic poem by the Sunthon Phu, known as Phra Apai Manee – “the drunken writer”- and a great favorite by King Rama II of Siam, https://www.quora.com).
Notice, Beautiful People, that the concept of letting go of wrath and anguish is present in this classic 19th century poem that follows ancient literary traditions of a culture where poetry was as natural, as breathing, and only official documents were written in prose. The same serene idea permeates highly ritualized, mesmerizing dances.
The first Europeans who came in contact with this colorful culture, perceived it as fantastically exotic. 16th century Portuguese sailors, unable to figure out a complicated relationship between various kings, princes, and sundry nobles, as well as get a hang of Tai language, called their newly discovered land Siam, from Sanskrit siyam – “black or dark gold.” Whether they referred to the kind, gentle, welcoming natives or their richly embellished architecture and traditional costumes is unknown, but the clash of cultures is quite apparent in this scene, where the King of Siam introduces his numerous children to a typical British governess (Inimitable Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr in lead roles).
The governess was faced with a tremendously challenging task of bridging the cultural schism by teaching royal offspring – and royal wives as well – not only English language, but also the ways of the West. The book “Anna and King of Siam” by Margaret Landon is based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens who came to Siam (now Thailand) to face this challenge at the invitation of King Rama IV. However, the subsequent musical, while loosely based on the book, includes a formal British visit by Dr John Crawfurd in 1822, during the reign of King Rama II, himself a poet and a notable patron of arts and poetry. In reality, however, both kings would usually be attired according to the Western fashion of their times, rather than a Hollywood version of exotic Siamese royal garb.
Today’s Kingdom of Thailand, called by a dear blogofriend and a fantastic blogger Carol Taylor “The Land of Smiles,” is spearheading the world efforts to save our environment. Carol, who lives there – lucky lady! – reports that “In an effort to minimize plastic waste, Thailand will be curbing the use of plastic bags at shopping malls and department stores nationwide, from January of 2020. This will be the first step for Thailand to eradicate any single-use plastic by 2021.” This year’s krathongs were mostly made the old-fashioned way, using banana leaves and flowers (https://carolcooks2.com/category/environment).
Although I have never been there, I love popular Thailand street food, Pad Thai. I try to reproduce it whenever I find thin flat rice noodles which are at the base of this flavorful dish. They are not easy to come by, though, so I’ve learned to imitate real Pad Thai by using spaghetti squash. To follow the standard procedure, I cut it lengthwise (I don’t – my husband obliges!) and microwave the two halves. Once they are soft, I let them cool off a bit, scrape the “spaghetti” stuff out with a fork, and let it rest for a while.
Now starts the interesting part, and you have to have all your ingredients ready, as stir frying is a very quick affair. First I throw some mustard seeds into a very hot Dutch oven, barely misted with oil. Mustard seeds are followed by diced garlic and covered with a lid. In a couple of minutes mustard seeds start popping.
That’s a signal to add grated ginger and diced yellow turmeric and stir fry for no more than a minute, stirring all the time. Now you can add your “spaghetti” and any meat substitute of your choice, and season. Fish sauce is widely used in Thai cuisine, but I haven’t been able to find Kosher fish sauce; however, I read ingredients on a non-Kosher one: anchovies paste and rice vinegar. I found the same ingredients in Kosher Worcestershire sauce, plus tamarind extract, which is another important Thai element. Thus I season my Squash Thai with Worcestershire and soy sauces. If you wish, you can add diced chili pepper, which is another Thai feature.
I hope you have your scallions all chopped up and ready, because you shouldn’t let “spaghetti” mixed with both sauces sit on fire more than a couple of minutes, otherwise it becomes too mushy. Turn off the heat and add finishing touches. The real Pad Thai is finished by mixing in raw eggs. In my vegan version, I add nutritional yeast, mixed with just a touch of peanut butter. It’s Thai food after all; peanuts are almost mandatory, right? So I sprinkle a handful of chopped peanuts on top before serving and call it my humble contribution to the fabulous Thai cuisine.
- 1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
- 1 cup (6 – 8 oz) meatless ground beef substitute
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 3 – 4 garlic cloves, diced
- 1 inch ginger, ground
- 1 inch yellow turmeric, diced
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or more to taste
- I tablespoon soy sauce or more to taste
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts for garnish
*Optional: 1 chili pepper, diced
- Pour 1/2 cup of water on the bottom of microwaveable dish. Place squash halves skin up. Microwave for 10 minutes on full power. Let cool. Scrape inside with fork. Fluff up “spaghetti,” put aside.
- Heat wok or Dutch oven, mist with oil, place mustard seeds for 30 seconds, add garlic, cover with lid. When you hear mustard seeds popping (after about 2 minutes), add ginger and turmeric, stir for 1 minute. *Optional: add chili pepper.
- Add “spaghetti,” season with Worcestershire and soy sauces. Mix well. Add scallions, mix thoroughly, remove from fire. Stir nutritional yeast into peanut butter, add to the mix.
- Sprinkle with chopped peanuts to garnish and serve immediately.
About the guest author:
Dolly Aizenman is the brainchild behind Kool Kosher Kitchen (Which her blog and her book are named after).
This charismatic Russian blogger is fond of cooking and writing.
She has a BA in Art and Music Education, MA in English, MS in Education and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.