This week, we’re changing things up a bit! Instead of posting a recipe for another delicious Thai dish, I thought it’d be fun to delve a little deeper into some of the questions that come up as I’m cooking Thai food. Questions like, “Which brand of curry paste is the best?” or “Is dried galangal a good substitute for fresh in tom kha gai?” These are questions that I ask myself all the time, and I’ve heard from many of you are on your minds as well.
I’m hoping to answer some of these questions in my new Thai Test Kitchen series, with a new post published on the 4th week of every month. So if you have any burning questions related to Thai food, please let me know in the comments below!
We’ll kick off the Thai Test Kitchen series with one of my most recent questions, which is, “Which holy basil is best in pad gaprow?”
This question came about earlier in the winter, as my holy basil plants were starting to die out in the cold… In my grocery shopping, I had come across some dried holy basil leaves as well as a packaged holy basil seasoning paste. I picked up both of these, because I was sure hoping that they might be good substitutes for fresh holy basil, at least until I can plant new seeds this spring.
To see how these stand-ins stand up to the real thing, I decided to make pad gaprow with both products as well as with 2 varieties of fresh holy basil, then invite some friends over and do a blinded taste test.
Here are my test subjects: 1) packaged holy basil seasoning paste, 2) dried holy basil leaves, 3) fresh green holy basil, and 4) fresh purple holy basil. I followed the recipe on the back of the package for the seasoning paste, and then used my recipe for pad gaprow for the remaining basils.
Since this was a blinded test, I tried to be quite meticulous about it and did not taste anything as I was cooking. This didn’t result in my best pad gaprow dishes ever, but it did make things very equal, so that the real focus could be the holy basil. And then, because pad gaprow isn’t the same without an egg on top, I topped each dish with an appropriately-sized tiny fried quail egg.
The four dishes were then presented to the boyfriend and three of our friends for their taste comparisons. Each dish was ranked independently by all four reviewers on overall taste as well as depth of holy basil flavor. And, as you can see from the notes below, they took their jobs seriously!
Amazingly, we had almost a complete consensus on the results. The packaged holy basil seasoning paste was felt to have good spice, but no real basil flavor. In fact, one reviewer said that it had a “sundried tomato” taste instead. The dried holy basil leaves definitely had a stronger flavor, but everyone agreed that it was more of a seaweed or tea leaf taste rather than a holy basil taste. And, not surprisingly, everyone agreed that neither of these products beat the taste of fresh holy basil.
But between the green and purple varieties of holy basil, we actually had a tie for the best dish. Two reviewers agreed that the purple variety was the best because its flavor was the stongest, but the other two sided with the green holy basil because its flavor was smoother. In any case, now my question is answered… and I can’t wait to plant more holy basil seeds as soon as it warms up!
We had a lot of fun with our first Thai Test Kitchen taste comparison. And I actually already have a few more lined up including a curry paste brand comparison and a coconut water taste test. If you have any other ideas or burning Thai food related questions that you’d like to see addressed, please let me know in the comments below!