Picture insalata di pomodori, Italian tomato salad, with a Thai twist and this salad is where you'll land. The air conditioning in my apartment in Bangkok broke this year, leaving me with weeks of living in both an outdoor and indoor tropical climate. Consequently the last task I wished to undertake at lunchtime, under the height of the sun, was to cook. This tomato salad hence quickly became a lunchtime favourite because it took so little energy and zero stovetop time.
Lemon basil can be quite difficult to source in Europe and North America, but lemon balm works equally well. Failing sourcing either of these ingredients, Thai or Italian basil are also fine.
What does "Thai Style" food mean?
Recipe qualifiers like Thai style and Thai inspired are often utilised in company with recipes that include one, perhaps a couple, of ingredients associated with Thai cuisine. For instance a recipe for a soup with coconut milk as a richening agent might prepend the title with Thai inspired. Ditto use of peanut butter, which is downright incorrect given that isn't a Thai ingredient by any stretch of the imagination. Think of it this way: no one would argue the addition of a tomato to shepherd's pie makes it an Italian casserole.
My intention with this point is the raise the question of what does it mean for a dish to possess Thai-ness? How and what makes a given foodstuff have the quality of being Thai?
In my opinion, any brief answer to this question is ambiguous at best (and any extensively formulated response will equally have its critics too), so here are my opaque thoughts. For reference, my argument is set within the muddy parametres of the Thai salad concept. Salad is a broad category in Thailand and can comprise of any vegetables, cooked or raw, meats, seafood, and/or fruits. What unifies the salad concept, however, is the typically salty, sour, and often sweet characteristics of the dressing. My tomato salad recipe honours this tendency with the combined use of salt, soy sauce, lime juice, and sugar.
Further, the Thai notion of balance in food is respected by taking unsubtle ingredients, namely big herbal flavours in this case, and marrying them to create something that isn't overpowered by any single component.
Thai Tomato Salad with lemon basil
- Pinch of salt plus more, to taste
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1 bird's eye chilli
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½-1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 heaped cup 1-2 centimetre diced tomato ½ inch to 1 inch
- 1 heaped tablespoon sliced shallot
- handful lemon basil
- 1 tablespoon sliced long coriander or roughly chopped coriander
- Glug or two extra virgin olive oil garlic oil, or shallot oil (optional but recommended)
- Use a pestle and mortar to roughly pound the salt, garlic, and chilli. Don't worry about a smooth paste. If you don't have a pestle and mortar, smash the garlic and finely mince it; slice the chillies finely.
- Combine the above mixture with the lime juice, soy sauce, and sugar in a medium sized bowl.
- Add the tomatoes, shallot, lemon basil, and coriander. Stir or massage tomatoes with your hands to ensure dressing uniformly coats. Dish up and serve with a pinch or two of salt sprinkled over and glug or two of oil on top. Allow to macerate for 15-30 minutes and serve with jasmine rice or as a salad with any main.