Almost Fearless

Thailand-Inspired Gift Ideas

If I ever change careers, I will definitely go into the Kaffir Lime Leave business. I feel like everyone’s lives would be so much better if we just all had access to all Thai ingredients from fresh lemongrass to galangal (similar to ginger but different) to those amazing little leaves that grow on lime trees in Thailand. Can you tell I’m missing Thailand this year? It’s been too long. We spent Christmas there in 2010 and 2011 but haven’t been back since 2012. So I put together this gift list, which I realized after the fact, is completely insane, it’s just a laundry list of things I want to eat right now, and the ingredients I need to eat them. But, it can’t be much worse than the Afar Gift Guide for Travelers, which included $995 open-toed boots by Burberry.

Anyway, this is the first in several gift guides this week that I’m putting together half out of protest. You can make someone’s day with a $9 package of curry. Trust me. (By the way, I have made all these dishes, in Thailand, you can read my notes on each dish here.)

Chicken Satay

Marinade and chicken:

1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 pound chicken breasts, skinned, boned, and cut into bite sized pieces.
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon curry powder
pinch turmeric powder (as only a colorant, so very little!)
8 tablespoons coconut milk
3 tablespoons palm sugar

Peanut sauce:

4 ounces of roasted (unsalted) peanuts
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ounce chopped onion
1-2 tablespoon thai red curry paste
1 teaspoon fish sauce
8 tablespoons coconut milk
4-6 teaspoons lime juice (to taste)
2-3 teaspoons palm sugar

[alert color=”red”] Directions:
The chicken is beaten flat, using the flat of the blade of a heavy cleaver or using a meat tenderizing mallet. You can also use a rolling pin or as I like to improvise: the bottom of a frying pan or my glass pitcher.


The coriander and cumin are toasted and then crushed in a mortar and pestle. The ingredients are then combined to form a marinade, and the chicken is marinated overnight. The pieces of chicken are then threaded on the 12″ satay sticks, loosely folding them in half and piercing through the folded meat to form a loose gather.

The completed sticks are then grilled, broiled or barbecued on fairly high heat (they taste best done over charcoal, as they absorb the smoke). Turn them regularly and brush them liberally with the remaining marinade.

For the sauce, first grind or crush the peanuts to a fairly fine powder. Then combine them with the remaining ingredients (except the lime juice), to form a smooth sauce. If the sauce is too thick, you can thin it with a little chicken stock. Now add the lime juice, tasting as you progress to check the balance of flavors is correct.


The big thing in this recipe is the marinade (which has easy to find ingredients) and the red curry paste, fish sauce and palm sugar in the peanut sauce (the exact kind you need is not so easy to find). The curry and cumin with the coconut milk make the satay taste exactly like what you get in Thailand. The red curry and fish sauce make the peanut sauce have that certain something, that shouldn’t seem to matter much, but it really does. I have seen recipes that try to use soy sauce and work around these ingredients but it just isn’t the same.

The gift basket… the idea isn’t to recreate the entire dish but to give them the ingredients that would be especially hard to find and are the real deal:

Thai Fish Sauce
Thai Red Curry (Gang Ped)
Palm Sugar

Panang Curry


1 lb pork cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons Panang curry paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Palm sugar to taste
3 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
10-15 Thai basil leaves, finely shredded (optional)

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Place a wok over medium high heat, and warm the coconut milk, but don’t let it boil. Add the curry paste, and stir it until the oil begins to separate out and form a thin film, to bring out the maximum flavor. Add the remaining ingredients except the lime leaves and basil leaves, and simmer until the sauce is absorbed and thickened. Add the lime leaves and basil leaves and stir fry briefly before serving.


You might be able to find panang curry locally but it’s usually a toned down version. What really makes panang curry amazing is the kaffir lime leaves. It is not panang curry without it! But they are quite hard to find outside of Thailand. Kaffir lime leave powder is okay, I’ve used it, but the whole dried leaves are better (of course fresh is the best way to go but impossible to find). If you can’t find thai basil, you can use regular basil or skip it. For the panang curry, the one below is identical to what I would buy in Thailand.

Kaffir lime leaves
Kaffir lime leaves
Panang curry

Tom Yum Soup

I have made this in Thailand and it’s a lot of ingredients that are impossible to find: fresh galanga, fresh lemongrass, fresh thai chiles, and prik pao. However, I used to make it from the powder mixes in Thailand and while it’s not as strong, it’s the same flavor profile.

This looks like the exact brand we used to buy (but imported):

Tom Yum paste
Tom Yum paste

Pad Kra Pow

This is my husband’s favorite Thai dish. You might think it’s relies heavily on the Thai Basil, but I actually think it’s the sauce… a mixture of really hot thai chiles, fish sauce, oyster sauce and golden mountain sauce. Golden mountain is available on Amazon but you can also get that same flavor with a pre-made spice package. You could use Thai basil or just regular basil, but the key is to have that seasoning packet plus making it super hot.

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You just grill up some chicken, pork or beef with the seasoning, add some basil (if you have it) and top with crushed dried thai chiles to completely burn your face off. Top with a fried egg.

Pad Kra Pow seasoning
Pad Kra Pow seasoning
Dried Thai Chiles

Nam Prik Pao

If you really love Thai food, then this little known ingredient is a staple. You can just add a little to a stir fry to make it instantly taste Thai. It’s in every Thai pantry. Must have.

Nam Prik Pao
Nam Prik Pao

By the way, in Thailand, they are 98% Thai Buddhist, but everyone celebrates Christmas anyway. They might not follow the traditions exactly, but every mall is decked out in Christmas lights, Christmas trees and it’s not unusual to see people in Santa hats. Happy Thai Christmas!


Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • Oh how I wish I had a kitchen to rustle this up in! Left Thailand a few weeks ago and I’m already missing the food.

  • Yum! We just returned from a trip to Southeast Asia including Thailand and we immediately were missing the food! It’s just SO good! And yes, every single mall was totally decked out for Christmas already! It was weird hearing songs like “Let it Snow” play when it was 91 outside!

  • This was the best gift guide I’ve seen this year! (I never understand gift guides for “travelers” – especially when they include ridiculous expensive items like those Burberry boots – I don’t want anything, just a plane ticket!) I did just get “Thailand: The Cookbook” though and it is WONDERFUL. Gorgeous book and has recipes for all the dishes, condiments and snacks you see in the markets and street stalls – REAL food. You’d love it!