Cookbook review: Baan: Recipes and stories from my Thai home
Kay Plunkett-Hogge is one clever lady. As well as being one half of our Movie Night dynamic duo (in mag) and authoring books on aperitifs and cocktails, she’s also a Thai speaker and an authority on the cuisine of the country of her childhood.
The Thai word baan, she writes, “means the hearth, the home, the community, the place where you come from,” and this book takes the reader on a personal journey to Kay’s erstwhile home.
It’s written with a mix of authority and wit, seasoned liberally with soul. Beautiful old family snaps really bring the book to life. There are countless Thai cookbooks out there, but this one earns its keep for its regional recipes, which go beyond the well worn list of classics.
Yes, some (but by no means all) require special ingredients, either from a Thai/Asian market or online – but the insistence on doing things properly is commendable. And, if you’re paying £20 for book, why would you want to cut corners on flavour?
How good are the recipes?
I could tell just by reading the ingredients list – including galangal, coriander root, pea aubergines, shrimp paste and Thai sweet basil – that Kay’s green curry was the real deal. Following the instructions precisely (opting to grind the spices in a pestle and mortar, rather than using a food processor – I suspect Kay prefers the former – took time but the flavour was spot-on: spicy, though not incendiary with a fulsome bitterness at its centre.
I couldn’t resist trying “one of Kay’s favourite things to eat in the world”, pork stir-fried with holy basil, a recipe she picked up from a roadside cook in the town of Kanchanaburi, west of Bangkok. The ingredients were easy to find and the recipe disarmingly simple to make, though I found the 4 tbsp of soy sauce
(to serve 2) made the dish too salty.
Do the pictures draw you in?
Beautiful cover aside, the food photography divides opinion. I like the retro colours and design, as well as the general summery feel, but in my view the strong light and shadows detract from the food.
Who’s the book suitable for?
If your bookshelves harbour anything by Thai cooking doyens David Thompson, Vatcharin Bhumichitr, Leela Punyaratabandhu or Andy Ricker, you need this book in your collection. And if you’ve not cooked much Thai food before, it will help you understand how to balance the flavours essential for proper Thai dishes.