How To Make: Yam

In my first post I mentioned yam a kind of spicy/sour Thai salad, so I wanted to follow up and give a recipe and description here. Yam are very common in Thailand, and probably the easiest of all Thai dishes to make. A yam, along with some sort of fried dish, and a soup or curry, is one part of a "complete" Thai meal. Yam are also wonderful on their own as kap klaem, drinking accompaniments. As mentioned before, all you really need to make yam is some sort of protein, this can range from seafood (yam thale is a mix of parboiled shrimp, squid or any other other seafood handy), to grilled meat, or for vegetarians, tofu. You then add some veggies, typically kheun chai, or Chinese parsley, for which celery tops are an excellent substitute, thinly sliced shallots or onions, slices of tomato and smashed up chilies. The final and most important ingredient is the dressing. Yam dressing is a simple yet powerful combination of lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar.

For today's yam my protein will be tao hoo plaa, "fish tofu", a disturbing-sounding but tasty mixture of fish and tofu in user-friendly cubes. As you'll see below, I'm not real specific about the amounts of the ingredients for the dressing because Thais are not specific about them either. It's all done to taste. You'll want a favorable mixture of spicy (from the chilies), sour (from the lime), sweet (sugar) and salty (from the fish sauce). When I say favorable that means you make it the way you like it. Personally, I don't like sweet, so I use very little or no sugar, and tend to boost the sour and spicy. In Thailand, this dish is made using the small, very spicy chilies called phrik khii nuu ("mouse shit chilies). Here's a photo of all the ingredients in the early stages of the operation:

1 bunch kheun chai (Chinese parsely, or celery tops)
1 or 2 tomatoes
4 shallots (or half a small onion)
chilies to taste
fish sauce
2 limes

Prepare your protein as necessary. This can mean par-boiling your seafood for about a minute, or grilling a steak and slicing it up. As I'm using tao hoo plaa it's necessary to fry it and halve it first. Set aside. Roughly chop up your kheun chai. Removing the seeds first, slice your tomatoes. Thinly slice the shallots. Put all of this in a large plastic or glass bowl that you will later use to mix and taste the yam before serving it.

Roughly chop your chilis, and then using the side of a wide knife, smash and grind them, and chop a bit more, or, as seen below, use a mortar and pestle:

Now it's dressing time. Halve the limes and squeeze the juice of one about one lime into a bowl. Follow this up with a splash of fish sauce, and a pinch of sugar. Mix well, and taste:

Is it not sour enough? Add more lime. Is it too salty? You screwed up and there's no hope for you now nor never you pathetic loser. Or, you could just add more sugar to cover up the saltiness. And so on. When the taste is right, mix the dressing with the ingredients,

and dump the whole mess onto a serving dish and you're done.

I'm so proud of you.