Someone for Samkong had a go at me in the letters page a few weeks ago. I canít really blame him Ė I mean Iíve had a pop at a few people in this column over the years, so I suppose itís only a matter of time before they bite back. I bet he was Welsh. ďPithy observationsĒ? No, heís got to be French. This week, Iíll do my best to expand my subject matter beyond the benefits of beer.
Here we go then Ė just for you. For some reason you mentioned vegetables. Iím not sure why, but it would appear that there are people around who actually like these things. Am I the only person in the world that thinks vegetables are just plain dull?
In fact, they annoy me. They just sit there on the plate staring up at you, with their irritating blandness almost reaching out and tapping you on the shoulder. If they were human, theyíd have a comb-over style haircut, theyíd wear socks with sandals, say ďisnít that fascinatingĒ a lot, and theyíd probably be from Milton Keynes.
Vegetables donít actually do anything. They just occupy space on the plate that doesnít have any meat on it, really. The vast majority certainly donít taste of anything more interesting than water. We need to cook them and add some proper flavoring to then to make them even remotely palatable. Whatís the point? Wouldnít it be easier not to bother?
You can take a chunk of any meat, chuck it on a barbecue for a few minutes, take it off again, and consume. Job done. Follow the same procedure with vegetables and what do you get? Exactly the same blandness, but a bit hotter than it was before. In fact itís probably burnt, so inedible anyway.
Scientists can clone sheep and send messages to the far corners of space. They can create computers the size of a grain of salt, and create energy from cow farts. In these days of the hybridization of plants, why canít anyone invent a vegetable that actually tastes pleasant? Surely they could come up with something more exciting that the standard, familiar Ďgrassí flavor?
At least what most people refer to as fruit tastes of something, and can usually be eaten without having to do something to it first. Itís a shame they canít be pre-peeled though Ė that can be hard work at times. If somebody else can do all the hard work for you then even better.
Salads mystify me. Youíre supposed to take a collection of completely tasteless leaves and throw them together in a bowl and enjoy it? It does become vaguely pleasant once a liberal dose of dressing is splashed on top, but then whatever health benefits may have been enjoyed have quickly disappeared. Cabbage, a salad mainstay in this part of the world, is even more mysterious. You can add whatever you want to that stuff and it still tastes of moldy charcoal.
I wonít even get started on vegetarians, who are probably even more irritating than the food they insist on consuming.
Should you feel the urge, you have plenty of vegetable choices here in Thailand. Yes, I know Iím not a fan, but those that are claim that Thai-grown vegetables are among the best in the world.
Yard-long beans are one of the most common. Theyíre a bit like the green beans we see in the west, but are a lot longer. The succulent green pods are up to about a yard long, strangely The young pod has fairly crisp flesh and smooth skin (the ones you dunk in that spicy sauce) while the mature pod is a lot tougher, and usually cooked. The skin is wavy and fairly rough with kidney-shaped seeds inside. The plant is propagated through seeds. It can be eaten with soup or fried with other vegetable. Theyíre a kind of health food, as the fiber in them helps reduces cholesterol.
The small, red or green bird-poo chilli is actually a fruit, if you want to get technical. Its three to four centimeter size doesnít affect its potency Ė itís fiery hot. Even the skin, without the seeds, is spicy. These tiny Ďvegetablesí are superb, and an essential part of Thai cuisine, and are ridiculously easy to grow from seed.
Lemon Grass (taklai) is another fundamental component of Thai cooking. Itís a long thick grass with leaves at the top and a solid, almost woody portion several inches long at the root end. Itís the lower portion thatís sliced up and used in cooking. The fresh stalks and leaves have a zingy lemon-like aroma because they contain some kind of oil. Lemon grass is used in all sorts of Thai dishes (a tom yam goong without lemon grass just wouldnít work) and itís also extracted into oil.
There are a couple of types of basil (kapow) here too. Iím sure that someone will write to me explaining that strictly speaking herbs arenít vegetables, but I donít care to be honest. Basil stays.
Holy, or Ďsacredí basil is a small annual plant with flowers that grow along the end of the branches, with white or purplish petals. The young stem is covered with soft hair. Itís a fragrant herb used to enhance all sorts of Thai dishes. There are two kinds of sacred basil: the more flavored red basil has dark green leaves with reddish purple stems, while the other, with its milder flavor, has medium green leaves with a very light green stem.
Sweet basil is hairier overall, growing about 3 feet high. The leaves are dark green with a smooth surface and a pointed tip. The flowers are white and grow on long stalks in several layers at the end of branches. The young leaves can be eaten as fresh vegetables or added to food to give a pleasant aroma. This is the one they use in minced pork with basil (kapow moo sap).
Okra, or ladies fingers, is a tall growing, warm-season, annual vegetable that grows into a bush. The green pod is long and tapering and covered with soft down, and has a jagged ridge throughout the pod. The young pod has a crispy flesh which becomes tougher as it ripens. Once cooked it has a weird, greasy consistency to it somehow. Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients, though. The greasy gums and pectins help to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease, and the fiber helps to decrease the risk of some forms of cancer.
There, you go, Observer from Samkong. A whole article about vegetables, for your delectation and delight. I even managed to get all the way through without mentioning flowers or ornamentals. I didnít even bring up the subject of beer. Whoops Ė I just have. Iím sure youíll forgive me.