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Ghangsom, Thai Food, Soup, Curry, or Tomyum?

This orange-color dish makes use of curry paste, but not-so-spicy one can have just by itself, yet, the savory taste is leading other flavors. See Pradichaya's take on making this famous Thai dish.

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Ghangsom, Thai Food, Soup, Curry, or Tomyum? Ghang literary means soup, but the term ghang refers to the large amount of liquid in food. Som has two meanings orange the citrus fruit, and orange the color. There isn't any orange fruit in ghangsom, but its lead flavor is sour, and its color is orange, which comes from the color of the chili peppers that are blended into its paste.

Ghangsom - Thai food - soup, curry, or tomyum?

Ghangsom has made its way to the international level. An orange-colored curry, spicy enough and so mouth-watering that one often has it alone as soup, its preparation involves curry paste. Although its level of spiciness is nowadays entirely up to the chef, originally it was meant to be spicy enough just to tease the taste buds. The gentle heat of large chili - prikcheefah- in combination with the natural sourness of jus de tamarind extract, certainly adds a welcoming invitation to the dish. But, what is it really; Is it soup, curry, or tomyum?

Ghangsom-Thai food

Walk with me through the wonders of this mind-intriquing flavorful dish. Experiment with it, and come to your own decision as to in which category ghangsom belongs.

Ghangsom paste ingredients

This recipe, like most of mine, serves about ten people.

Ghangsom paste ingredients, based upon one kilo, or about 2 pounds, of shrimp or fish

Some ingredients

Dried chili peppers Shrimp paste - Kapi Ghangsom curry paste
Ghangsom curry paste Fish for mixing into ghangsom paste Cooked fish for ghangsom paste

13 - 17 dried chili peppers. Thai prikcheefah is preferable, though Mexican chili is also fine. Cut off the stems and use scissors to cut along their lengths to get rid of seeds and core from inside each pepper. Soak in water for a couple of hours prior to use. When the water turns yellow or orange you have the choice of repeating the process, in order to make the taste less spicy, or you can simply rinse.

1 tablespoon of kapi - Thai shrimp paste - but if it's not Thai, I promise you the outcome won't be either!

12 peeled small bulbs of red onions. The larger the bulb the more liquidy, and it will dilute the intensity of the paste.

9 tiny, or 4 slightly larger, cloves or garlic, peeled.

12 raw mid-sized shrimp peeled and deveined - if you will be making ghangsomgoong - shrimp ghangsom,
3 small pieces of "soft" fish such as Tilapia - if your plan is to make ghangsompla - fish ghangsom.

--The portion that we set aside for making the paste doesn't come from the 2 pounds that we'll save for later use.-- Regardless of the catch of the day, you will want to boil it in an itsy bitsy bit of nampla and an itsy bitsy weenzy bit of water. Let it cool down.

When it has cooled, put the boiled shrimp or fish in an electric blender, along with all of the paste ingredients. Add 1 - 1 1/2 cup of cold water. Cold water serves two purposes; one is to protect your blender from breaking, just in case your boiled shrimp/fish is still hot :=). And, two, cold water helps release the flavors; therefore, it will make better paste. Close the lid and blend well, until there are no chunks or pieces left.

Open the blender lid and smell, really take in the aroma. If it smells garlic-y you can fix it by adding 2 extra small red onions. If the smell is not pleasant, as in a shrimpy smell - that's right, too much kapi. It can be corrected by adding more red onions and garlic in the ratio of 2:1 respectively. Blend well one more time. Now, have a little taste. It should be nutty and smooth.


Putting paste ingredients into the blender Ghangsom curry paste Ghangsom curry paste

Perfect! Your ghangsom paste is ready.

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Other Ingredients

2 pounds of medium or large shrimp, peeled and deveined. Note: shrimp from Thailand have just the right texture for ghangsom - if the meat is too hard or chewy it won't absorb flavors from the paste. On top of that, Thai shrimp are naturally sweet.
2 pounds of lumpy textured fish: haddock and cod do very well in ghangsom. Cut them into cubes not smaller than 3"x3", or they will break and disappear in your vegetables.

Break off about 3"x3" or more of tamarind paste. Put it in a bowl and pour almost one cup of warm water and let it sit for a while.

Nampla - its a given, right? What's Thai food without nampla?

Cod Tamarind Vegetables for today's ghangsom


1-2 large tomatoes, or 4 medium-sized, sliced into wedges.

2 fistfulls of green beans or string beans with both ends cut off; then, slant your knife sideways and cut them sort of diagonally 1-1/2" long.

1 parsnip, peeled. First, cut across about 2 cm thick (a little more than 1/2 inch), then cut them in halves or quarters (I prefer to cut all my vegetables on the small side as the way to get our children to eat vegetables.)

1/2 head of cauliflower, cut.

1/4 head of cabbage, or one baby cabbage, cut in wedges, then cut across.

And, don't forget cooked jasmine rice!

Now you are ready to make your ghangsom!!

Paste watered-down, use until the last drop Putting in vegetables Ghangsom curry
Ghangsom curry Ghangsom

On medium-high heat, fill a large pot with water about 1/3 full - it can be cold water right from the tap- and pour in all your ghangsom paste. If you are like me, I add a little water to the blender and cover with the lid, then I shake it to get all the paste that's left in the blender and put that in the pot, too.

Put in your vegetables, starting with tomatoes - we want their juice to squirt out in the mix. Then, proceed with caulifower, parsnip and cabbage.

Add nampla - start with one spatula full.

Wait a few minutes, then add fish. After a few more minutes add the string beans.

Wait for the curry to boil, try not to stir, or stir only very gently. At this point, you will know if you cut the fish too small, because it will break :-) It's also the time to add one more spatula of nampla.

(Please do not be alarmed by the amount of nampla - it is made from fish with salt and pineapple skins and the mixture is left alone for at least a year before the liquid gets taken out to be boiled to become "nampla". The salt is there only to enhance the fish. One can say that nampla is diluted salt. Please also keep in mind that this recipe, like my other recipes, serves 10 people. We cook 2 pounds of fish, and maybe another 2 pounds of vegetables- not to mention the liquid.)

Ghangsom-Thai food

When everything comes to a boil the curry will turn an orange color. Have a taste. You are going to add the juice from the tamarind extract, which will add a sour flavor to the ghangsom, so let's bring out the salty taste a bit more by first adding just a bit more of nampla - less than 1/2 spatula.

When all is well with the taste, turn your attention to the block of tamarind paste that you had left in the water from the beginning. Put your clean hand in and extract the juice by squeezing and kneading the tamarind. You will get a thick dark brown to black colored liquid. Lick your fingers! You will feel the sourness that is followed by a tinge of sweetness. If you were bored up to this point, the tamarind juice will wake you up!

Tamarind juice Tamarind juice Tamarind juice in ghangsom

Pour only the tamarind juice in the boiling curry, gently stir and taste. Does it seem weak? Add more warm water into the paste and start extracting the juice again. If your water isn't warm heat it for a few seconds in the microwave, first. Pour the juice in, mix, and taste again.

Ghangsom-Thai food

Keep the balance between the faint sweetness from the veggies and fish, salty, nutty flavors, and the sourness of the tamarind. You will feel just a little bit of the heat from the paste. The ideal thing is to make it taste strong enough that when mixed with rice the flavor won't get washed out. At the same time, it can't be too strong that you can't have ghangsom alone as a soup dish.

Ghangsom pla Cod with jasmine rice and kaijiew, Thai omelet La CoffeeMelodie Suite family Ghangsom pla Cod with jasmine rice and kaijiew, Thai omelet

Ghangsomgoong - shrimp ghangsom

If you make ghangsomgoong - shrimp ghangsom, from the beginning; Add the paste then vegetables in the same order - tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, parsnip, and string beans. Add nampla. Wait until everything comes to a boil. Get your tamarind juice extract ready but do not add it yet. Put in the shrimp, followed by tamarind juice and turn off the heat immediately. We wait until the end to add the shrimps because we want the meat to stay tender and sweet.

Well? Is ghangsom soup or curry? Or, can we put it in tomyum category? Let me know what you conclude after you have made it!

Warm regards, and, make every cooking day a Chef-Me-NOT!!! day!

Pradichaya Gafaae Poonyarit Pradichaya Gafaae Poonyarit

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The Bonus Round

The Bonus Round

Kaijiew - Thai omelet - a popular side dish for ghangsom

Making kaijiew, omelet the Thai way Making kaijiew, omelet the Thai way Making kaijiew, omelet the Thai way
Making kaijiew, omelet the Thai way Making kaijiew, omelet the Thai way Making kaijiew, omelet the Thai way

Welcome to the bonus round. I can't serve ghangsom without its buddy, Thai kaijiew, which is just a plain omelet made with eggs, a dash of nammunnhoy and 4 tablespoons of nampla. I use 11 jumbo size eggs from our local farm here not far from where we live. Whisk everything together until the bubbly suds cover your mixing bowl. On medium-high heat, put olive oil in the frying pan and make sure that it gets really hot before you pour in your eggs. Use a spatula to lift up the already cooked part so that the watery part will take its place and start cooking, too. Lower the heat and flip.

For a crisy-fried effect, you need to use more oil and wait until it gets very, very hot before you put in the egg mixture. After it sizzles and expands you should watch the heat. Quickly cook the liquid part and turn down the heat.

Eggs do more good than harm. We will talk about more egg dishes sometime soon, since we involve them extensively in Thai kitchens.


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