So much flavor from the essential Thai seasoning paste of garlic, cilantro roots, and peppercorns, known as rahk pahk chee gratiem prik Thai. rahk means ‘roots’; pahk chee means cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley and fresh coriander’ gratiem means garlic, and prik Thai means Thai pepper, which refers to peppercorns, distinguishing them from their ‘pepper cousins’, chili peppers.
Thais use both white peppercorns and black peppercorns, though ground white pepper is an everyday pantry item which you’ll find handy in many a home kitchen or cafe. This seasoning combination goes far back into Thailand’s culinary history, predating the introduction of the chili pepper, which appeared on the culinary firmament of Thailand, India, and other lands aboard European trading ships in the 1500’s and 1600’s CE. Portugese traders showed up first in many places, and while chilies have long since become part of the Thai and Asian ingredients families , peppercorns are original to Southeast Asia. Hence, they go by the Thai name “prik Thai“, prik meaning pepper and Thai meaning “the original Thai native one”.
This dish could be made with pork (moo paht gratiem prik thai) or any other meat, or tofu or green beans or mushrooms….it’s a shortcut to big flavor that lights up rice. Just adjust the cooking time to the ingredient you are using in place of shrimp. You add the seasoning paste toward the end of cooking, so allow enough time for the pork or chicken to cook through, which means longer than you allowed for speedy-quick-cooking shrimp, or tofu or mushrooms. This recipe refers you to the aforementioned seasoning paste, one which is so useful and important that it has its very own recipe page, over in the Basic Recipes chapter on page 168. My blog post about rahk pahk chee gratiem prik Thai is right HERE.
When I wrote Real Thai, I called this paste ‘cilantro pesto’, because of its similarity to Italian pesto, both being garlic-based seasoning pastes which are pounded up and used as an ingredient. Nowadays, I would call it cilantro-garlic-peppercorn seasoning paste, as I enjoy making comparisons and noting connections, but like to keep names straightforward. Whatever you call it, I think you will enjoy its flavor and find ways to use it, both Thai and otherwise, in your kitchen. In Thailand, cooks mash it up as needed, seldom keeping it on hand in quantity, partly because its freshest state is its best state, and because traditional kitchens seldom include refrigerators in which to keep a fragile item like this one from spoiling, and because Thai cooks don’t consider mashing up a small batch as needed to be an onerous task, or to embrace time-shifting as much as we Western cooks seem to do. You can make the paste in a mortar with a pestle, or use a blender or small food processor; add a little water to move the blades in the latter case. Serve this with lots of rice or over noodles, rice noodles or maybe angel hair or spaghettini, to get every smidgen of flavor from the robust yet modest sauce. If you don’t have cilantro roots, use minced stems with a few leaves.