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Food Files: A&M boss encouraged Thai cookbook author

Food Files: A&M boss encouraged Thai cookbook author

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When her friend and supervisor at Texas A&M University encouraged her to write down her Thai family recipes, Naam Pruitt didn't know that 12 years later, she would return to Texas to promote her new cookbook, Lemongrass & Limes - Thai Flavors with Naam Pruitt (Favorite Recipes Press, 2006, $26.50 hardcover).

Pruitt's efforts to standardize the "pinch of this" cooking she learned at her mother's side in her native Thailand led her to realize her dream of publishing an authentic Thai cookbook. The book reflects Pruitt's passion for entertaining as well as her role as wife and mother. The family-friendly recipes are quick and easy, and many of the 80 selections can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.

Readers enjoy a delightful tour of Thai cooking combined with tips and tidbits about Thai culture. "Thai cooking is based on the blending of salty, sour, spicy and sweet flavors with fresh ingredients which excite the palate with refreshing and complex flavors," Pruitt says. Her recipes use ingredients that are readily available in most grocery stores, and the book is filled with helpful advice on garnishing, substitutions, food storage and make-ahead meals. It presents the Thai flavor experiences in a format with menus for fun and lively entertaining.

As a student at Texas A&M during the early 1990s, Pruitt's plans to major in horticulture were short-lived when she realized she was allergic to many of the insects inhabiting the plants. She dropped out of the program and began working with Myrt Davidson, manager of Cain Dining Hall. In that role, she created beautiful ice sculptures and fruit and vegetable carvings that were showcased for guests during home football game weekends. Pruitt also worked with Danny Morrison at his Epicures catering company, and her passion for cooking was shared with friends eager to learn about her skills in Thai cooking and food presentation.

While raising a family and subsequently moving to Independence, Kan., Pruitt continued professional training and began teaching Thai cooking. The cookbook is the result of many visits to Thailand, where she consulted with her mother and explored traditional ingredients and cooking techniques.

Along with promoting her book, which came out in April, Pruitt continues to teach cooking classes around the country and is a consultant to Thai Kitchen, the nation's largest packager of prepared Thai foods and ingredients. The Food Network is considering giving her a Thai cooking show. In addition, next March is the scheduled debut of a Lemongrass & Limes product line offering authentic Thai table accessories.

Pruitt will be at a book signing Saturday at the Borders store in Houston's River Oaks area. As for the buzz about her cookbook, she says "I just want to put people at ease in making Thai food."

For more information or to purchase the book, visit her Web site at lemongrassandlimes.com. One popular recipe is excerpted below.

• Lisa Fritz, a longtime food and nutrition educator, answers questions about food, cooking and recipes. Her e-mail address is cheflisa525@yahoo.com.

Pad Thai

1 cup thinly sliced pork

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

7 ounces (half a 14-ounce package) rice noodles

1/4 cup canola oil

2 large shallots, chopped

1/4 cup sweetened dried radish, chopped

1/4 cup cubed extra-firm tofu

1/4 cup fish sauce

1 cup shrimp, shelled and de-veined

3 eggs

3 cups bean sprouts

1/2 cup garlic chives

1/4 cup dried shrimp

Lime slices

Sugar

Roasted peanuts

Marinate the pork in the light soy sauce in a bowl for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Soak the rice noodles in warm water in a bowl for 20 minutes; drain.

Heat the wok over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the shallots and fry until golden. Add the dried radish, pork and tofu; cook until the pork is crumbly and opaque, stirring constantly.

Add the noodles, sugar and fish sauce and cook until the noodles are soft. Push the noodles to the side of the wok and add the shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are light pink.

Push the shrimp to the side with the noodles and add the eggs.

Cook until the eggs are scrambled, stirring constantly. Stir in the bean sprouts, garlic chives and dried shrimp. Remove from heat.

Serve with separate bowls of lime slices, dried chili flakes, fish sauce, sugar and roasted peanuts. Top each serving of noodles with equal amounts of each condiment.

For example, add 1 teaspoon of fish sauce for 1 teaspoon of sugar. The chili flakes are optional but add a great spiciness to the dish. Squeeze the lime over the noodles and discard the rind. Once you've added all the desired condiments, mix well and enjoy! Thai noodle dishes are normally eaten with chopsticks.

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