Samui sunshine plates

Updated: 2012-08-05 08:03

By Pauline D. Loh (China Daily)

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 Samui sunshine plates

Larb Gai, or Thai Chicken Salad: A holiday recipe you can take home from Akaryn to relive the pleasures of sun, sea and sand. Photos by Pauline D. Loh / China Daily

Dazzling sunshine, balmy breezes and warm blue waters set the stage for an unforgettable cooking lesson. Pauline D. Loh goes back to school.

Thai food, Thai hospitality and the soothing beauty of Koh Samui all these made the invitation irresistible. For three days, we could laze at the pool, indulge in massages and spa treatments, and choose between mango and pineapple juice, deckchair and beanbag.

But for me, what clinched the deal was this carrot I could cook along a handsome Spanish chef who once worked with Ferran Adria at El Bulli. My husband and I packed our bags, with an extra case for all those Thai ingredients I was going to bring back.

The Akaryn Resort in Koh Samui is hidden in its own private cove on Bophut, and it's an exclusive all-villa resort that caters to those willing to pay for privacy and quiet. There is none of the hustling and bustling that characterizes busy Chaweng Beach or even the relatively more tranquil Lamai Beach.

Akaryn has its own stretch of sand, named after the Indian monkey deity Hanuman. While we were there, we often heard his descendants calling, although we never did see any. In fact, they were as invisible as the service crew, who seem to miraculously clear up and clean up every morning without us even noticing.

We met Ivan Alvarez, 30, the young Spaniard who is executive chef of the Akaryn kitchens.

Born in the Canary Islands, Alvarez traveled and cooked almost as soon as he cut his teeth, first learning from his aunt at home and then later taking apprenticeship in top kitchens in Barcelona. He headed east after his last stint with El Bulli, the final month after Ferran Adria decided to close that iconic restaurant.

Alvarez is passionate about Thai food, and one evening, he even takes us to what he calls the best Thai restaurant on Koh Samui. He flirts a little with the Thai waitress but turns serious when he orders the food, in fluent Thai.

He tastes the green papaya salad, and sends it back. "You forgot to add the dried red shrimps," he tells the waitress. There is no doubt about it, Alvarez has made it his business to understand Thai food.

In the meantime, we tuck into a deep-fried sea bass smothered in sweet and sour sauce and I persuade him to tell us the gossip in El Bulli's kitchen. He obliges.

The next morning, he hands us over to his Thai sous chefs, modestly telling us that they are the better teachers when it comes to local cuisine.

I make the spouse take the lesson, so he can make good his boast that he is the better cook. But from the sidelines, I look on and pick up the most amazing kitchen tricks. Finally, too, we learn the secrets to a good green papaya salad, a favorite order whenever we visit a Thai restaurant.

The trick is to chop the papaya, making vertical cuts at least 2 cm deep without cutting into the core, and then shearing off the shreds by slicing from the sides. It was amazingly easy, although I would hold the green papaya with a towel so you would not slip and cut your hand. The raw fruit oozes papain, that silicon-smooth enzyme that also tenderizes meat.

In the bright sunshine, under the canopy of the sea almond tree, the Akaryn chefs patiently taught us three more dishes - chicken satay, a spicy, tart minced chicken salad called Larb Gai, and an easy Massaman meatball curry.

These recipes were the best souvenirs we had of our three days on this island in the sun, apart from the bagful of ingredients we brought back to make the dishes with.

But that's what it is. Food is very much part of the pleasures of a vacation, and the Akaryn has simply made it all complete by offering good food, comfortable accommodation and cooking lessons.

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Recipe | Som tam esan / Green papaya salad

Samui sunshine plates

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 medium green papaya

1 tbsp shredded carrots

2-3 cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp dried red shrimps

2 tbsp ground peanuts

2 peeled garlic cloves

1-2 red bird's-eye chilies

1 tbsp palm sugar

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp fish sauce


1. Peel the green papaya. Using a sharp chef's knife, chop the green papaya, making deep vertical cuts on its side. Slice against the cuts to get papaya shreds. (Or cut the green papaya into fine shreds your way.)

2. Place garlic and chili into a mortar and pound. Add the cherry tomatoes and crush them. Add the palm sugar and fish sauce.

3. Add dried red shrimps, the carrot and green papaya julienne, and pound and mix to blend the ingredients.

4. Squeeze the lime juice over the papaya salad. Adjust seasoning. Finally, scatter with ground peanuts and serve at once.

Recipe | Larb gai / Minced chicken salad

Ingredients (serves 4):

200g minced chicken breast

100ml chicken stock

1 stalk spring onion

A few sprigs fresh coriander

A few sprigs mint leaves

A few sprigs Vietnamese mint

2-3 kaffir lime leaves, very thinly shredded

1 stalk lemon grass, finely minced (tender white part)

2-3 small red shallots

1 tsp chili flakes

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp fish sauce

2-3 tbsp toasted glutinous rice powder


1. Place chicken stock in a saucepan and add the minced chicken. Stir gently and break up the largest clumps. Cook over low heat and remove from heat as soon as it turns all white.

2. Slice all the mint leaves and spring onions. Finely chop lemon grass. Cut shallots into thin slices.

3. Strain the cooked chicken and place in a mixing bowl. Add the chili powder, fish sauce, lime juice, and toasted rice powder. Season with a small pinch of sugar.

4. Mix in all the herbs and toss well to mix.

5. Garnish with blanched long beans and a wedge of white cabbage.

Recipe | Satay gai / Chicken Satay

Ingredients: (makes 20 skewers):

Chicken skewers:

500g chicken fillet, sliced into strips

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 cardamom pod

3 stalks lemon grass (tender white hearts only)

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 3 cm turmeric

1 tsp coconut powder

100ml coconut milk

Peanut sauce:

2 tbsp Massaman curry paste

250 ml coconut milk

1 tbsp palm sugar

2 tbsp tamarind water

1 tsp fish sauce

1/2 cup ground peanuts

Side salad:

1 cucumber

2-3 red shallots

1-2 red chilies

Coriander leaves

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp white vinegar


1. Roast the coriander and cumin seeds until fragrant. Pound it using a mortar and a pestle until fine.

2. Add coconut powder, lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, cardamom and pound to a paste.

3. Moisten with the coconut milk and add chicken fillet.

4. Marinate for at least an hour, or overnight.

5. Divide meat into 20 portions and skewer on soaked bamboo sticks.

6. Prepare sauce. Place a little oil in a frying pan and add a little tamarind water.

7. Add the Massaman curry paste and stir to dissolve the paste. Add the palm sugar and fish sauce.

8. Add the coconut milk and adjust seasoning to taste.

9. Finally, stir in the ground peanuts, cook a little more to thicken and serve in little bowls.

10. To make the dressing for side salad, cook sugar and vinegar together until sugar melts. Let cool, then pour over cucumber and shallots. Garnish with coriander leaves and chili.

Recipe | Massaman beef ball curry

Ingredients (serves 4):

500g beef mince

1 tsp corn starch

1 egg

2-3 sprigs coriander leaves, finely chopped

1 tsp fish sauce

Pinch of sugar

Pepper to taste

Half cup Massaman curry paste

250 ml coconut milk

2 boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 stick cinnamon

1 kaffir lime leaf

1 red chili, sliced

Fried shallots


1. Prepare beef balls. Place minced beef, corn starch, egg, chopped coriander leaves, fish sauce and sugar in a large mixing bowl.

2. Mix vigorously together, stirring in one direction until mixture comes together. The meat should be slightly sticky. Chill until needed.

3. Prepare sauce. Spoon a little coconut milk to a deep frying pan and add the Massaman paste, stirring to dissolve the paste. Add the rest of the coconut milk, reserving 2 tbsp.

4. Add the cinnamon stick and allow mixture to simmer. Do not allow to boil.

5. Shape beef balls with the aid of a wet spoon and drop the meatballs into the simmering curry. Add potato cubes.

6. Simmer and stir until meatballs are cooked.

7. Spoon the curry into a deep dish and garnish with red chili and deep-fried shallots. Finally, drizzle reserved coconut milk over and serve hot, with rice.