Make no mistake, honing one's cooking skills is an evolution. I started out my days in the kitchen more as a baker (taking my cue from my friend and neighbor, Mildred Martha Theresa Studley Kelly...read about our special food relationship here). When I was just out of college, pulling down a solid $12,500 a year and living in Winthrop with one of my roommates, Carrie, I began my journey to the pantry in earnest.
Dogs Who Lunch: the 7 Dogs gather for a few grins and giggles (circa 2009). Pictured left to right, back row: Carrie ONeil-Smith, Julie Berberan, Diane Kiley-McCarthy, Kerry Kiley O'Toole; seated: Elizabeth Norton Stellati, me and Kathy Murray Cuddy.
Carrie and I would host the occasional dinner fete at our quasi-beach-front apartment just off Shore Drive in the hometown of gold medal Olympian Mike Eruzione, Springsteen bandmate Stevie Van Zandt and novelist Sylvia Plath, to name a few. We were just starting to sharpen our cooking chops when we invited Sister Joanne from the Catholic Center at Bridgewater State for Scallop Pie one evening.
A lovely ONeil family dish of bay scallops in a white wine, lemon and garlic butter sauce, finished with crushed Ritz crackers, neither of us realized two bulbs of garlic is much different than two cloves.
It was pungent, to say the least. But, god bless Sr. Jo...she ate it and didn't say a word. Of course I'm guessing her fellow nuns likely gave her wide berth for the evening (and likely the next day).
But I digress. This story is really about Thai food. In fact, it is about my introduction to Thai food.
Go Bears! Jackie Bevere Maloney and me at Bridgewater State University Homecoming 2021.
Meet another Bridgewater State roommate and dear friend, Jackie...now that girl knows her Thai food. She actually knows a lot about a lot of really good food, but her love of all things Thai is the stuff of legend.
We spent many a meal, nay afternoon, at Kowloon on Route 1 North in Saugus, Mass. Her favorite was squid-prik-pao (that is the correct spelling; the Wong's offered a more American-friendly spelling of Squid PikPow, but the end result was the same).
The dish featured squid bathed in a sauce featuring Thai chili paste made with 2 kinds of chilies (any combination of Bird's Eye, Spur, Karen or Serrano along with a sweet pepper, such as a candy apple or islander bell), garlic, shallots, tamarind and shrimp paste. All ingredients are roasted prior to blending then judiciously added to the dish, giving it a rich combination of smokey, spicy and sweet flavors.
Unless of course you are Jackie, in which case, "Heavy on the spice and a little on the side, please."
"She'll have the number 17." Jackie's favorite dish is still a staple on the Kowloon menu.
In early 2022, the Wong family finally received long-sought approval to downsize the 45,000-square-foot, 1950s-era restaurant from its current kitschy state to a more modest 350-seat destination and the addition of two residential structures to the lot. (Courtesy image.)
Me, I was (and still am) more into Thai dishes featuring a coconut-based curry sauce...red over green, by the way. Chicken, shrimp, vegetables...I don't care. Bathed in this perfect blend of sweet from the coconut milk and a slight kick from the curry works for me.
I've come to appreciate the cuisine immensely now, but back then, it was meh...except for this teeny, tiny bowl of cucumbers sitting on the table in the most fabulous of brines. This cooling cucumber side truly rocked my world (and tastebuds).
It wasn't until later in life that I realized most all Thai food comes with sliced cucumber (to cool off the taste buds after an especially spicy dish). But it was the sweet (sugar and rice vinegar) and spicy (finely grated fresh ginger and crushed red pepper flakes) taste combination that I may have not sampled anywhere else, but I certainly never forgot.
Flash forward to 2010 and I'm perusing cookbooks looking for a variety of yummy, low calorie dishes when I spy a recipe for Yellow Curry Chicken (which I'll share at some point). I quickly copied it down, but it was in the far left corner of the image showing off said curry that I spied cucumbers in a brine that took me back to afternoons at the Kowloon.
Thanks to the inter-webs, I did a search of "cucumbers, ginger, vinegar" and badda-bing badda-boom, a long-loved, never-quite-forgotten side dish was in my sights and I did not rest until I nailed it. This is that recipe. Enjoy.
Cucumber Ginger Salad
This light, low-cal and refereshing side is the perfect accompaniment to any grilled meat! Also tastes great on a pulled pork sandwich.