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Thai fish cakes with spicy cucumber relish

February 13, 2011

Thai fish cakes

I’ve just spent over an hour looking through scores of photo albums and a big pine chest stuffed full of albums to find some photos from my holiday in Thailand in 1997.  I found four but can’t believe that I didn’t take more than this.  But maybe it’s true – in photographic terms it seems like the dark ages.  Everything after 2004 is neatly catalogued in folders and searchable in seconds (and backed up online on Picasa).

I can’t say that we saw much of the real Thailand; travelling with a rather active and vocal 1 1/2-year-old, we booked a package holiday – a rare occurence.  The resort was a three-hour drive from Bangkok and a rep met us at the airport and travelled the whole way there with us in a car.  We stopped at an open air motorway cafe en route where she and my husband tucked into a Thai curry.  About 30 minutes later on the journey she ordered the driver to stop and violently vomited onto the road.  ‘I’m better now’ she said and off we went.


The wrong kind of fish

Club Aldiana turned out to be the German equivalent of Club Med – a bit organised for our tastes.  The next day’s activities were announced by tannoy as we arrived ‘aqua-aerobics at 10am in the pool’ etc. etc.  Feeling gloomy we wandered to the beach.  People were leaping into the waves energetically and then emerging with huge red wheals on their bodies; it was jelly fish season and these monsters were washed up along the shore, the size of dinner plates.  The Thai staff were very nice and all predicted that my next child (I was visibly pregnant) would be a boy (I actually had another girl).  The saving grace was the food;  there were eating opportunities of top-notch and varied cuisine from dawn til dusk.  We only ate in neighbouring Hua Hin once and that was at an excellent Italian restaurant recommended by an Italian lady who we made friends with on the beach.  While in this restaurant we saw an elephant walk by and did the tourist thing of buying bananas from its herder to feed to it.  I carefully peeled the banana while the Thai lady laughed and pointed and the elephant looked at me – I’m sure it rolled is eyes. They eat bananas whole!

Lime leaves and chillis

The right kind of fish

The fresh, clean tastes of Thai food, the combination of Kaffir lime leaves, galangal and chilli is so fragrant and stimulating.  I made these fish cakes to go with a Thai green chicken curry and rice for supper with friends, this week.  The food was just perfect for a  relaxed evening mid-week sitting in the garden, the wind rustling the bamboo.

I ‘visited’ Thailand as part of Foodalogues’ Culinary Tour around the world.  Joan has taken us to Panama, Alaska, Turkey, Japan and next we are off to Egypt. Foodalogue has a delicious round-up of other recipes inspired by this virtual trip.

This is an excellent recipe adapted slightly from an encyclopedic cook book on Thai food by Vatcharin Bhumichitr.  They would be great with green papaya salad too.

Thai fish cakes

Thai fish cakes (Tod man pla)

Fish cake ingredients

5 dried red chillis
3 spring onions
2 garlic cloves
2 coriander roots (or, if unavailable, a small handful of  fresh coriander)
1 tablespoon of chopped galangal
6 kaffir lime leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
480g firm white fish fillets, minced (I used a fish they describe as sole in Dubai – nothing like Dover sole)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
60g fine green beans, sliced finely lengthways
vegetable oil

Cucumber relish ingredients

120 ml rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cucumber
1 small carrot
3 spring onions
1 fresh red chilli
1 tablespoon of ground roasted peanuts (optional)

Start by making the relish. Heat the vinegar with the sugar, stirring until it dissolves, then boil (for 6-7 minutes) until you get a thin caramel.  Take off the heat and leave to cool.  Quarter the cucumber lengthways and slice finely; halve the carrot and also slice finely. Chop the spring onion and chilli finely and add all the ingredients to the cooled syrup, mixing well. Serve with the ground peanuts scattered on top.

Put the chillis, spring onion, garlic, coriander, galangal, lime leaves and salt into a food processor and whizz to a paste (or pound with a mortar and pestle.  Add the fish, fish sauce and green beans and pulse to combine (or mix together in a bowl).  Form into about 20 little cakes about 1.25 cm thick.

Heat the oil to about 200 C and deep fry the fish cakes for about 2-3 minutes until golden brown on both sides.

The Thai chicken curry recipe I used was not as authentic – Nigella Lawson’s curry in a hurry –  but perfect for a quickly prepared week day supper.

  1. February 13, 2011 9:23 pm

    I lauged out loud about you peeling the bananas. I can just picture the scene in my head. I love your culinary journey posts. Looking forward to Egypt!

    • February 13, 2011 9:40 pm

      I wish I could find an elephant feeding picture – must have one somewhere!

  2. February 13, 2011 9:33 pm

    I had Thai fish cakes for the first time a few months ago at our local Thai restaurant and loved them. I never thought about making them myself- thought it would be too difficult. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    • February 13, 2011 9:42 pm

      This is really easy and they went so fast that I had to make another batch because I only managed to eat one! I put whole fish fillets into the processor after whizzing the spices and it was fine too.

  3. February 13, 2011 10:06 pm

    Nice job, Sally. I love the way Thai food combines so many flavors. This dish a good example. P.S. I posted some of my photos from Thailand and a link to more.

  4. February 14, 2011 7:10 am

    Sally very nice… i love your travel recipes so far… thought i don’t east fish now… I do appreciate the ingredients for your thai fish cake, might try it for the fishetarians in my home. was it too hot? 5 red chillies seems like a lot to me.

    For me – i’ll take the relish! also you are incredible for sourcing such old pics.

    • February 14, 2011 9:31 am

      It’s the relish that’s quite spicy actually Rajani. The dried chillies here never seem to give much heat and are balanced by the fish but one fresh red chilli with salad ….well let’s just say we like it hot! I’d love to vegetarianise this for my daughter but not sure how.

      • February 15, 2011 7:34 am

        try making this with cooked brown rice, mixed with chopped veggies, and tofu.

  5. February 14, 2011 10:00 am

    I absolutely LOVE fish cakes and your Thai versions sounds incredible.
    🙂 Mandy

  6. February 14, 2011 11:37 am

    You know, if I didn’t know better, I would think that our kitchens face each other! But guess what? Great minds think alike! You posted Thai and I posted Vietnamese. I love this! Will try some time. Looks like a great appetizer too. Chef made a lovely Asian Cucumber Salsa that I need to post but it is quite different from your cucumber relish. I LOVE cucumbers so I welcome new ways to work with them!

  7. February 16, 2011 8:22 pm

    🙂 making me smile like always! The fish cakes look lipsmacking good and and the relish to go with it is just perfect and I really could use it with any other dish too!

  8. February 19, 2011 4:52 pm

    Thai fish cakes are am amazing addition to Joan’s tour. I am not sure if I can wait till the weekend to try this with it’s cooling relish.


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