“The Better-than-Takeout Thai Cookbook: Favorite Thai Food Recipes Made at Home.” By Danette St. Onge. Rockridge Press. $17.99

I could probably get my husband to do just about anything if the reward is pad Thai.

The classic Thai noodle dish, topped with crispy golden triangles of tofu, is his hands-down favorite. His love affair with the takeout staple goes back to his first visit to our hometown Thai restaurant when we were in high school. Unfamiliar with most items on the menu, he opted for the one dish he could name because it was on the license plate of the restaurant owner, who happened to frequent the driving range where Adam worked at the time.

It was love at first bite.

Some 20 years later, pad Thai with tofu is his standby on the rare occasions we get takeout. It’s his birthday dinner every single year. Whenever we’re looking over the menu of our favorite Thai restaurant (currently Jojo’s Thai Kitchen in Scarborough. Oh man, that crispy duck pad Thai…), he’ll comment how good everything sounds. He promises that next time will be the time he tries something new. But in the end he always goes for the pad Thai. “It’s just hard,” Adam will say, “because pad Thai is my favorite and I can’t say no.”

So when I saw “The Better-than-Takeout Thai Cookbook: Favorite Thai Food Recipes Made at Home” on the shelf next to our food editor’s desk, I greedily scooped it up and claimed it as mine. It is written by Danette St. Onge, a food and travel writer who specializes in international cuisines. A native Californian born to a Thai mother and American father, she spent some of her childhood in Bangkok before her family returned to the United States to open a Thai restaurant.

The book provides an easy-to-follow guide to understanding the basic flavors of Thai dishes. The first chapter, The Thai Kitchen, walks the reader through common ingredients, pantry staples and tools used in Thai cuisine. The 100 recipes in the book range from snacks and appetizers to soups, curries and desserts.

Within an hour of picking up the book, I had at least a dozen recipes marked to try. I’m looking forward to using St. Onge’s recipes to make my own satay sauce and crispy tofu. I know at some point I’ll try the recipe for pad Thai, but knowing Adam’s birthday dinner was right around the corner, I opted first for scallops stir-fried in a spicy red curry sauce with sweet Thai basil. Easy to pull together and surprisingly flavorful, it made for a quick but decadent weeknight dinner.


This recipe is gluten-free, soy-free and nut-free.

Serves 3 to 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons red curry paste (homemade or store-bought)

1/4 cup water or chicken stock

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon palm sugar, light brown sugar or granulated sugar

2 stems young green peppercorns, fresh or brined (optional but recommended)

1 pound fresh or frozen scallops

1/2 cup fresh Thai sweet basil or Italian sweet basil leaves

Jasmine rice for serving

1. In a large wok or skillet over medium heat, heat the oil.

2. Add the curry paste and cook until slightly thickened, darkened and fragrant, about 2 minutes.

3. Stir in the water, fish sauce and sugar, and stir until the sugar dissolves.

4. Add the peppercorns (if using), turn the heat to medium low and simmer gently for 2 minutes.

5. Add the scallops and simmer in the curry sauce just until opaque, 5 to 8 minutes, depending on their size.

6. Turn off the heat, stir in the basil leaves until just wilted and serve with jasmine rice.

Serving suggestion: Garnish with fresh or fried basil leaves and julienned fresh kaffir lime leaf just before serving. You can also use crisp-fried pieces of fish in place of the scallops, or bite-sized pieces of beef, pork, chicken or tofu.

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