As I watched and listened to my Thai chef mentor, Gee, I noticed that a number of ingredients kept coming up – almost in all of our dishes. After pointing this out, we decided to shorten the list to “The Thai 5”, as it was much easier shorthand to transcribe as I was furiously taking notes and gathering recipes. After I had a little time to do what I like to do best (That would be late night nutritional research! What a geek!), I discovered that there were so many more reasons to love this combination apart from the way even chopping them up made my kitchen smell. (Heavenly, by the way…)
The Thai 5 are kaffir lime leaf, galangal, coriander/cilantro, garlic, and lemongrass. Only a couple of steps behind are shallot, Thai/holy basil, chilies, and green onion, but let’s focus on this fivesome that forms the flavor base of the famous Tom Yum soup and why each is so dang healthy.
1. Kaffir lime leaf
Kaffir lime leaves are more than the flavor that they impart in so many Thai, and other Southeast Asian, cuisines. Its essential oils are also used as a bleach and astringent, which explains why it is also touted for gum and overall dental health! Will rubbing lime leaves on your gums be the next “oil pulling” type craze? Considering they grow right here in California, I can’t see why not in San Francisco. I’m starting the trend.
Galangal is a rhizome in the same family as both ginger and turmeric, but has a much more fiery flavor and is native only to Southeast Asia. Much like ginger, it can soothe an upset stomach and even cease any and all types gastrointestinal distress, but that’s not all. Galangal is also used to improve circulation in the body, bringing blood and nutrients to the farthest reaches, and is also a tried-and-true respiratory aid. If congestion is the problem, galangal tea is the solution.
Coriander, known in the US as cilantro, really is a superfood. According to the Times of India, it lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol, it is tonifying for the liver and high in fiber to promote digestion. It can stimulate insulin secretion, aids in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and has even been shown to have strong antihistamine (anti-allergy) effects. As if that weren’t enough, consumption of cilantro can literally stop Salmonella infection, and make your bones stronger as it is a great source of calcium.
Do I really have to tell you why garlic is the greatest? That it is a natural antibiotic, antiseptic, antioxidant, and antiviral little plant? Garlic can shorten colds, fights high blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, and can decrease heavy metals in the body. There have been enough articles printed about our stinky little friend and its magical compound allicin that I feel redundant telling you more – but studies do also point to its potential at warding off both Alzheimer’s and dementia. Just sayin’.
Oh, this is my FAVORITE! I literally wear lemongrass essential oil as perfume; it smells so warm and sweet. In the world of aromatherapy, lemongrass is used for calming, relaxing, grounding, and as a cure for insomnia. As far as health benefits, though, while it’s relaxing your mind, it is doing absolutely amazing things.
Lemongrass has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It also has been shown, with its compound citral, to have anti-cancer effects, causing apoptosis – or programmed cell death – in active cancer cells while preserving healthy tissues. It is high in potassium and is a natural diuretic, having beneficial effects on high blood pressure, and also is high in magnesium, folate, and phosphorus, which help stimulate and promote health in both the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Because it has antimicrobial properties, as well, lemongrass can help get rid of pesky parasites and repopulate the gut with the “good bacteria” we are always hearing about and taking probiotics for! I could keep going, but let’s top this one off by saying that it also helps in weight loss efforts, as those diuretic properties help transport broken down fat and toxins out of our bodies more quickly after we’ve worked so hard eating and living well.
I think I’m going to fix myself a cup right now…
Wrapping it up, here are a whole host of reasons to eat more Thai food – it literally could save your life! And if you don’t believe ME, take a look-see at this here article on CNN.com: http://edition.cnn.com/2001/HEALTH/diet.fitness/01/03/thai.soup/