My introduction to phat kaphrao (ผัดกะเพรา; stir-fried holy basil) goes back to the mid 2000s when I was just beginning my love affair with Thailand. Sharing a meal with Fye, a fellow Singaporean friend who’s a real Thai nut, in Chiang Mai one day, he said: “Phat kaphrao is a no-brainer dish. It’s something that Thais would order when they have no idea what they want to eat.” I’ve heeded his advice since then, often opting for the ubiquitous phat kaphrao at raan aahaan taam sang (ร้านอาหารตามสั่ง; cook-to-order restaurants) if I’m undecided what I want, although fried rice comes in a close second.
Phat kaphrao is one of the easiest Thai dishes to made. I have no idea why it took me so long to give it a try, but I’m glad I finally did it over the weekend. Only simple ingredients are needed for phat kaphrao, which makes making this dish such a breeze. The common meat used is pork, chicken or seafood, but I generally prefer ground pork as the meat is more flavourful.
In Thai cooking, there are three main types of basil leaves: bai horapa (ใบโหระพา, sweet basil), bai kaphrao (ใบกะเพรา; holy basil) and bai maenglak (ใบแมงลัก; lemon basil)—all of which are easily sourced in Thai markets. Initially I had problems identifying the different leaves, unlike Mr. P who grew up plucking and chewing the leaves as often as he eats rice, but I will delve into differentiating these basil leaves in future posts. For a phat kaphrao dish to yield its most authentic taste, holy basil leaves is a must although various online accounts purport that sweet basil leaves can be a substitute.
Holy basil has fuzzy stems and leaves with jagged edges.
Ingredients (serves two)
* 4-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
* 4-6 bird’s eye chillies, sliced
* 250g ground pork
* 20-30 holy basil leaves (discard the stems)
* 2 tbsps oil
* 2-3 tbsps Thai fish sauce or soya sauce
* 2-3 tbsps dark soy sauce
* 1-2 tbsps oyster sauce
* straw mushrooms, baby corn or string beans
* cucumber, sliced
* fried egg
1. Heat up a skillet and pour in the oil to coat the base. Allow the oil to heat up first before stirring in the garlic. Fry the garlic until it starts to turn fragrant and slightly golden-brown. Toss in the ground pork and use the spatula to break the clumps, continuously stirring it until the meat is semi-cooked. Add chillies, straw mushrooms or other optional ingredients as desired, and continue stirring.
2. Add Thai fish sauce, black soya sauce and oyster sauce to taste. (I don’t usually measure the sauces but mix them in based on intuition and taste as I cook.) Stir the mixture well to spread the sauces out evenly; the pork should turn a shade or two darker from the sauces. Toss in the holy basil leaves and stir them into the mixture until the leaves are wilted and give off an aromatic fragrance.
3. Transfer the mixture onto the side of a plate of steamed rice. Add cucumbers on the side and top the rice with a sunny-side-up, and to complete the set-up, a saucer of naam plaa prik (Thai fish sauce with chillies). Serve and enjoy!