BOOKS WE LOVE : Essential Thai : REAL THAI, <i> By Nancie McDermott</i> . <i> (Chronicle Books: $9.95; 218 pp.) </i>


I love Thai food and eat it everywhere I go--in Bombay and Bangalore, in Khota Bharu and Kuala Lumpur, in Singapore, the Napa Valley, Los Angeles and, of course, in Bangkok. Reading Nancie McDermott’s “Real Thai” gives me a fresh sense of discovery. It’s full of wonderful recipes that you know you can reproduce because they are so carefully written.

McDermott loves the country, speaks the language and teaches and lectures on Thai cuisine. You pick up her excitement about each dish, and she’ll lead you to look for ingredients you’ve never heard of, such as sataw beans (I was amazed to find them in downtown Los Angeles).

There are no photographs in this book, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all substance--no window dressing needed--and it has a real advantage over cocktail table books: It’s affordable.

If you plan to visit Thailand, read “Real Thai” first or, better yet, take it along. You’ll get a good picture of regional Thai cooking that will enhance your trip. In the meantime, try this northeastern Thai version of a dish that you’ll find in every Thai restaurant in Los Angeles--barbecued chicken.


GAI YAHNG (Grilled Chicken) 1/3 cup Cilantro Pesto 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 teaspoon salt 1 chicken, about 4 pounds, cut into serving pieces Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce

In deep mixing bowl just large enough to hold chicken, combine Cilantro Pesto, soy sauce and salt. Add chicken and turn to coat well with marinade. Cover and chill 1 to 2 hours, turning occasionally to season well.

Prepare very hot fire in charcoal grill or preheat gas grill. Arrange chicken on grill and cook 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning occasionally to brown and cook evenly. When chicken is done, transfer to serving platter and serve hot, warm or at room temperature accompanied by Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Halved Cornish game hens or chicken wings may be used instead of whole chicken.

Each serving contains about: 710 calories; 1,847 mg sodium; 174 cholesterol; 35 gram fat; 54 grams carbohydrates; 44 grams protein; 0.42 gram fiber.

Cilantro Pesto 1 tablespoon whole white or black peppercorns 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro roots or leaves and stems 1/2 cup coarsely chopped garlic

Using mortar and pestle or spice grinder, crush or grind peppercorns to fine powder. Combine ground pepper, cilantro roots and garlic and work to fairly smooth paste in mortar or small blender or food processor. If using appliances instead of mortar, small amount of vegetable oil or water may be needed to ease grinding. Makes 1 cup.


Note: Place unused pesto in glass jar, add just enough oil to cover surface, seal tightly and store in refrigerator up to 1 week.

Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup white vinegar 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic 1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon bottled chile-garlic sauce or coarsely ground dried red chile

Combine sugar, water, vinegar, garlic and salt in small heavy saucepan. Bring to rolling boil over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt and reduce heat to low. Simmer until liquid reduces slightly and thickens to light syrup, 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chile-garlic sauce.

Cool to room temperature. Transfer to tightly sealed jar. Store at room temperature 2 to 3 days. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Note: Chile-garlic sauce is available in most Asian markets.