Last summer I went crazy cooking Thai recipes. If it had fish sauce in it, I just had to try it. I acquired a copy of Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, and kept seeing palm sugar in many recipes. I had always substituted brown sugar for palm sugar, but I wanted to try to make the food as authentic as possible.
This meant it was necessary to go to my local 99 Ranch Market in Gardena, where I get all my Chinese and Southeast Asian ingredients. If you live in Southern California and have never been to a 99 Ranch Market, going there just for a field trip is so interesting. In one aisle they have 15 kinds of fish sauce, and half an aisle devoted just to different soy sauces. I go there also to buy curry paste and fermented black beans. In their fish section they have about 20 feet of fresh whole fish of different kinds on ice. I found the palm sugar in the Indonesian section right next to the shrimp paste.
Gula Jawa or palm sugar is made from the sweet watery sap from cut flower buds of the Arenga Pinnata palm tree that grows wild all over Malaysia and Indonesia. Making palm sugar is a home industry in most villages in Indonesia. The sap is boiled in large pots until it is a thick, dark syrup that is then poured into bamboo molds until it dries into cylinders. It is quite solid and pieces are sliced off with a knife.
The brown sugar we are used to in the United States is made from sugar cane or sugar beets with natural or processed molasses from sugar cane added. To me, brown sugar has kind of a one-note flavor, and I absolutely need it to make Chocolate Chip Cookies. But Gula Jawa is an amazing, smoky, intensely caramel-flavored jazz ensemble on your tongue. Think the difference between a cup of black coffee and a glass of Kahlua.
If you don’t have a market near you that has Gula Jawa, you can mail order it (here).
Shrimp Salad Thai Style
As an alternative to the shrimp, shredded chicken, faux crab, baby squid, or cooked mild fish in bite-sized pieces could be used. You could also add pieces of apple or mango. Be creative.
1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
¼ cup fresh lime juice (2 limes)
3 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 teaspoon hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cucumbers, seeded, quartered lengthwise, sliced crosswise ¼-inch slices
1 pound cooked deveined peeled medium shrimp
4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into matchstick-size strips
1 medium yellow bell pepper, cut into matchstick-size strips
3 green onions sliced
½ cup cilantro, chopped
½ cup sliced basil leaves
8 cherry tomatoes, halved and seeded (optional)
¾ cup lightly salted dry roasted peanuts, chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1. Whisk all dressing ingredients to blend in a small bowl. Let dressing stand while preparing salad.
2. Combine shrimp, cabbage, bell peppers, green onions, cilantro and basil in large bowl.
3. Pat cucumber pieces dry on paper toweling and add to salad. Toss salad with dressing.
4. Place salad on plates and sprinkle with peanuts and sesame seeds.Print Recipe