Bitter Orange Zest (som saa)

som saa (ส้มซ่า, bitter orange or marmalade orange; scientific name: citrus × aurantium), this citrus fruit of Indian origin is in season from the beginning of the rainy months until winter. It is used as a flavoring agent or an herbal medicine that acts as a stimulant and an appetite enhancer.

Som saa’s juice, its essential oils and its rich unripe green peel were common ingredients in both the savory dishes and desserts in the culinary repertoire of Siamese society’s elite in the early- to mid-1900’s. It is used in recipes such as yam phiu sohm saa (ยำผิวส้มซ่า), phat mee kraawp (ผัดหมี่กรอบ), massaman curry (แกงมัสมั่น), sai graawk bplaa naaem (ไส้กรอกปลาแนม) and gaaeng jee juaan (แกงจีจ๋วน), just to name a few….

Thai food recipes with Orange – Bitter orange zest (ส้มซ่า ; som saa)

กุ้งแนม” หรือ “กุ้งซ่อนกลิ่น – Goong naaem (goong saawn glin) according to the 1908 recipe in Lady Plean Passakornrawong’s “Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa (ตำราแม่ครัวหัวป่าก์)” cookbook. Flaky acid-cooked shrimp and the pork fat, along with thinly sliced roasted peanuts and very small unpeeled diced bitter orange (ส้มซ่า som saa), plus paper-thin slices of pickled garlic and julienned fresh red long chili peppers are mixed and seasoned with shrimp tomalley dressing. It is served in wrapped squares, using iceberg lettuce and young thaawng laang leaves.

The first reference to sohm choon as a dessert appears in in the early 1800s, in the culinary poetry of King Rama II gaap heh chohm khreuuang khaao waan (กาพย์เห่ชมเครื่องคาว – หวาน). The poetry was sung during the royal barge’s procession, and this verse refers to sohm choon as a dish made of lychees. A closer look at other foods that are mentioned in the verse also reveals other dishes that are clearly of Chinese origin, such as boiled pork spleen (dtohm dtap lek ต้มตับเหล็ก), steamed bird’s nests (rang nohk neung รังนกนึ่ง) and persimmons (luuk phlap ลูกพลับ).

This salad recipe is adapted from the book “Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa” (แม่ครัวหัวป่าก์), published in 1971 as a memorial for Jao Jaawm Phit (เจ้าจอมพิศว์). Jao Jaawm Phit was the daughter of Thanpuying (Lady) Plean Passakornrawong, who was a pioneer of noble Thai cuisine.

Each leaf-wrapped parcel is a kaleidoscope of flavors and richness, textures, aromas and sensations. Fresh green-earthy-chlorophyll-herby-tobacco-peppery wild betel leaves enfold bursts of flavor from nutty roasted peanuts and crispy roasted coconut matches, the umami of savory dry shrimp, pungent-sweet diced shallots, small ginger cubes with a warm bite, sour and bitter unpeeled lime cubes, citrusy perfumed diced bitter orange (som za), naughty whole fresh tiny bird’s eye chilies, and small slices of the sharp and sour dtaling bpling (Averrhoa bilimbi, a relative of the carambola/starfuit). All of which is blended with a thick paste of sweet-sour and salty palm sugar and tamarind sauce.

The miang kham takes every taste bud on a fascinating pleasure trip through sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, and umami, piquancy, sharpness and spiciness, with an array of textures that slowly subside as the journey ends, leading to a familiar post orgasmic expression, a smile and the desire for more.

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