ผัดโหระพา Phad Horapha-Sweet Basil and Pork Stir Fry
This dish is actually not intended, not this version at least. I’d wanted to cook ผัดกระเพรา Phad Kra-Prao Thai Holy Basil and Pork Stir Fry actually but I’d gotten the wrong basil! The real McCoy calls for holy basil, which is known as Bai Kra-Prao in Thai, and hence the name of the dish Phad Kra-Prao, with “Phad” to mean “stir fry” in Thai. And to add to the confusion, the latter is sometimes anglicised as “Pad” or even “Pat” or “Phat“. But I’d used Thai purple basil (sweet basil) instead! It is known as ใบโหระพา Bai Horapha in Thai and thus the “bastardised” version “Phad Horapha“. A quick search over the internet and I found that not the only one who’d made this “mistake”. Not sure if the creations by the others are accidental or intentional but whichever the case, it actually tastes really good with thai sweet basil as well! So it seems like ผัดโหระพา Phad Horapha is here to stay afterall!
Basil and Pork Stir Fry is a very popular “quick stir-fry” type of street food in Thailand. It is only made when ordered, so the dish is always served directly from the wok onto the plate piping hot alongside jasmine rice and a pan fried sunny side up. Aromatics is heavily played in this dish, through the use of basil as well as a fish sauce concoction as seasoning. And if that is not enough, it is almost always served with more chopped chilies dipped in fish sauce on the side.
The main ingredients used for Phad Horapha. Unlike many other Thai dishes which calls for an extensive use of spices and herbs, basil and pork stir-fry keeps the list down to a minimum. Yet the flavours portrayed are by no means simple, remaining extremely flavourful. Seasoning for this dish is also minimal, mainly fish sauce balanced with a little bit of palm sugar. A bit of dark soya sauce is added for colour and that is all that it takes. Some recipes I’d read called for oyster sauce as well but that seemed redundant as fish sauce alone is quite sufficient to provide the salt as well as umami flavours needed to season it amply.
And no thai dish is complete without chillies, though in this dish it provides more of a supporting role than the main palate profile. Then again, it really depends on how much heat one wishes to introduce into the dish. For me, four, i.e. 2 reds and 2 greens did the trick nicely, providing an assertive presence without tipping the balance by making the dish too fiery. But you can add up more if it is revenge you are after!
ผัดโหระพา Phad Horapha-Sweet Basil and Pork Stir Fry Recipe (serves 2-3)
(adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Street Food)
300g minced pork (chicken or beef may also be used)
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 bird’s eye chillies, i.e. 2 reds and 2 greens, chopped (can add more to increase the fieriness)
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 eggs, pan fried til the whites are slightly browned and crisp on the underside and edges
2 large handfuls of Thai sweet basil, leaves only
2-3 tbsp Thai fish sauce (depending on quality of fish sauce used)
1 tbsp chopped palm sugar
½ cup water
½ tbsp dark soya sauce (for colour, optional if using beef)
Chillies in Fish Sauce
¼ cup fish sauce
5-8 bird’s eye chillies, stems removed and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp chopped chinese coriander
For “Chillies in Fish Sauce”, combine the fish sauce, chopped chillies and minced garlic in a bowl and set aside. It keeps for some time and becomes richer and milder as it settles for a day. Make sure it is covered if it is made in advance and if the fish sauce evaporates, add an equivalent amount of water to top up. Just before serving, stir through lime juice and chopped chinese coriander.
Heat a well-seasoned wok over a high heat then turn down the heat and add 2 tbsp of cooking oil. Crack in one of the eggs and fry gently, shuffling the egg to prevent it from sticking, until the underside becomes lightly browned and crisp. The yolk should not be completely cooked. Dish and set aside.
Add 2 more tbsp of oil. When the oil is hot, fry chopped garlic and chillies for a moment, but don’t let it colour. Add minced pork and continue to stir-fry for a minute until just cooked. Season to taste with the fish sauce and palm sugar.
Add water and simmer for about 1 min or so. Don’t let it boil or stew for too long, otherwise the meat will toughen and too much liquid will evaporate. There should be enough to form a sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly. When the dish is almost, stir in half of the thai purple basil and as soon as the leaves just begins to wilt, remove from the heat. Add the remaining handful of basil leaves and stir slightly before plating.
Serve with steamed jasmine rice, fried egg on top and a bowl of chillies in fish sauce on the side. It is complete as a meal on its own but I like to serve it with some other simple Thai dishes. My absolute favorite would be Som Tum for the delightful crunch and refreshing palate profile the green papaya renders which compliments the richness in flavours from Phad Horapha. Give it a try and you’ll know what I mean!