Have I got a diet plan for you. Eat more Thai.
Researchers in South Korea have apparently spent way too much time studying capsaicin, an ingredient found in chili peppers. While I won't bore you with the scientific details, it looks as though capsaicin triggers proteins that decrease calorie intake and lower fat levels. And, in what cuisine will you find loads of chili peppers? Thai, of course!
Long a fan of Thai food but not having nearly enough opportunity to indulge, I recently spent two delicious evenings at Ling's Bistro, located in the Laurel Park Shopping Center in Hendersonville. As with so many of our local restaurants, Ling's is family owned and operated by Jon and Ling Edwards and they get their kids in on the action with Paul serving and Amber greeting customers.
You may remember this space; years ago, it was Hubert's and then became the Blackwater Grille. Now, under Ling's watchful eye, this sizeable restaurant is filled with abstract art, orchids as beautiful as any I've ever seen and just a heck of a lot of feng shui going on.
On our first visit, we sat outside on the wonderful private patio. We started off with a fresh basil spring roll and Chicken Satay. The spring roll was bursting with fresh veggies, rice noodles and basil and was as pretty to look at as it was to eat. Chicken Satay skewers were thin strips of cumin marinated chicken, grilled quickly and served with a delicious peanut sauce with curry, coconut milk and fish sauce. I dipped everything, including my little finger, into that subtle sauce.
Moving toward dinner, we chose Thai Red Curry with chicken, Stir Fried Garlic Beef and Pad Si Yu with pork, which translated into stir-fried rice noodles in a very thick soy sauce with broccoli and carrots. To pair with all of this, we ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio, which goes with absolutely everything on a hot summer night.
Thailand stretches over 1,000 miles and covers just as much ethnic territory. There are four main regions and each has been influenced by their neighbors...India, China, Burma, Laos. As disparate as all of these influences are, it somehow all comes together in the food, which blends spicy, sweet, hot and mild. The very best way to eat Thai is as they have done it for centuries. There should be more dishes on the table than there are guests and everyone shares "family style" with rice all around.
Ling learned to cook at her grandmother's side and was fortunate enough to study under a chef who cooked for the Thai Royal Family. She taught Thai cooking classes in Sapphire Valley before relocating to Hendersonville. Now, her creativity shines through in an ambitious menu that allows customers to choose their proteins with most of the dishes. Ingredients such as galangal, kaffir lime and coriander seed may be new sensations for some, but unlike some Indian food I have tried, nothing jumps out at you...subtlety is the key here.
In explaining the menu, Ling explained that the Northern Thai dishes use a lot of vegetables and spices; the climate is cooler and coconut trees do not grow here. Southern dishes, on the other hand, utilize lots of coconut milk (one of my favorite parts of Thai food) and tend to have stronger aromas and flavors that come from Indian and Malaysian influences. Kind of fun to read through the choices and pick out areas of origin (I started doing this while on my second bottle of Pinot Grigio).
Our next visit started with crispy rice crackers and a dipping sauce just bursting with sweet/hot flavor (remember, capsaicin!). These flash fried crackers are light as air and were a standard snack for Ling as a child. Fried spring rolls and Siu Mai Dumplings were both delicious and, once again, the accompanying sauces set the crispy spring rolls and the soft delicate pot stickers off beautifully.
For entrees, we chose the green curry with pork and Thai crispy chicken. While I enjoyed the green curry, the red was my favorite...because it is made from dried chilies, the flavor is more intense. If you like mild, go with the green. The crispy chicken came coated in a thick sauce that reminded me of a more traditional Chinese dish and I would recommend it to someone just beginning to experiment with Thai food. Ling's has a full bar, a wine list chosen to complement the food and Thai and Chinese beers. Introduced by the Germans in the mid-19th century, beer is apparently the beverage of choice for many Thai diners.
Prices at Ling's are very reasonable; lunches start at $7.50 and dinners at just under $10. Servings are plentiful and, with rice, we ended up taking boxes home each time we went. Live music on the weekends and the funny, talented Tom Brown on guitar on many Wednesday nights are just an added bonus.
Thai food is low in fat, high in capsaicin and bursting with flavor...what more could you ask for, other than what Ling calls "sabey," meaning a comfortable feeling. We felt very sabey at Ling's.