Photo by Jarrett Wrisley
To try a recipe for a salad of pork, young ginger, and squid, click here, and for a grilled eggplant salad recipe, click here.
To most people in America, it's a side dish on Thanksgiving. But in Thailand, yam is a salad of intrinsic complexity. It's as simple to make as chopping seafood, meat, or vegetables, blanching them, and mastering a dressing. Try making a few yam in your home kitchen, and soon you might be besting your local Thai restaurant. It's not tricky, nor is it troublesome.
Yam, when pronounced correctly, sounds like a collision of that relative of the sweet potato and a word we utter when in the presence of deliciousness. They are also one of Thai cooking's great pleasures. Yam often counter the richly spiced coconut curries served in a Central Thai meal, but can also be eaten alone, or as a companion to any grilled or fried dish. That's not to say they're not spicy--because they most certainly should be--but it's a bright and fleeting spice, held aloft by lime juice and infused with the addictive savory of fish sauce.
There are many styles, but the reason I'm writing this is because I was recently inspired by two: grilled eggplant yam (yam makrua yao), where sour, salt, smoke, and spice meet in a dish of refreshing sophistication; and squid yam (yam pla muek) where toothsome strips of squid mingle with heat and lime juice and pork in a logical and delightful pairing.