I have Bai Krapow growing in my garden. They are called Holy Basil around these parts. I put two itty-bitty starts in the ground four weeks ago, and they now look so happy and thriving I’ve decided it’s time to harvest some. So last night I did. I made a favorite fast Thai dish, Pad Krapow, which is basically a spicy stir-fry with the holy basil as the star flavor of the show.
Pad Krapow is a ubiquitous fast-food dish in Thailand. You can walk into just about any food shack on any street corner and ask for Pad Krapow, they’ll make one for you. You can also have it with just about any protein you want, pork (minced or cut into bite-size chunks), chicken (ditto), beef (yup, ditto too), or even tofu. Some people like to add cut-up onions or sweet bell peppers to add a little more interest to the dish. But the best thing about it, besides being really delicious, is that it’s so simple to make you hardly need a recipe. So I’m not going to give you one. Instead, I’ll tell you how you can easily make it at home. If you can’t find Bai Krapow or Holy Basil, you can even use the regular Thai basil you can find at any Asian market near you. In which case you’ll technically be making Pad Horapa (Stir-fry with Thai Basil) instead of Pad Krapow (Stir-fry with Holy Basil), but it’ll be good just the same.
The Krapow plants I put in the ground look slightly different than Krapow plants I’ve seen in Thailand. The ones in Thailand have longer, narrower leaves, and are a slightly paler shade of grayish-green. The ones growing in my garden now have fatter leaves, with an interesting purple shading on some of the leaves. They actually look more like Thai Basil, but when you pick one up and crush it between your fingers, the scent is undeniably Krapow. Thai Basil is more licorice-y. This Krapow, on the other hand, is spicier with a hint of citrus and mint. It’s hard to explain in words really. You just have to find them and smell them side by side. Or you don’t have to. Buy whichever you can find at the stores near you, they both make pretty tasty stir-fries.
You’ll need a few cloves of garlic. You’ll want to be generous with the garlic here, don’t skimp. You’ll be ok, just don’t plan a big date after eating this dish. Or make sure your date share has eaten it too, so you both are even. Or evenly stinky, I should say. But I digress, now where was I, garlic, yes. I chop the garlic up with a few Thai bird-eye chilies too. I generally use about a little less than half the amount of chopped chili to chopped garlic, but it all depends on the spiciness of your chili. I say here you err on the side of too few chilies. You can always add them later. If you put too much in the beginning then you’d have to resort to using sugar to reduce the spiciness. And that wouldn’t be so cool. Here I used about 6 garlic cloves and 3 hot bird-eye chili. Chop them all up together. I also used a handful of the bell pepper cut into strips, they made the dish prettier at the end.
I used about a pound (500g) of ground pork. The nice man behind the counter at my Whole Foods ground a big hunk of pork butt for me. I think it’s much fresher this way, not to mention nice and fatty. I don’t get the point of lean ground pork. Fat is where the flavor is, people. But, as I said, you can use just about any protein you want. So, pick whatever that’ll make you happy. I’m totally ok with that.
So you get your well-seasoned wok nice and hot, add just a tiny bit of oil. You won’t need much now, the ground pork will release yummy fat as it cooks. If you’re using the not-so-fatty protein you’ll need just a tad more oil here to keep everything properly lubricated. (Did I really just say that out loud?)
Ok, in goes the chopped-up garlic and chili first. Yes, they go first. Won’t they get all burnt, you asked? Yes, they might so be quick. Give it a couple of stirs, just to get it nice and fragrant. Oh, don’t stick your face right into it to check if it’s fragrant yet, by the way. You just add hot chili into a hot pan. You see where I’m going with this, right?
Now you throw in the ground pork. Give it a couple of tosses. A few splashes of fish sauce. Yes, fish sauce. This is Thai food we’re cooking. Right? What, you don’t have fish sauce? Well, fine, soy sauce will do in a pinch. But I’m stretching it here, I hope you know. Wait, actually, a splash or two of thick soy sauce won’t hurt it a bit. That’s what they use everywhere in Thailand, just to give this stir-fry a bit of color.
If you’re adding onion or bell pepper or whatnot, you can do it now. Give it a few more stirs, taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. If it’s not spicy enough, take a few chilies, smash them with the blade of a knife until they’re all squished with seeds spilling out. Toss them into the pan, they’ll add a nice bit of spiciness to the dish, plus I like the flavor of fresh, uncooked chili in the finished dish too so I always add one or two in mine.
When everything is done and cooked, turn off the heat and add a big handful of Bai Krapow or Holy Basil. Toss, then serve immediately on top of steamed rice.
If you want to be really authentic, fry up an egg, over easy, but do it in a pan with a lot of hot oil, so the edges get brown and crisp while the yolk is still bright orange and liquid. Put that baby right on top of the rice and the Pad Krapow, a squeeze of lime (or lemon would do in a pinch) over everything, and there you have it, Pad Krapow Moo over jasmine rice. Easy, fresh, and quick. I hope you love it as much as I do.