In the bread museum in Ulm, in southern Germany, there are decorated cast-iron waffle irons that date back to the sixteenth century. Waffles — gauffres in French — are popular sweets in Germany, Belgium, Holland, and France, and, of course, in North America too.
In Thailand, the waffle idea has been transformed, as many foreign, food ideas are, in a creative and, we think, brilliant way. The “waffle iron” is two plain pieces of hot metal; between them is pressed a batter flavored with tiny dried shrimp, coriander leaf, and lime juice. The resulting skillet cakes are known in Thai as thong paen na goong, and look like small crepes You can make them like crepes in a small heavy skillet, but we love the unusual look of them when we use a regular American or European waffle iron.—Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
For the waffles
1/4 cup rice flour or rice starch
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup canned coconut milk, plus a little more if needed
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup tiniest dried shrimp (see Note)
Peanut oil or vegetable oil for frying
20 to 30 coriander leaves
For the dipping sauce
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 bird or Serrano chile, minced (less for less heat) (optional)
Make the waffles
1. Place the flours and sugar in a medium bowl and stir in the coconut milk and egg yolk. Stir in the lime juice and beat to a smooth batter. Let stand for at least 20 minutes, or as long as 2 hours. (If leaving more than 30 minutes, cover and refrigerate until 10 minutes before using.)
2. Just before you wish to start cooking, stir the dried shrimp into the batter. The batter should be like crepe batter, smooth and pourable. If necessary, thin it with a little coconut milk.
3. Place a heavy 8-inch or 9-inch skillet over high heat. When it is hot, lower the heat to medium-high and rub a paper towel oiled with peanut or vegetable oil over the cooking surface.
4. Use a ladle or cup to scoop up a scant 3 tablespoons batter and drop a coriander leaf or two into it. Remove the skillet from the heat, pour the batter onto the center of the skillet, and spread it out with the back of your ladle or a spatula. Place the skillet back on the heat and let cook for 1 minute, or until lightly browned on the first side, then turn the crepe over and cook for 35 to 40 seconds on the second side, or until dotted with light brown spots. Turn out onto a plate and repeat with the remaining batter, wiping the skillet with an oiled paper towel between each one.
(Alternately, Waffle Iron Method)
3. Preheat the waffle iron. Brush it with oil.
4. Use a ladle to pour the batter onto the center of the iron. Use the same amount of batter as you would for a regular waffle. Before you close the waffle iron, the batter should just cover about half the surface; when you close the iron, the batter will be pushed out to fill the whole iron. (The amount of batter you need to use for each waffle will vary with the size and style of waffle iron, so you may need to make one or two before you get amounts exactly right.) Cook until lightly browned on both sides. Turn out onto a plate and repeat with the remaining batter, brushing the iron lightly with oil between waffles.
Make the dipping sauce
1. Mix all the ingredients together. Set out in a small bowl with a spoon to use for drizzling the sauce on.
1. Serve hot or warm, on their own or with a plate of lettuce leaves and an easy hot, sour, salty, sweet dipping sauce such as the one here. Or you could put out a spicy Mexican-style salsa instead. Invite guests to tear off a piece of crepe, wrap it in a lettuce leaf, and drizzle it with sauce or salsa before eating.
Note: Use very small dried shrimp that look like feathery shreds and are a dark, rich color. A wide assortment of dried shrimp is available in Chinese and Southeast Asian groceries. If you can find only larger dried shrimp, mince them before using.
Recipe © 2003 Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. All rights reserved.