Cook like a Thai
The English-speaking Thai instructor, Ya, a chef with many years of teaching and cooking experience, made the class fun and educational. In fact, I enjoyed her class so much I ended up taking 4 more classes! The first thing she taught is that with Thai cooking, it all begins at the local market—where Thais go daily to purchase fresh ingredients for their meals.
Thailand, having a year-round growing season, is a land of plenty, and the local markets attest to this. We met first thing in the morning, before going to class, at the Chatchai Market where chef Ya taught us how to identify spices and herbs by the smell and look—sweet basil, bitter basil, spicy basil, kaffir leaves, lemongrass, cilantro (coriander), galanga ginger, and much more.
As well as herbs and vegetables, we also purchased fresh shredded coconut meat to be used in making coconut milk. After this fun tour, now when I go to a Thai market, I’m no longer a “lost” farang (a Westerner) in the produce section! After shopping at the market, to the school we went. I must confess that the classroom was more like going to a fun dinner party with everyone seated around the fresh ingredients.
This informality added to the fun of the class. Our first meal was my favorite—Tom Yum Goong. With Ya’s help and guidance, we selected and methodically prepared each ingredient— lemongrass, galangal ginger, kaffir leaves, spring onions, cilantro, mushrooms, bird’s eye chili peppers,… On the sheltered, open-air porch of this classroom were lined several Thai gas cookers complete with woks and cooking utensils. Learning to cook with a wok on a Thai cooker is an art in itself, one which requires a little practice.
But when using the cookers, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on a Bangkok street cooking up street food for the Thai. Once you get the ingredients to a cooker, it is amazing how fast they can be cooked and ready to eat. First chef Ya demonstrated how to cook each dish, and then I repeated the lesson.
Next thing I knew, I was eating Tom Yum Goong—maybe the best ever (maybe I am prejudiced?)! You quickly learn that the most time-consuming parts of Thai cooking are going to the market and actually preparing the ingredients for cooking. When quizzed as to how exacting Thai cooking is, Ya said: “Thai cooking very forgiving, a little bit of this, a little bit of that—up to you.” You want it hotter (pet maak maak)—just add more small peppers (Bird’s Eye Chilis), if less hot (pet nid noi) then just use larger peppers or fewer small ones. This is a great lesson for those farang who can’t take the heat, but don’t want to get out of the kitchen.
After preparing the Tom Yum Goong, it was time to make some green curry paste. We learned how to make green curry paste the traditional Thai way—using a granite mortar & pestle where we worked until the ingredients were a very fine paste. Once prepared, these pastes will keep for several months. Cooking “Thai” is actually easy, creative, and rewarding. Immersing myself in this fun culture has allowed me to obtain a unique souvenir—knowledge of how to cook Thai. I am a big fan of spaghetti (but then, my mother is Italian), and since taking this course, I now prepare Thai spaghetti. Try this– you might like it (maybe even my mother would):
1. in a skillet or wok, add a little cooking oil, chopped garlic and onions from a mortar & pestle, and cook until you smell the delicious fragrance of garlic
2. add 250 g of ground pork or beef, lightly cook
3. add 1 sm. can of tomato paste (170 g) plus 2 cans of water, stir until thoroughly mixed
4. add sugar to taste (about 2 teaspoons) plus some Italian seasoning, black pepper and salt
5. add sliced baby corn, sliced bell pepper (red or green), sliced okra, mushrooms and quartered cherry tomatoes
6. optional—add several sliced small peppers to “heat” things up
7. cook about 12 minutes
8. add lots of sweet basil leaves about 1 minute before turning off heat
9. in a pot, add water, salt, and a little cooking oil and boil 227 G of spaghetti until limp Serve on pasta and enjoy!!! Presto, you now have farang food with a Thai twist.
Serves: 2-3 people
Thai cuisine is world-renowned, and we here in Hua Hin are fortunate to have access to this great mix of herbs, spices, sauces, coconuts, vegetables, tropical fruits and seafood. Even for those not fortunate enough to be in Hua Hin, most Thai cooking ingredients can be found at a regular market or Asian food store. For those of you visiting Hua Hin, make sure to take a cooking class, preferably at Hua Hin Thai Cooking Academy.