When we first tried our hand at Thai dishes the spices, flavors, techniques and ingredients were all new to us. Admittedly, it was a bit of a daunting task to brave the Asian markets for the first time… and at the end of the day, we still weren’t 100% sure if we had bought the ingredients that we needed! Sigh.
Taking a cooking class in Thailand certainly helped. We were lucky enough to enroll in Classic Home Cooking school, which is run by the lovely Vannee. She was an excellent teacher and provided us with not only the techniques necessary to make Thai dishes, but also the knowledge necessary to truly understand Thai cooking. The following is a short recap of our all-day cooking class, complete with an EASY recipe for one of my favorite Thai desserts: bananas in coconut milk!
Our day began early. Shortly after breakfast, Vannee picked us up and took us to the Thai market (“NOT the tourist one”, she reassured us). We spent roughly an hour perusing the fresh produce, meats, and spices and choosing the ingredients we would need for our dishes.
In each section, Vannee walked us through the ingredients and answered all of our questions. We even received an impromptu lesson on how to de-vein a shrimp! As food lovers, this was all priceless knowledge. (Check out the video here: How to de-vein a shrimp).
Ingredients in hand, we made our way back to Vannee’s home where we each learned to prepare six dishes. I made yellow chicken curry (Gaeng Gari Gai) made from my own curry paste (Nam Prik Gaeng Gari), Pad Thai, Stir-fried chicken with hot basil leaves and chilies (Pad Krapao Gai), cucumber soup (Tom Jued Taeng Gwa Yad Sai) and a steamed banana cake (Khanom gluay). Yum! (Side note: if you are interested in learning a little more about the differences in curries, check out our article on curry here.)
My husband made his own green curry paste (Nam Prik Gaeng Kiaw Won) and used it in his delicious green curry (Gaeng Kiaw Wan Gai). Check out the recipe here! He also made a tasty Tom Yam Gung spicy prawn soup, chicken satay (Satay Gal), fried kale in oyster sauce (Phad Kha Na Nam Man Hoi), spicy flat rice noodles (Guay Tiew Pad Khee Moa) and finally, a spicy squid salad (Yam Pia Mueg). Phew! It was a hard day’s work spent slaving over woks. 🙂
(By the way, I included the Thai names of each of these dishes in case you were interested in Googling them to learn more about the dish or find the recipe. I have found that searching for Thai dishes by their Thai name helps you find the most accurate information about the dish; otherwise, too much gets lost in translation and you might end up making a completely different dish!).
We learned several things about Thai cooking which I had not known. The first is how moderately protein is used in Thai dishes: when we attempted Thai dishes at home, we would use entire sliced chicken breasts, at least five or six shrimp per serving, etc. True Thai dishes use much less protein: only a few slices of chicken were used in our curries, and for shrimp dishes, only two shrimp were using per serving. We found the proteins and the spices and vegetables to be much more balanced when using these smaller portions.
Vannee also gave us a short “Coconut Milk 101” course. We had no idea that in every jar of coconut milk there are two components: coconut milk and coconut cream. When agitated, the two mix into a coconut milk; left alone, they separate into a thick cream and a thin, watery substance. Some recipes call for coconut milk and some call for coconut cream, and the outcome of cooking with both is quite different! Leaving a jar of coconut milk undisturbed for a few hours and then spooning off the top cream is an easy way to get the two mixtures on your own while at home.
We also learned about the importance of the mortar and pestle when making curry sauces. Although we had been told that you could use a processor to finely chop the ingredients needed for a curry paste, Vannee warned us that this method would not receive the same results: a mortar and pestle grinds the ingredients to pull out the natural oils in the chilies, garlic, etc, while a processor simply chops the ingredients in small pieces. This food philosophy came along at the right time: just when our elbows were sore from pounding out our pastes!
The day ended with desserts: I made a coconut and banana mixture steamed in a banana leaf, which was a tricky technique to learn. I would include the recipe if I was confident that our readers could find banana leaves, but instead, I will include one of my favorite recipes for a Thai dessert, which is in the cookbook Vannee gave us as a parting gift: bananas cooked in coconut milk. It is delicious and incredibly simple. Enjoy!
Bananas in Coconut Milk (Gluay Buad Chee)
You will need:
– 5 ripe bananas
– 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
– 1/4 cup coconut cream
– 1/2 cup cugar
– 1/2 tsp. salt
1. Peel the bananas and cut them into quarters
2. Place the coconut milk in a pot and heat to boiling
3. Add the bananas and cook over medium heat. Then add sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.
4. Add the coconut cream, spoon into bowls and serve.