OK, slight exaggeration but after taking a 1-day class at Thai Farm Cooking School, I feel empowered to cook up thai dishes that vaguely resemble all the delicious things I made in class.
In the morning, the teacher picks you up from your guest house and we all go together to a fresh food market where she points out different spices, grains, vegetables and oils used in Thai cooking. One thing I learned is that rice is sold not only by the kind (jasmine, sticky, basmati, etc.) but also the age of the rice. That’s right. You can choose from fresh, 1 year old and 2 year old jasmine rice. The fragrance of the jasmine starts to fade overtime so you can get some good deals on the aged rice. Starting at 18 Baht/kilo (about $.30/lb), you get a good deal no matter which rice you buy. We also learned about the pink eggs that apparently smell like horse pee…we took her word on it. And we also saw various sellers making fresh coconut flakes and coconut milk to sell daily.
When we arrived at the farm, they gave us some sweet hats that Thai farmers wear and we headed to the organic garden where they grow turmeric, lemongrass, galangal, morning glory, eggplant, mangoes, and many other roots and greens I can’t remember now. This truly was a “farm to fork” meal and it was great to experience the whole process.
We made 5 dishes in all. I won’t go into detail about each one but I will give you some highlights:
I made a green curry paste and Amber made a red curry. Each one starts with the same base: galangal root, keffir lime skin, shallot, onion, lemongrass, coriander and cumin seeds
The only difference between the red and green curry is that the red curry had dried chilies while the green curry adds kefir lime leaves. Typically, this is why red curries are spicier but you can always add some kick to the green curry! I chose to put a tiny piece of a chili in mine – I can’t take the heat especially by Thai standards!
Making the curry itself involved chopping up those ingredients as small as possible and smashing the hell out of it with a mortal and pestel. This takes a lot of work; hence why it is easier to just buy a curry paste vs. make it from scratch.
Green Curry with Tofu
The transition from the curry paste into a curry dish is fairly straight forward. Here is the gist:
- Put curry paste, coconut milk and tofu in a pot and boil
- Add veggies (we used pumpkin, and eggplant), fish sauce, sugar, water and salt
- Throw in some thai basil at the end
BAM – you’ve got a curry dish. Serve with some steamed rice. I chose to use tofu but you could have easily substituted chicken, beef, fish, pork, etc.
One of the ingredients that you see throughout thai cooking is fish sauce. When I was back in the US, I only used it sparingly and didn’t know what I was doing. But thai cooking – you use that stuff like the french use butter. It smells terrible at first, but adds a lot of flavor to foods, a certain Umami-ness (the 5th taste after bitter, sweet, sour, salty).
Aside: I have been reading Michael Pollin (author of Omnivore’s Dilemma) newer book, Cooked – and it is fantastic. He talks a lot about umami in there as well as the basic tenants of cooked food (fire, water, air, earth) – really good read!
The curry tofu was fantastic (if I so say so myself) with a nice balance of sweet and salty with a slight kick from the chili peppers. The pumpkin also provided a nice texture and flavor.
Who comes to Thailand without learning to make Pad Thai! Here are the ingredients:
- rice noodles
- bean sprouts
- picked radish
- tamarind paste
- fish sauce
- spring onions
- dried shrimp
- chili powder
The instructions seem straightforward for cooking – basically just dump everything into the wok at different times; however, it is definitely an art to know when the tofu has been fried enough, when to add the noodles and the timing of changing the heat from high to medium and back to high. I did an amazing job doing it in the class (once again, if I do say so myself), but I had close supervision by the instructor. She helped to adjust the heat and knowing just the right time to add more fish sauce and when the noodles were done.
I tried recreating Pad Thai in our apartment a few days later while the ingredients and process were fresh in my mind. The dish came out well…but it just wasn’t a true pad thai. The noodles were too sticky, I put too much tofu and the flavors…just weren’t exact. Amber and I still gobbled it up 🙂
In addition to the above two dishes, here were the other things that we learned to cook:
- Coconut soup with galangal
- Fried chicken with cashew nuts
- Papaya salad
- Thai vegetable soup
- Red curry with tofu
- Stir fried big noodles with tofu
- Bananas in coconut milk
- Mango with sticky rice
It was WAY too much food and we couldn’t eat it all but we had lots of leftovers. For those who want a delicious, easy dessert, I recommend the Bananas in coconut milk. Just boil coconut milk, water and bananas in a pot, simmer, enjoy!
Thai Farm Cooking School has a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor and for good reason. The whole day and experience was amazing. We met some great people from Hong Kong, Vancouver and Italy who were incredibly open and friendly. The 4 canadians we met talked Vancouver up so much I am ready to move there! OK maybe at least visit since we have a place to stay now (Thanks Sheila and Lori!) 🙂
I can’t wait to take more cooking classes as we travel. I am especially looking forward to learning the art of chinese dumplings, the intricacies of french cuisines and the brewing process of belgian beers (that counts as food, right?).