Get To School

Over the years I have taken my fair share of classes. I’ve taken mandatory classes, extracurricular classes, and once even an extra class during college. I’ll go so far as to say that I’m an experienced class taker, but I’ve never ventured into the realm of cooking classes.  That statement isn’t counting the Home Economics class in sixth grade I took, learning how to sew a pillow together and bake a cookie or two, and I’ll say rightfully so.

But during our stay, vacation, sprint across Thailand, LZ and I decided to take a cooking class, hopefully learning how to flip the pan just right for the perfect crispiness in Pad Thai, or how to roll the Spring Roll with ease and perfection, or simply how to make Mango Sticky Rice taste so undeniably good. We signed up at a tourism office (E-gads! A tourism office? Me in a touristy place? Done and done) and were promptly picked up the next morning at eight in the morning.

Hello? Receipt? Back of the truck, we’re off to the market.

And there we were, by nine in the morning, when I would normally be sipping French Pressed coffee sent (oh-so-kindly) from home, staring at vats of rice, mounds of fruit, and chains of meat hanging from bars overhead. The joys of the market were dutifully and thoroughly explained to us by our guide (a guide? So much tourism!) as she winded from starches to sauces back to fruits and told us the importance of a good ingredient.  That’s why they stocked up at markets, and not stores, and tried to supplement most of their purchases with goods from their own Organic Garden.

We had fifteen minutes to run around the market exploring different sights, smells, ands tastes if we saw fit. LZ and I? Did we try to exotic fruits or maybe a deep friend seafood thing that sat tempting us? Nope, we hopped on addiction avenue and headed straight for Thai Tea.

After our fifteen minutes of Thai farmers market fame, we hopped back into the truck and headed an hour outside of Chiang Mai to the cooking school slash organic garden. This is where the class truly began.

First was our introduction to the school grounds and classroom by means of a quick tour of the garden to explain the difference between basil, Thai basil, limes, Papayas (ripe and not ripe for appropriate recipes) lead us to the classrooms: One being an outdoor picnic table under a thatched canopy over a pond (complete with lily pads) set up with mortar and pestle. The other classroom was an open-air kitchen arranged in a “U” shape with roughly ten stoves. Finally, we were given our syllabus and set out to conquer.

Next, an address of our syllabus: Green Curry from the chilies to the paste to the tofu dish sitting on my table for lunch, followed by Tom Kaa Goong, a mildly spicy soup filled to the brim with shrimp and fresh flavors, a fresh, light, sweet and not as spicy Sam Tam, and thai sticky rice finished out the three-course meal we’d be preparing for lunch.

The teacher never barked at us like those on 1950’s movies, nor did she yell or get upset. Instead she kindly came around explaining to each and every one of us what the ingredients were, why they were used, and how we should probably turn down the heat because we were about to burn the dish. It was an interesting concept: taking a class on how to cook when your food was cooking right in front of you, but I guess this is hands on learning at it’s best. We tested our limits by putting a little more coriander in the mortar than she had suggested to see if she would comment on the aroma. We added a few more chillies to test our own limits, but generally stayed in line, because we all knew how to cook food, but not how to cook this food. Plus, she had done this for a while, so we all trusted her, and tried to laugh at her well-timed and overly rehearsed jokes. It was quaint.

Around noon thirty, the lunch bell, if this had been public elementary school, rang and we were in for a treat: our own treats.

This was no cafeteria lunch, if I say so myself. The curry was a balance of coconuty smoothness and chili heat spotted with exceedingly fresh vegetables. The soup was light but deep with lime, chili, and lemon grass all dancing under the red liquid surface. These savory dishes played well against the crisp, sweet, and spicy papaya salad.  All were soaked up and devoured with the sticky rice that had steamed since we arrived.

After lunch, and an hour to peruse the grounds (see: recess), our animated guide turned teacher asked “Are we ready to eat more?” Obviously, since hunger was never an issue in Thailand, we were.

A staple in most US-baed Thai Restaurants was up next: Pad See-Ew. Thick and savory, this dish was quick to prepare needing only a few ingredients and about three minutes over the heat and was balanced out by the fresh and sweet Mango Sticky Rice which took even less time. Fresh mango accompanying coconut creamed sticky rice and sugar. How simple. How sweet. How ambrosia-like. LZ also made some spring rolls. Not too shabby, my friend. We didn’t get to eat those at the class, rather they became our after-school snack, packed up in plastic bags as if goldfish coming home from the pet-store.

Needless to say, the day was bursting with recipes and new techniques. Not only was it education, filling, and inspiring, I was also extremely happy to play around with a huge wok, and to deal with the ingredients that I wouldn’t in Korea (or America, for that matter) like lemon grass, galagal cilantro, and limes. The chili paste and fresh peppers were also nice to have at my arm’s reach.  If I were you, and had some of these ingredients at my disposal, I would hop on this recipe. I mean, it’s Thai green curry, at your fingertips!

Green Curry Paste

Place 1/2 tsp roasted cumin seeds, roasted coriander seeds, and salt into a motar and start to pestle them. Then..

Place 2 green chillies, 1 shallot, 1tsp chopped galangal, 1/2 tsp chopped kaffic lime rind, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp lemongrass, 1tbsp Thai ginseng into a mortar one by one and pestle them up as you go.

By the end, you’ll have a liquid-y curry paste. Remember you have to pestle through garlic and chillies… they get juicy!

With this curry paste, you can add it to about 2/3 cup (or more, depending on your tastes) of coconut milk over low heat and have a bonafide curry. Add eggplant, onion, basil, water, and other vegetables at your disposal. I might even throw in some sugar (just a pinch) or some soy sauce to give it a little more depth.

Have at it, adventurers.

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