Tuesday, March 06, 2007 Thailand Thailand

Thai cookery course

Ingredients for Thai cookery course [Enlarge]

There was one last thing that we wanted to do before leaving Thailand. We both love Thai food, but have never successfully made an authentic tasting dish at home despite numerous efforts—so we fancied taking a cookery class. No matter where you are in Thailand you are never far from a Thai Cookery School. Based on website and price we chose the Silom Thai Cooking School, and phoned on the off chance that they had space for us the very next day. They did, and when the proprietor Sanusi ('Nusi') picked us up from the hotel the next morning, we discovered we were the only students that day. He'd been full the day before, but we were about to get a private lesson, which meant that we could choose our own menu! In the taxi to the market, Nusi asked us what we wanted to make. Glenn said that learning about curries and soups would be a bonus, but personally he would be happy just to learn the secrets of his favourite Thai dessert (which he didn't know the name of, or even what was in it). He could only describe it: crunchy red balls with a slimy coating, in warm coconut milk. [Trust me, it's delicious!—Glenn.]

We stopped at the local market and Nusi led us through the various stalls, telling us all about the fresh produce on offer and dropping things into our baskets. He identified some of the hitherto unknown vegetables that we had previously seen in our Thai dishes. For instance, did you know that those crunchy green things like large peas which float in your green curry are actually aubergines (US: eggplants)?!

Fully stocked up and ready to go, it was a short walk back to Nusi's house, where he has a large open-air kitchen. We put on aprons and set to work thoroughly washing the vegetables and herbs we had bought. Then we sat down on the floor in another room where a huge heavy pestle and mortar, and two chopping boards and knives had been set out. Nusi showed us the ingredients needed for our first dish, tom kha gai, a spicy coconut-milk soup with chicken. We chopped and crushed our ingredients and then moved to the cooking area where coconut milk was already warming in a wok. All we had to do was to add the ingredients and simmer gently until the chicken was cooked right through. It was dead easy, even for Can't Cook Won't Cook Glenn, and the effort was all in the preparation. One of the ingredients was super-hot bird's eye chillies, and Nusi told us to add a whole chilli (per bowl of soup) if we liked it spicy, or half if we liked it milder. After nearly two months of eating first Indian curries and then the arguably even hotter Thai dishes, we thought we'd be daring, so we added about three quarters of a chilli each. The next four courses were the perennial favourite chicken with cashew nuts; then a salad with glass noodles; fish cakes with sweet chilli sauce; and finally green chicken curry. All of the above would work just as well with pork or beef, but presumably it was easier for Nusi to just have one type of meat on hand when there were just the two of us.

The best bit of course was the tasting and after every course we got to sit down and eat the product of our labours. So what was the result of the taste test on our three-quarter chilli tom kha gai? It was very nice, but it made us cry and break out in a sweat. Nusi's response was to say that most Thai people would have used around ten chillies if they'd been cooking for themselves. Pathetic Europeans.

The highlight of Glenn's day was undoubtedly learning how to make his dessert of red rubies (that's the proper term) in coconut milk. This is a dessert he's had in the UK as well as on this trip, but has never been able to identify what the rubies are. It consists of warm, sweet coconut milk and small red lumps. These are crisp in the middle, with the look and texture of watermelon, but they are gelatinous on the outside. We have always presumed that it must be some kind of melon or pomegranate that goes gelatinous when partially cooked in coconut milk. But now we know that the crispy lumps are diced water chestnut or turnip (!) soaked for twenty minutes in water with a little red food colouring. They are then drained and coated in tapioca flour before being added to a wok containing boiling water. The tapioca flour makes them go gelatinous on the outside. When they're cooked they float to the surface of the water, and you just scoop them out.

Incidentally, we asked Nusi what he thought the green caterpillars were, floating in the dessert at our Northern Thailand lunch buffet. He was sure they had simply been tapioca shapes.

Glenn wasn't all that bothered about coming along today because he hates cooking normally, but in the end he was glad he came. We both really enjoyed it. We can't wait to put our new skills into practice when we come home.


Hamster said...

Don't know if you've seen this already but if not Yu might be interested in this website.
It's got about 30 recipes each one with a cooking video to go along
Good if you like to try cooking Thai food at home

Glenn Livett said...

Thanks hamster, we'll check it out. Sorry for taking so long to notice your comment - Blogger's email notifications have stopped working for us.