A love affair with green curry

I came for the pad thai but I left with an abiding love of green curry. My day with “A Lot of Thai” was exactly that – six dishes later, the only thing I could possibly be expected to do with my evening was get an $8 Thai massage.

I flew in from Kuala Lumpur this morning and was whisked off straight to class with the ebullient teacher / owner Yui and a friendly class of eight others. We started with the classic pad thai. The key with any stir fry is to have all of your ingredients, including any sauce mixtures, prepped in advance, because once you turn the wok on, things move fast. We timed ourselves cooking, and the entire dish literally took 90 seconds on the stove. The cooking itself was actually pretty similar to how I made char kway teow in Penang, just with different ingredients. The sweet-salty flavor in pad thai comes from a combination of fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind puree, sugar, and dried shrimp.

Assembling ingredients for pad thai: rice noodles, garlic, shallot, preserved daikon, spring onions, egg, chicken, bean sprouts, and tofu

Adding a fried egg to the stir fried noodles

Sweet and salty pad thai, smothered with crushed peanuts and chili powder

Next up was tom yam kung, which is a hot and sour prawn soup. The dominant flavors in this tangy and refreshing clear soup are a mixture of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and fish sauce.

Tangy tom yam soup

Our last dish before the midday break was green curry. Green curry paste is the key to this dish and is made by mashing together a whole bunch of different spices: chili, peppercorn, coriander seeds and root, cumin, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime peel, shrimp paste, shallots, garlic, and a touch of turmeric to bring out the color. Clearly this is something to make in bulk and freeze, because the rest of the dish is pretty straightforward. The curry sauce is made by boiling coconut cream with the green spice paste and thai basil leaves and then adding in whatever vegetables and protein you want in the dish – in our case, we used eggplant and chicken. The result was a complex series of tastes in each bite – first creamy, then slightly sweet, a little salty, and finally a kick of spice in the back of my throat. It was absolutely delicious.

Ingredients for green curry (with the paste already made)

Stages of boiling coconut milk and mixing it with curry paste

We took a break in the middle of the day to head to the market and learn more about the Thai fruits, vegetables, and spices we’d been using all morning. Also to build back up an appetite for an afternoon of more cooking.

Colorful Thai market

Prepared foods at the market, including roasted fish on skewers

Beautiful vegetables that make you want to eat your greens

The first afternoon dish we tackled was stir fried chicken with cashews or gai pad med ma muang him ma pan. That is a seriously long name for a pretty simple dish. We stir fried a mixture of chicken, garlic, onions, chili, spring onions and cashew nuts with a sauce made from sugar, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce. The result with salty and flavorful and tasted different from the pad thai, despite using many of the same ingredients.

Ingredients for cashew chicken, including garlic, spring onion, chili, and onion

Stir fried cashew chicken

Next it was time to flex our fine motor skills – or lack thereof, in my case. Spring rolls were on deck. The first order of business was to prepare a filling by stir frying glass noodles with soy sauce and julienned vegetables – any veggies that keep their shape and don’t get too soggy will work. We used bean sprouts, carrots, cabbage and minced chicken. Next it was time to wrap and roll. You basically fold the diamond shaped piece of paper-thin wheat dough like an envelope, deep fry it in sizzling oil, and keep your fingers crossed that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart in the wok. Mine were mostly a success – despite being totally different sizes, the result was crispy, crunchy, and delicious.

Filling for spring rolls, including glass noodles and vegetables

Golden wok fried spring rolls, one with the smooth part of the wrapper on the outside, and one with the rough part on the outside

And dessert – always save the best for last. We made mango sticky rice or kao niew ma muang. My husband is allergic to mango so I have serious mango deprivation in my life and I love that sweet, sticky, sunset orange fruit. Who knew that sticky rice with sweet-salty coconut cream sauce could make mango even better? I love how effectively Asian desserts often mix sweet and salty so that you finish a meal with a complex set of flavors dancing around your tastebuds, rather than leaving a meal in a complete sugar coma as I so often do with Western cakes and pies. Not that that stops me from eating them, I’m just saying.

Steamed sticky rice with coconut cream sauce

Sweet salty delicious mango sticky rice

It was a lovely day of eating and cooking at Yui’s home and she was a friendly and gracious host, constantly sharing tips for how to cook more successfully and consciously. Obviously I will be attempting these dishes at home but I think I am going to need a Thai themed week once I go to all the effort to acquire the many different ingredients needed. I suspect I will also have a Thai themed freezer for a while too, since apparently most of the raw ingredients freeze well.

Additional information:
A Lot of Thai
165 Soi 9 Chiangmai – Lampoon Rd.
T.Nonghoi Muang Chiangmai 50000 Thailand
Tel. (66)89-9544930, (66)898539680
E-mail : alotofthai@gmail.com
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