Where to begin…I’m a novice cook at best, and Trent’s specialty is scrambled eggs and bacon, which is awesome don’t get me wrong, so taking a Thai cooking class could have been intimidating for us. Except that three weeks in to our 6 month adventure abroad, we knew that the Thai people are so kind and funny that taking a cooking class would be nothing but F-U-N (and obviously delicious)!
I researched a bunch of different cooking schools and we ended up selecting Thai Farm Cooking School. Why? Because it was on a farm! Duh! It was a little pricier than some of the others (1,400 baht or about $42 each) but it promised all organic ingredients and a beautiful open-air kitchen on the farm.
Me in a farmer’s hat and our instructor, Ae
Our chef/teacher, Ae (pronounced Ay-ye), picked us up at our condo and we were off with nine other students to the local market to learn about the fresh ingredients we would be using that day. We also had some time to wander around. It was a Thai-style farmers market and it was awesome!
Red, yellow and green curry pastes for sale at the market. We would be making ours fresh with mortar and pestle. Our challenge would be to make ours that smooth. Our three sauces for the day: fish sauce, oyster sauce and soy sauce. So many types of rice. Sticky rice is the preferred rice of northern Thailand.
Ae explained that the farm on which the school stands is more like a family farm than a commercial farm. No pesticides are used and instead of planting just one or two crops to maximize profit, everything grows together all mixed up. There were spices and herbs like turmeric, coriander, and basil as well as vegetables like Thai eggplants, beans and peppers.
I loved her explanation about how this way of planting naturally deters bugs by 80 percent. When only one crop is planted, bugs that eat that crop can easily find it because the smell is so strong. But when crops are planted together, the insects get confused because the scent is faint for any one crop. I’m quite sure there is a life lesson in there about diversity.
Ae showed us around the garden/farm and let us pick and taste each of the main spices and ingredients that we would be using that day. Really incredible to learn about our food in such a personal and intimate way. And this is where Trent earned his all-day nickname of Sexy Pepper because he was the only one who would bite into one! Apparently the spicier your chili, the spicier are you!
Kaffir limes are used for their rind and their leaves, but the juice inside is too bitter. The limes we use back home are just the opposite.Finger root or Thai ginseng, but it is also known to be good for memory and as the all natural Viagra.Turmeric. We ground this in our curry paste to get the yellow color.Chili peppers for our soups and curries, well, really for everything!Trent was the only one brave enough to take a bite (or two) of a birds eye chili. Of course, he said it was not too hot, earning him the nickname Sexy Pepper. I touched my tongue to it and it burned for many minutes!Lemongrass. We had this in a hot tea with hot basil, as well as in several of our dishes. Also a natural mosquito repellent.Ae teaching us how to say long bean in Thai since the wrong pronunciation can sound like an offensive English phrase – Tua fak yao.Remnants of our nibbling in the garden. My favorite was the Thai eggplant, which is the large round one cut into cubes. So mildly sweet!
The Six-Course Menu
We had the choice of a soup dish and a curry dish to our liking (Trent and I chose different options so we could try more new things), and then everyone made four dishes the same. While we were cooking, Ae told us that as long as we didn’t burn it, then we were doing it just fine. Except when we got to the spring rolls, she said ” you are what you roll, so get it right!”
Tom Kaa soup with chicken (Rana) – A mildly spicy coconut soup with chicken and oyster mushrooms.
Tom Yam soup with shrimp (Trent) – So delicious! Spicy, sweet and sour all at once!
We made our curry paste from scratch. I chose a red curry and Trent a yellow. Red curry with tofu (Rana)
Yellow curry with chicken (Trent)
Cashew chicken with jasmine and red rice, which was our favorite!
Spring rolls with tofu and garlic and chili dipping sauce, another favorite! You are what you roll according to Ae! And she said mine were “perfect” so just sayin’…
Mango sticky rice – the rice was made blue by boiling a blue flower with the coconut milk and then mixing it in. Sprinkled with rice krispies and sesame seeds…
It was a perfect day, and a great way to learn about Thai cooking and Thai culture. The food is simple and fresh, and I’m fairly confident I can make it at home now, or maybe open a Thai restaurant…