Monday, 14 May 2012

Thai cooking school in Chang Mai

Thai Green Curry and Mango Sticky rice.

Thai cottage cooking school Menu:
Coconut tofu soup
Pad Thai
Papaya salad
Fried bananas
Green Thai curry
Mango sticky rice
Banana in coconut milk

We hadn't planned our 3 days in Chang Mai, so on our first full day asked our hostel for advice on cooking schools and hoped to book it (only 8.30 at this point) The well informed French guy on reception told us the cheapest one going was actually really good, as they had just returned to Chang Mai. More importantly he could book the 3* of us on for today!
 *Lee and I had met a lovely San Fran girl called Alex on our horrific bus ride from Loas and she was staying nearby.

We grabbed a quick coffee and a few minutes later out lovely teacher Kat was waiting for us with cute wooden baskets for our groceries.

We didn't have to go far, as the main market that all the cooking schools use was on our street. Great place for cheap all fruit smoothies too! After an introduction to all the vegetables, herbs and spices we would be using, we left the Market for the kitchen. Kat had asked before shopping if we had any dietary needs, Alex didn't but I mentioned being vegan and Lee a wheat-free vegetarian. Surprisingly this didn't faze her at all. We were lucky in that we had the class to ourselves!

We picked out which dishes we wanted with 3 options from 5 course. When it came to curry we each chose a different option,  green, red, yellow so we could learn 3 dishes instead of 1.

 My first dish tofu coconut soup is definitely something I would cook at home. It was so quick, a few minutes prep and a few minutes to cook.  Prep 4 sets of ingredients, tofu, the spices, the veg, the herb garnish. And the base coconut milk with soya for salt.

Second dish was equally as easy Pad Thai, in England we just call it stir fry, very unspecific. Being my first real day in Thailand I hadn't tried these dishes which Alex knew and loved. It was simply tofu, garlic, bean sprouts, onion, rice noodles and mushroom sauce topped with peanuts and chilli flakes. Lee used egg in his too, and made a great quick gluten free meal.

Cute aprons offset the huge knifes.
The 3rd dish was Papaya salad, another of Alex's favourite that I would have been scared to try fearing the fish sauce lurking in there.  This dish sounds confusing because we only eat sweet papaya, but here we used a light green crunchy unripe papaya, along with raw long green beans. Very good for upping your raw veg intake, as it consists of shredded veg, like a tangy, juicy Thai coleslaw. Another quick dish, made in a mortar, you pound the veg lightly with the sauce and serve. The key flavours are lime, Chilli and palm sugar.

While I made this Lee made crunchy fried bananas, made with banana coated in a rice flour mix with sugar and black sesame seeds. Then shallow fried till golden brown.

Me, Alex and Lee making our Curries

At this point we were getting a little full, luckily our 4th dish the main event took some prepping. Making our own curry paste!!! I made green curry my favourite Thai dish, though sometimes it's so hot it blows my head off.  My favourite dish at Wagamama back home is their Thai fusion dish of coconut soup with rice noodles. But I've never been able to create anything remotely as good, total Thai novice.
 After many minutes chopping, mincing and pounding we eventually had a smooth bright green ball of fiery deliciousness!  When it came to making the curry we only used a teaspoon of the ice-cream scoop ball we had made, adding veggies and watered down coconut milk and adjusting to taste.  Lee made yellow curry and Alex red. We had a traffic light set. Alex didn't use any chicken or fish in her curry, so we all got a share at tasting each!

 Last but not least, the dessert!  And of course sweet toothed Lee's favourite. I made the popular Mango Sticky Rice, he made the tradition banana in coconut milk. Surprisingly hard to find restaurant that serve it despite - we found out - many Thai's loving the dish.  Both very simple, I suggest everyone giving it a go.

When I get back I will cook and post exact recipes. The mango sticky rice, use cooked and cooled sticky rice. Savoury sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf is very popular lunch and dinner in Laos and Thailand. In a pan or wok heat thinned coconut milk, sugar and salt (none of us initially agreed with this idea but tasting before and after the salt really brings out the flavour of coconut). Add rice and heat till thick for a minute or two and serve along side sliced ripe mango!
The Thai version of rice pudding and best of all naturally vegan!

For the Banana in coconut milk, buy a green banana (not a plantain) and boil till the skin goes black, then one cooled peel and chop and add to the warmed coconut milk. The firm not too sweet banana really makes a difference, mushy banana would make this feel like baby food and too sweet.

Kat was brilliant at telling each of us what we should be doing at each stage, even when we made 3 different dishes with our vegetarian substitutes.

Lee, Alex, Kat and myself
What I learned from this is Thai food can be great for vegans and gluten free. They are very adaptable cooks and unlike some chefs, very open to customising dishes.
Sorry my recipes aren't more detailed but I plan to cook all these dishes when I get home to check the quantities and available ingredients. Such as holy Thai basil, galangal, fresh turmeric root and the pea shaped aubergines.
 If eating in Thailand watch out for fish sauce, oyster sauce and dried baby shrimp Yuk!

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