Tom Yum, Pad Thai, Red Curry, Oh My!
We enjoy learning to cook new foods, particularly dishes we love eating. Alex gifted us with a Silom Thai Cooking School class at Christmas presenting us with menus from which to choose what we wanted to learn to create. We landed on tom yum soup, seafood pad thai, chicken and red curry, and…wait for it…mango and sticky rice for dessert. Yum. Thai food already ranked high on the list of what we love, and it only climbed higher after being there for a week and enjoying it all at its roots. We couldn’t wait to dig in and learn a few tricks so we could recreate it as much as possible at home.
First order of business was a trip to the market where we got a quick lesson in the various Thai ingredients. We filled our baskets with the needed goods and made our way back to the cooking school.
That last picture is of bunches of cilantro sold with the roots still on as Thais use the whole plant in their cooking. I can’t seem to find that anywhere in my neck of the woods.
And have you ever heard of galangal ginger? Me either. It’s widely used in Thai cooking. In fact, the common ginger we get at our American grocery was tossed aside by our chef and labeled as rarely used. Good news is that I did find the galangal variety upon my return home at my favorite Asian grocery here in Fort Wayne, Grace on East State Blvd. The owner is always so patient with my many inquiries and has a great selection of fresh, dried, and canned goods at reasonable prices. He also runs a Burmese restaurant a few doors from the store called Yathamon Asian Cuisine. In case you’re not aware, Fort Wayne has a very large Burmese population – some say the largest outside of Burma. Here’s a chowhound review highlighting Yathamon and another restaurant. Better start making your travel plans to our fair city.
But I digress to brag a little. Back to Thailand and making something delicious…
We each got a lovely apron to don for the afternoon. I immediately thought of my sister-in-law Becky who would love these and probably sew them up in about 30 minutes. Am I right, Becky?
Tom Yum Soup was our first dish. The main ingredients are lemongrass, kefir lime leaves, and galangal ginger. Here’s the skinny on this one – if you don’t have those three main ingredients, don’t make it. Period. There are none of those creative substitutions that are the norm in my kitchen. And there’s a reason for this cardinal rule – it’s perfection as it is. The ‘magic’ is pictured below. From left to right – lemongrass, ginger, and kefir lime leaves.
Here they are sliced up along with some of the other soup ingredients. The magic pile is on the left and the other ‘fillers’ are alongside – tomatoes, green onions and mushrooms. Feel free to vary those all you want.
There’s also a few sauces seen in those little cups on our trays – fish sauce, a chili paste, and lime juice.
Tom Yum cooking in our individual woks.
The finished product.
Enjoying our soup.
Interesting side note: those magic, must-have ingredients are not actually eaten, but are rather just for tastiness. Here’s the post-eaten view of Tom Yum with them pushed aside.
Every time we went back into the preparation room, the mat was set up for our use. This setup is for basic prep of tamarind paste (used to make the red curry mixture) and coconut milk. Joel was in charge of squeezing the tamarind in hot water until a thick paste formed. Then it was strained leaving the fibrous pieces behind.
When do I get a job?
Now! It’s time to squeeze out the shredded coconut to make our milk that will be added to every dish we ate. So interesting to learn and the gratitude level skyrocketed for those convenient cans of coconut milk purchased at the grocery.
The next time we entered the prep area, the mat looked like this.
Breathtaking. A perfect example of how the process is as beautiful and enriching as the end product.
I wish you could smell the herbs and spices!
So a whole bunch of those spices came together to make the red curry paste we used. It was fascinating to see what makes the contents of those little cans purchased at the grocery. There’s a lot of mixing in the mortar and pestle.
Then a bit more chopping and ready for the wok.
This actually gets boiled for quite some time, melding the flavors and evaporating the liquid.
Another view of our woks simmering red curry, our chef, and the apartment across the alley with all of its laundry glory on display.
Time to dish up and eat!
Not done yet! Next is pad thai – Joel’s all-time favorite dish. The ingredients ready to go.
Stir fried all together with some rice noodles added at the end and you have the finished product below with side toppings of chilies, chopped peanuts, lime , sugar and bamboo shoots. Joel was in his happy place for sure.
Somewhere in there we made fish cakes. Here Alex and I are forming the patties that are then dropped into the hot oil.
The sous chefs completed the deep frying for us so these magically appeared for nibbling.
Last but certainly not least, mango and sticky rice! Sticky rice is made from a form of rice that has more gluten in it than basic white rice. First it’s rinsed several times until the runoff isn’t cloudy. Then it’s soaked in water for several hours or overnight in much the same way as dried beans are prepped. Then it gets steamed, not boiled and simmered. Here it is steaming while we went about the business of making other dishes.
I found both the rice and the steaming basket at a local grocery and have made this successfully since returning home. Hooray! This rice is the same as what we ate in the northern part of Thailand by rolling it into balls and popping it into our mouths. For dessert though, it’s mixed with palm sugar and coconut milk then served with sliced mango. Honestly one of the best combos ever.
Last photo is of our whole group doing the obligatory Thai hat cooking class pose. From left to right – a couple from Manchester, England; two friends from South Korea; the three of us; and a father and son from Singapore. Food is a universal language, yes?
A day trip to Ayutthaya is next.