Mastering the Art of Thai Cooking

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Thailand was that I’ve always been enchanted by the food. Thai food is a delicate blend of tangy coconut milk, sweet palm sugar, sharp kaffir lime leaves, gently cooked fresh vegetables, and the hot ‘pow’ of chili pepper. The right chicken satay or spicy green curry will change your life. Needless to say, I found it perfectly appropriate to plan a vacation based on what I’d like to eat most; so, our trip to Thailand was born. (Psssst – that means another trip to the deep South is next. You didn’t think I’d lose all this weight and then not gain it back, right?! Kidding… kidding!)

Pad See Ew - Wide noodles with egg, chicken, carrots, chinese Kale, broccoli and chili.

Pad See Ew – Wide noodles with egg, chicken, carrots, chinese Kale, broccoli and chili.

I knew that I absolutely had to take a cooking class while in Thailand, and even contemplated a thai cooking retreat, where I’d spend three or four days studying under a master chef. (Yes, my fantasy of being on Iron Chef might have something to do with this.) We decided a one day course was much more reasonable, and ended up with Ann at Asia Scenic Cooking School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We opted to do the Organic Farm tour for several reasons – I love knowing where my food comes from, I’m a big nerd for gardening, and I was totally down to gorge myself on tasty thai while relaxing around a beautiful farm.

Vegetables in a Thai market

Vegetables in a Thai market

We started out with a trip to a local market, where Ann showed us common Thai ingredients and how to choose the right amount, type and texture. I loved seeing the rows and rows of vegetables stacked high and the giant bins of rice, from kinds marked “broken” that the Thai feed their pets, to expensive and exotic black grain rice. One of my favorite details was seeing a wild dog sneak up on the meat vendor and try to grab a piece of tripe off the table. The vendor responded (with experience, I’m sure) by flinging a handful of ice cubes at the dog’s back. It wasn’t cruel, but more of one of those, “Oh, just another day at the market” type things that gave me a laugh.

A running jewess and a double chin walk into a bar...

A running jewess and a double chin walk into a bar…

While we listened to Ann talk about Galangal, the Thai pink ginger, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Assuming it was my husband, I swiveled around into a familiar face. “I love your blog!” she said. My mouth dropped open. What? Blog? Thailand? Huh? A stream of discombobulated thoughts ran through my head and then I put it together – it was Michelle from the Running Jewess, whom I had met at Fitbloggin’ several months earlier! The world is truly a small, small place. When Matt and I backpacked Europe straight out of high school, we ran into two of our friends at Stonehenge, and then again at the Louvre. The fact that I ran into Michelle at a tiny, local market in some random part of Thailand blows my mind. We met up later for dinner and drinks and had a grand time discussing the great idiosyncracies of Thai culture.

Thai Long Gourd

Thai Long Gourd

After the market, we headed to the farm where we learned about which plants grow well in Thailand and how to harvest them. One of my favorites was the thai long gourd, which is almost like a type of cucumber. Can you imagine growing these suckers? I think I’d make the neighborhood kids play baseball with them!

After the farm tour, it was time to cook! We suited up on our stylin’ pink aprons and got to work. I chose to make spring rolls, tom ka gha (coconut soup), green curry, pad see ew, and banana in coconut milk. Coconut soup has always been my unicorn of thai cooking – something mystical and mysterious. But, I think I can safely say I’ve mastered it, and the secret is something some Americans might not like – fish sauce. That’s right – stinky, salty fish sauce – essentially anchovy juice. YUM! But hey – it tastes delicious.

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It was fun deep frying the spring rolls because anytime you mix Americans and explosives, things get wild. As the pans bubbled with oil, you could hear the hoots around the table as we all watched our spring rolls bloom from bloated burritos to crispy, golden rolls of goodness. They were actually really simple to make, once you get the hang of folding them. (Think envelope, not burrito!)

We rocked the spring roll frying.

We rocked the spring roll frying.

The item that I had the most difficulty making was green curry. Green curry is the spiciest of all thai curries, because it uses fresh and not dried chilies. We made our own curry paste by pounding chili, coriander, pepper, turmeric and galangal in a mortar and pestle. You have to really pound the pestle up and down to get everything smooth – it’s quite a bit of energy. Our funny teacher Ann asked the class why a thai wife who can make curry paste well is a good wife. Can you figure out why? (Not surprisingly, I was the first person to blurt out the answer. Aren’t you proud, Mom?) Not only was the chili paste a pain to make, but getting the ratio of coconut milk to fish sauce was tough, as there’s no “exact” measurement for either. It all relies on taste, and as someone who prefers my fish red and gummy, I was scared to go all trout-y on my curry. I proceeded with caution and was rewarded with a “delicious!” by the teacher, who then winked and said I was a “good Thai wife.” (PS – The Thai say, “more spicy, more sexy.” So if you want to learn to be a good Thai wife too, just eat some curry.)

Pounding chilies. Image borrowed from eHow.com.

We sampled our meals as we went, and by the time we deep fried our spring rolls, my belly was protesting. We saved the last three courses for the grand feast and eventually sat down with curry, coconut soup and dessert. I wasn’t crazy about the dessert I made, stewed bananas in coconut milk, but Matt rocked my world with homemade mango sticky rice. It was delicccccious. This was one of my favorite days in Thailand, because it combined tons of things I love – food, cooking, gardening, nature, shopping, my husband and lots of chatting. We met people from Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Australia, and by the time we got to the “good wife” jokes, everyone was feeling relaxed and in vacay bliss.

A happy and full Asia Scenic cooking class

A happy and full Asia Scenic cooking class

Now! It wouldn’t be fair to share this experience without sharing it with some of you. I came armed from Thailand with an Asia Scenic cook book, so I’m going to share one of the recipes with you. Please vote for which recipe you’d like to learn, and I’ll re-create it on the blog next week, even with substitution ingredients if you can’t find certain things in your local market. Have an amazing weekend – and let’s get cookin’!

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Thailand 20 Tuesday – Week 2 Weigh In

Hi everybody! Well – it had to happen, and while I was hoping it would have happened LATER, my second Thailand 20 Tuesday is a loss of 0 pounds. I’m exactly, to the .2, the same weight I was last week. This isn’t ideal BUT it’s better than yesterday’s weigh in, which was UP 2.2 pounds! After I got over my hissyfit, I did some reflection and here’s what I came up with:

Sweaty!

1) I exercised, but not as much as week one. To keep consistently losing, I’ve noticed with the help of this blog I need to be doing at LEAST 30 minutes of cardio, four to five times a week plus other activity. Gotta do more! A workout I plan to do again this week is an hour of crazy high-impact Zumba (I sweat so much. It’s kind of gross, but hey, sweat is just your fat crying.) This is me after Sunday’s zumba class.

2) I did okay with food this week, but not as good as week one. I still tracked everything on MyFitnessPal, but I had a couple moments of weakness like when Matt’s parents were in town and the delicious basket of hot, fried tortilla chips was placed in front of me. Everything in my willpower just goes “POOF” and I’m like…

3) I should know better not to eat a salt bomb a couple days before weigh in. On Sunday, I made this yummy but CRAZY salty Dirty Rice Soup that I adapted from Everyday Food Mag. It called for 4 teaspoons of cajun seasoning and five cans of chicken broth. Even after I diluted with 4 cups of water, it was still sodium-centric. It was yummy though, but I can only imagine how much salt is swirling around my body, still! Is anyone interested in the recipe? If I post it up I’ll make it lighter on the sodium!

Dirty Rice Soup

So – a couple of key learnings this week. There is no room for small error… It’s gotta be, unfortunately, 99% on all the time. So – next week hopefully I can report some better news, but I won’t let this break me for week three. If anything, maybe next week will be a GIANT loss! I can be hopeful, right? How did your week go?