Today was Baan Thai cooking class day. I was ready and alert for my 9:30 pick up. We settled in to our new surroundings and in no time were whisked off to a local food market which was brimming with fresh fruit, veg, rices, meats and fish. The market experience was actually really useful as we had explained what all the different types of fruit and veg and spices were. Now I need not fear whilst walking in a Thai market - previously the sheer array and my complete unfamiliarity with most fruits and veg's on sale put me off buying or trying anything. Our market guide gently guided us through the weird and wonderful. After samplings some of the exotic fruit from the market, which isn't exotic or expensive at al to the locals (ie dragon fruit, mango (Jez!) and tonnes more) we were allowed to pick which meals we fancied making. I opted for:
1. Tom Yum soup, a kind of hot and sour Northern Thai speciality. You could whose how spicy you wanted it by adjusting the chilli ratio from 1-5, I went for a very boring 3.
2. Spring rolls - a piece of cake, 2 mins to prepare and 30 seconds to cook.
3. Deep fried banana. Tasted a lot better than I had thought.
4. Pad Thai (had to!) which is all cooked in the same wok, meat, then veges and spices, then an egg, then the noodahhhhhhhh.
5. Thai Green Curry. From scratch, involved a lot of chopping and then some pestle and mortar action which can easily be replaced by a food processor back home. Basically you bash up the finely chopped herbs and spices to replease the moisture and make a paste. You can then refrigerate or freeze some of the green curry paste (it's a bit of a faff to make so it makes sense to prepare large batches of it). Once the light oil is hot you throw in the meat, then the spices, then the vegies and add coconut milk to taste, altering the taste to your palate with fish sauce (usually 1 tbsp per portion) and then 1tsp of sugar to balance out the flavours.
The secrets to Thai cooking are threefold:
1. Balance of flavour - using fish sauce(usually 1tbsp), sugar (1tsp) chillies (to taste) and coconut milk (to taste) to even out the flavours of a dish to your personal palate.
2. Use fresh ingredients - Thailand is blessed with the sort of climate and soils to grow fruit and veg in glorious abundance. Herbs and spices are in ample supply and it is the use of such fresh ingredients that really sets the dish apart. They have multiple types of ginger, all of which are used in different dishes for example and are generally more delicate/subtle in flavour than the English ginger. They have different garlic too (smaller cloves and less tough skins) and just lob in the whole lot in, skins an all. Kafir leaves are used extensively (a citrus flavour somewhere inbetween a lime and a lemon). The Thais have multiple versions of aubergines, from large european ones to tiny pea sized ones that are more decorative than edible.
3. Chop things very fine - to make a green curry paste for example requires some serious chopping time of lemon grass, chillies and so one. Then the powder is ground down quite vigorously in a pestle and mortar into a paste as the grinding action releases moisture from the plants.
Another thing I should note is that not all things that you find in a Thai curry are supposed to be eaten. The tough basil leaves for instance are just for flavour as are the baby aubergines which are pea-shape in appearance are not for human consumption but the Thai's don't tell you this when they serve it up and must think all farang are odd for eating the inedible, meanwhile we politely eat the lot. Ofcourse some people don't know this and wolf the lot, which is fine too.
Felt rather soporific, had an early night as a result.