Thai Cooking Made Easy! (Well, as experienced in a touristy cooking class…)

Along with cooking we also learned how to carve these carrots out of flowers.  Can you tell which one is Shefali's and which one is mine? (hint: mine looks like it was carved using a knife and not teeth)

Along with cooking we also learned how to carve these carrots out of flowers. Can you tell which one is Shefali’s and which one is mine? (hint: mine looks like it was carved using a knife and not my teeth)

I’m sure if you saw the previous post about pad thai, you’re aware of how highly I regard Thai food, both for its preparation and its dynamic flavors. Also, I’m a fan of employing badly shot vacation video from almost two years ago to give the few lucky readers of this blog an opportunity to savor more Thai food and watch Shefali and I stumble through the preparation of some basic Thai dishes.  You see, the summer before last, before Kaya and her voracious appetite made themselves known – actually, I think Shef was in the early stages of pregnancy with K (aka “The Eater”) – we were fortunate to find ourselves in Chiang Mai, Thailand, recuperating from our trip to India.  Believe me, Northern Thailand is the place to go for relaxing and eating.  As full fledged tourists, we enrolled in a one day cooking class at the Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. Now, I fancy myself as somewhat knowledgeable about food and the way its prepared – Asian food in particular. Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I’m ASIAN? Sheeit! So I didn’t know how much I’d really get out of this class. Well, feed me some humble pie, because I got a whole lot of spicy goodness out of it. It was great!  The recipes were obviously dumbed down for farang students, but what really came through (bubbled up to the surface as it were) was the importance of using the freshest ingredients and cooking things quickly and with the intensity of high eat to seal in flavors. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but some of dishes I cooked in this class, I’d consider among the best Thai food I’ve eaten.  So without further ado, please enjoy these two videos which chronicle both our trip to the market and our cooking class. Please enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2

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The Perfect Pad Thai? Quite Possibly.

About a month ago Shefali, Kaya, and I had the pleasure of spending almost twenty hours on two planes (with one layover) to travel 8,651 miles to Bangkok, exactly twelve hours ahead (timewise), where we would spend four short days before another two and a half hour flight (on one plane) to Hong Kong for another four short days. Then we came home. End of story. Actually no. We went to Bangkok and Hong Kong to spend our winter break with Shefali’s family in Bangkok and my family in Hong Kong. But more on that in a future (possible) post wherein I just talk about all the “first” foods that Kaya ate. Yeah, I’m that dad.

This post is about pad thai, specifically the pad thai found at Luang Pha Pad Thai restaurant in Bangkok. You know, that place on Maha Chai Road, a stone’s throw from the Wat Saket? Yeah that one. Ok, to be honest, we had some insider knowledge. Shefali’s sister  (not Thai) and her husband (Thai) told us about this place a year and a half ago when we visited them. And boy were we appreciative.  The flavor of that pad thai and the simple but elegant way it was prepared were etched into my memory. Plus I took lots of photos.

Shef wants this pad thai and bad... This is from our first trip to Luang Pha.

Shef wants this pad thai and bad… This is from our first trip to Luang Pha.

This small woman is a giant among cooks

This small woman is a giant among cooks

But seriously, watching this diminutive woman wielding this massive wok reminded me of what a pleasure it is to watch someone who is really good at what they do.   Each  gesture and motion is effortless, the perfect expression of thought into action. There is no wasted effort – efficiency epitomized.  Or, maybe it’s because this is her job and she does it everyday. In any case, the results are ridiculously good.  So, this past trip, Shefali and I brought her mom and her sis (and of course Kaya) along to experience quite possibly the perfect pad thai.  Please enjoy some photos and be sure to watch the video above which shows this awesome cook in action.  You might even learn how to cook some real pad thai.  Though good luck finding the shrimp fat oil…

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Turnip Cakes: An exercise in humility

Think of this post as my way of sharing with all of you my humanity, because  despite appearances, I am not perfect.  In fact, I too have my weaknesses, namely: how the hell to properly cook lo bak go (turnip cakes).  I didn’t really document this process very well (or at all since I wasn’t initially intending to post this) because  this was only my second attempt at making this old Cantonese standby and I knew there was a possibility of me mucking it up grandly. So, why you might ask, am I writing this?  Well, basically I just wanted to share with you this awesome video that I watched to guide me on my lo bak go making.   The woman on the video is my new cooking hero because she makes it look so easy, she’s no nonsense and she reminds me of relatives in Hong Kong.  It got me thinking that maybe the best way for me to learn and brush up on a different language (Cantonese in this case) is to watch cooking videos in that language. I found this video through another cooking blog called Apron’s Delight whose turnip cake recipe I used in conjunction with another recipe from cookbook author Grace Young.

Basically, lo bak go are like potato pancakes but instead of potatoes you use grated daikon radish  and you throw in a bunch of savory ingredients like Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and shitake mushrooms.  The tricky part – at least for me – is binding that all together with the right proportion of rice flour, cornstarch and liquid and steaming the mixture so it sets into a solid mass.

My lo bak go ended up tasting pretty good – really, how can something with a bunch of sausage in it taste bad? And while it did set (as opposed to the first time I cooked this) it was a little more dense and pasty.   It didn’t have quite the same light and resilient texture and consistency of the lo bak go I’m used to getting when I go to yum cha (literally drinking tea) – also known as dim sum. [Semantic distinction: yum cha is the act of going to eat the small dishes known as dim sum. Just dropping some Cantonese knowledge, folks.]  Take a look at my lo bak go and compare it to the photos in the links above and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Lo bak go with a healthy does of sriracha. I like them kind of flat and crispy.

There are any number of reason’s why mine didn’t turn as I had hoped.  Perhaps I steamed it for too long (being a little paranoid that it would not set and remain sludge-like as my first lo bak go was, I steamed it for about half an hour longer than recommended).  Maybe I used too much rice flour and or not enough liquid.  It could be that my wok was too small or the lid was not airtight enough to accommodate the casserole dish I used to cook the turnip cake.  I will have to tweak and adjust the next time I cook this – if I ever get a two pound daikon from the CSA.  I guess the moral to the story is not everything you cook will always turn out as great as you hope.  But, if you fry it and smother it in sriricha it’ll probably be pretty good.

[UPDATE]

So, not being able to live with my imperfection, I did a little fiddling last night and I believe I greatly improved the lo bak go.  Basically, I steamed it more.  I transferred it into a more manageable round container and in turn, put that container in a pot whose lid fit snugly on top to trap all the steam.  I steamed it for another hour. I think that did the trick.  The lo bak go reset nicely. The texture is less sludge-like and chalky and more smooth and pudding like.  I think the flour needed to cook longer in an enclosed steamy environment in order to fully meld with the liquid and set.  So, for future reference, don’t use a wok with an ill fitting lid to steam.  Use a proper steamer that closes tightly and locks in that steam.  One step closer to perfection.  Easy.

 

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