I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and love experiencing different cultures through the lens of their cuisine. So having lived in Thailand for 18 months, I thought it was time to learn more about the fundamentals of cooking Thai food, and went along to a half day cooking class at Baipai cooking school in Bangkok. Baipai was a wonderful school set in an old Thai teak house, with open air kitchens and lots of large fans. The kitchens overlooked beautiful gardens and ponds, and were well set up with large demonstration areas where students could sit on stools and watch the Thai chef prepare each dish, as well as individual cooking stations for each student.
Thai cooking involves four key flavours: sweet, spicy, sour and salty. For the sweet flavour – the recommended ingredients were palm sugar for curries, or white sugar in dishes such as soups/noodles. The spicy we used several kinds of fresh chilies and chili paste. The salty came from fish sauce and soy sauce. The sour ingredient we used was fresh lime juice, but for noodle dishes, white rice vinegar is used to add sour flavour. Tamarind is also used to add sourness to some Thai dishes, such as Pad Thai noodles.
The first part of the class was a visit to a local market, where we purchased some of the ingredients for the day’s cooking. The local market was known as Aor Tor Kor Market, and was much cleaner and quieter (although it was only early), than some of the markets I have seen, but offered a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, and spices, as well as selling prepared food as well. A fascinating stall for me was selling coconut and all kinds of coconut products. At the stall they took the older coconut meat (with a light brown exterior, not the green ones) and put the coconut meat through a machine which minced it up, and then the coconut meat was placed in a fabric bag and the coconut cream pressed out of the flesh. Finally the flesh was mixed with water and extracted for a second time to recover the milk. I guess I’d never really thought of how coconut cream and milk were extracted – so it was quite interesting to see how simple it was.
Back at the cooking school, we were instructed on three dishes: Golden Money Bags, Tom Yum Soup with Prawns, and Green Chicken Curry. I particularly enjoyed learning about making curry paste from scratch – it gave a very fragrant, subtle and textured effect to the curry. The other key tip that I learnt about cooking green curry was the saute the curry paste in a hot wok, adding coconut cream by the ladleful to prevent it from burning, and stir unitl fragrant. The coconut milk is added later, and cooked less, in order to prevent the oil from separating in the coconut milk and the curry from becoming oily. By not over-cooking the coconut milk and by not adding extra oil to saute the curry paste, the curry was much lighter and less rich than other green curries I have tasted. Another key ingredient in the curry is kaffir lime leaves – these add a very distinct flavour to Thai cooking – if they aren’t available, I would omit them, although they can be found in many Asian supermarkets around the world.
We added small pea sized eggplants, as well as larger round eggplants (about the size of a golf ball) along with the chicken to the curry – but this curry would work equally well with other vegetables such as pumpkin, green beans, purple eggplant or peas. While we used thin strips of chicken, other meats would work equally well – just may require different cooking times.
Green chicken curry is best served with rice, or over rice noodles.
- 2 tablespoons lemongrass, white stem only, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon galangal, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon kaffir lime rind, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup garlic, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons shallot, roughly chopped
- 1 coriander root, finely chopped
- 10 small green hot chilies
- 5 Green Jalapeno chilies, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper corns
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon shrimp paste
- Place both kinds of chili in a mortar and pestle and ground with the salt until a smooth paste forms
- Add the lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime rind and pound well, followed by the coriander root, shallot and garlic and pound to combine
- Add the shrimp paste, coriander seed powder, cumin powder, pepper corns and pound well until a smooth paste forms
- 50 grams thinly sliced chicken breast
- 1 tablespoon green curry paste
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
- 3/4 cup coconut milk
- 1 kaffir lime leaf
- 5 pea eggplants
- 1 round eggplant, sliced into thin wedges
- 1 red jalapeno chili, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 sprig sweet basil leaves
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon palm sugar
- Bring half coconut cream to the boil without stiring in a hot wok over medium heat
- Add green curry paste and stir well to blend and cook until fragrant - add the remaining coconut cream one spoonful at a time, to prevent the curry paste from sticking to the wok, until all is added
- Add the torn kaffir lime leaf, followed by the chicken and stir until the chicken is cooked half way through
- Then add the coconut milk and eggplants and cook until tender
- Add the fish sauce and palm sugar and stir occasionally until the chicken is cooked through
- Taste the curry for sweetness and saltiness, and add more fish sauce or palm sugar if desired
- Finally add the jalapeno chili and basil leaves, stir and then turn off the heat
- Serve the curry garnished with basil leaves and sliced chili, serve with steamed jasmine rice