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Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #2

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

This is the second in a series of 4 blogs that talks about Kasma Loha-unchit’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class. A series of 4 classes, it continued on from where her 4-session Beginning Thai Cooking Series left off. Having introduced students to the basics (including how to harmonize flavors to create Thai tastes), it was an opportunity for students to learn more Thai cooking techniques, ingredients and recipes. I’ll leave these blogs up as a record of what Kasma’s classes were like: she retired from teaching in 2020. I’ll include links to the other 3 blogs at the bottom of the page. This blog is about the second Intermediate Cooking Class.

Roasted Rice Flour

Roasted Rice Flour

I’ve already blogged on the first class in the series – Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #1 – and will include links to al6l the blogs (including the beginning classes) at the bottom of the page.

(Click images to see larger version.)

As always, the class began with a snack and with an explanation of the recipes.

Although most of the main ingredients were previously introduced in the 4-session Beginning Series, there were more to come in the intermediate classes. In this second class, students learned about roasted rice powder, kaffir lime peels (they had already been introduced to the leaves) and shrimp paste (kapi or gkabpi).

New ingredients were covered extensively. When introducing toasted rice powder, Kasma showed the students a couple of locally available packages and talked about where to buy them. In the picture above, the package shown to the left is an imported Vietnamese brand; that on the right is a more coarsely ground roasted rice powder that was made locally at a Cambodian market. The products were passed around so that students could taste them. She also went into how to make the powder, should you be unable to find it or should you want to do so. (You can read how in her article on Roasted Rice Flour – Kao Kua.)

Soaking Red Chillies

Soaking dried red chillies

Roasting Chillies

Roasting dried Thai chillies

In this class, dried chili peppers were an important ingredient in three of the recipes. Kasma explained the two types that were to be used this evening and explained how to prepare them: by seeding and soaking in one instance and by roasting stove-top in another.

Pounding Ingredients

Student using a mortar & pestle

Chilli Paste

Chilli paste in a mortar (with pestle)

Students used the mortar and pestle extensively in this series. Three of the recipes in this class, involved intensive pounding so Kasma went into the basics of how to go about it. The mortar and pestle are essential tools in Thai cooking: they crush the fibers of herbs and release the essential oils, giving a greater breadth and depth of flavor than can be obtained by using a food processor. You can read Kasma’s blog on The Mortar and Pestle.

After the recipes were explained, students volunteered (or were assigned) to one of the recipes and broke into teams to do the preparation. Kasma supervised making sure everything was done correctly.

Cutting & Chopping

Students cutting & chopping

Cutting Lemongrass

Cutting lemongrass

Roasting Galanga

Roasting dried galanga

In this class, dried galanga was used in the Northeastern Chicken Salad, after being roasted stovetop in a cast iron pan.

Once the ingredients were prepped, Kasma demonstrated new techniques. For instance, for the Fried Shrimp Cake recipe, there’s a certain way of forming the shrimp cakes and dropping them gently into the oil: although it may feel safer to drop them from a distance, because your hand is further away from the oil, doing that may cause a splash of hot oil whereas sliding the shrimp cake in from just above the oil is actually the safer method. (See slide show, below.)

Observing

Students observing

Of course, there was always the feast at the end of the class.

And after the feast, everyone helped to clean up.

One thing I appreciated about Kasma’s classes was that you learned how to prepare the food in a manner similar to how you cook in your own kitchen. Many cooking classes in Thailand assign a cooking station to each student and have them cook their own individual portion from already prepared ingredients. In Kasma’s class, students did every aspect of the meal preparation, from chopping, roasting and pounding to cooking, eating and clean-up, just as you would do at home. Everyone got to watch the final assembly of every dish, learning how to prepare every dish in the class, rather than just the single dish they worked on.


Menu – Intermediate Thai Cooking Class Series #2

Spicy Thai-Style Shrimp Cakes with Kaffir Lime Leaves and Green Beans (Tod Mon Goong)

Shrimp Cakes

Spicy Thai-Style Shrimp Cakes

I recently read in a cookbook by a famous Thai chef that said “Thais appear to remain ambivalent about [deep-fried foods].” They certainly have a strange way of showing this: you find fried foods everywhere in many forms – fried fish, chicken, duck, pork leg, bananas, other desserts and, of course, Tod Mon – fried fish (or shrimp) cakes. Thais even deep-fry herbs such as Thai basil (as in this dish). Certainly Fried Fish Cakes (Tod Mon) are among the most common and beloved of Thai snacks and appetizers: you see them frying in open-air markets and sidewalks everywhere in the country; they are also found in many restaurants as an appetizer. This class showcases Kasma’s version of Tod Mon; her recipe is really a Tod Mon Pla (Fish Cake) recipe that is made, instead, with shrimp (goong).

Cucumber Relish

Cucumber Relish

This is a recipe with lots of prep work (see the slide show at the bottom of the page) that produces a bouncy, tasty treat. It is served with:

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Relish

This is a relish that accompanies the Fried Shrimp Cakes and is sweet, sour and salty. It has a refreshing taste that forms a nice contrast to the fried cakes.

Be sure to see our slideshow on Tod Mon Goong below.

Sour Tamarind Curry with Fish and Vegetable (Kaeng Som Pla)

Fish Curry

Sour Tamarind Curry

You may be confused as to why this dish, without coconut milk, is called a “curry.” Actually, there are probably more Thai “curries” without coconut milk than with; for the Thais, the classification of what we translate as curry – kaeng – is really a broader classification. Read Kasma’s blog Thai Curries – Kaeng (or Gkaeng or Gaeng).

This is one of the classic Thai dishes, here in the central Thai version. Kasma’s version is thick from vegetables and broiled, flaked fish in the broth.

Kaeng Som is made in a different version in Southern Thailand and is often called Kaeng Leuang there: the students who worked their way through to Kasma’s Advanced Set G got to learn how to make her Southern version, delicious and spicy hot.

You may enjoy the Bangkok Post article ‘Kaeng Som’ A Thai culinary classic by Suthon Sukphisit (offsite, opens in new window).

Northeastern-Style Spicy Minced Chicken Salad with Mint and Toasted Rice (Laab Gai or Larb Kai)

Chicken Salad

Northeastern-Style Minced Chicken Salad

Balancing Flavors

Balancing Flavors

Larb (often transliterated as laab and pronounced “lahb”) is one of the two main types of Thai “salads” prevalent in the West. (The other would be yum.) They typically involve chopped (or ground) meat flavored with fish sauce, limes, a bit of sugar (to balance flavors, mainly to bring out the sour of the limes), lots of ground, roasted chillies and roasted rice powder. It’s served with a vegetable platter: you eat the salad with the vegetables to cut the heat.

In Kasma’s classes you learned all about balancing flavors to create authentic Thai tastes. Ingredients such as fish sauce or limes (for instance) can vary brand to brand or batch to batch, so Kasma’s tasting exercises taught you how to work with different ingredients to get the correct Thai harmony of flavors.

You can try out Kasma’s recipe for Northeastern-Style Spicy Minced Chicken Salad (Laab Gai).

Stir-fried Eggplant with Chillies and Thai Basil (Makeua Yao Pad Prik Horapa)

Stir-Fried Eggplant

Stir-Fried Eggplant

I find Asian vegetables so very much more interesting that American vegetables. Thais do wonderful things with eggplants and I love this stir-fried dish. It’s a simple dish, flavored with oyster sauce and fish sauce with just a bit of vinegar added to the end to provide a bit of sour. It’s a wonderful dish and relatively easy to prepare.


Slideshow – Spicy Thai-Style Shrimp Cakes with Kaffir Lime Leaves and Green Beans (Tod Mon Goong)

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Kaffir Lime Leaves
Long Beans
Processing Shrimp 1
Processing Shrimp 3
Ready to Pound
Students Pounding
Pounding Ingredients 1
Pounding Ingredients 2
Mixing Everything
Making Cucumber Relish
Cucumber Relish
Frying Basil
Fried Holy Basil
Fried Holy Basil
Frying Shrimp Cakes 2
Frying Shrimp Cakes 3
Frying Shrimp Cakes 4
Frying Shrimp Cakes 5
Frying Shrimp Cakes 6
Removed Shrimp Cake
Shrimp Cakes 1
Shrimp Cakes 2
Shrimp Cakes 3

Slivered kaffir lime leaves for the Tod Mon Goong

Long beans, cut in thin rounds, provide texture

Processing shrimp in a food processor

Shrimp reduced to a smooth, sticky, gray paste.

The shrimp will be mixed with a paste in a mortar & pestle

Two students using the mortar & pestle

Starting to combine the ground shrimp and the chilli paste

Making a well-blended paste in the mortar & pestle

Finally, all the ingredients are combined in a bowl

Adjusting flavors for the accompanying Cucumber Relish

Cucumber Relish, ready to serve with the Tod Mon Goong

Holy basil (bai kaprao) is fried crispy in a wok

The crispy fried bai kaprao (holy basil) is removed from the wok

Kasma holding a shrimp cake above the wok

Kasma, about to drop a shrimp cake in the hot oil

Shrimp cake successfully dropped into the oil

Three shrimp cakes, puffed up and frying

Turning a shrimp cake over in the hot oil using long chopsticks

A wok full of frying shrimp cakes

Shrimp cakes are placed on a wired implement to drain

Savory Fried Shrimp Cakes (Tod Mon Goong) with Cucumber Relish

Serving of Tod Mon Goong with crispy-fried holy basil

Individual serving of Tod Mon Goong with Cucumber Relish

Kaffir Lime Leaves thumbnail
Long Beans thumbnail
Processing Shrimp 1 thumbnail
Processing Shrimp 3 thumbnail
Ready to Pound thumbnail
Students Pounding thumbnail
Pounding Ingredients 1 thumbnail
Pounding Ingredients 2 thumbnail
Mixing Everything thumbnail
Making Cucumber Relish thumbnail
Cucumber Relish thumbnail
Frying Basil thumbnail
Fried Holy Basil  thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 1 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 2 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 3 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 4 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 5 thumbnail
Frying Shrimp Cakes 6 thumbnail
Removed Shrimp Cake thumbnail
Shrimp Cakes 1 thumbnail
Shrimp Cakes 2 thumbnail
Shrimp Cakes 3 thumbnail

Here are the other Intermediate Class Blogs:

And here are the blogs on Kasma’s Beginning Thai Cooking Series:


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2013 & May 2020

Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #1

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

This is the first in a series of 4 blogs that talks about Kasma Loha-unchit’s Intermediate Thai Cooking class. A series of 4 classes, it continued on from where her 4-session Beginning Thai Cooking Series left off. Having introduced students to the basics (including how to harmonize flavors to create Thai tastes), it was an opportunity for students to learn more Thai cooking techniques, ingredients and recipes. I’ll leave these blogs up as a record of what Kasma’s classes were like: she retired from teaching in 2020. I’ll include links to the next 3 blogs at the bottom of the page.

Explaining Recipes

Kasma going over recipes

I repeated the Beginning Thai Cooking Series in October of 2011 when Kasma was still teaching in the evenings and was surprised at how much new information I gleaned from repeating the classes. I also remembered just how much fun the classes are. (Links to my blogs on the class are found at the bottom of the page.) So in April 2012, I repeated Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Series. This is my blog on class #1.

(Click images to see larger version.)

As with the Beginning series, class started with Kasma going over the recipes. Much less time was needed for this in the Intermediate Series because so many of the main ingredients had been covered in the Beginning Series. In the Intermediate Class there were still new ingredients that needed to be covered more extensively, and there were new cooking techniques to be introduced as well. For instance, when introducing an ingredient such as mussels, Kasma talked about the various kinds available and which were the best ones to use for a particular recipe, such as this evening’s Spicy Mussel Salad

Mussels

Mussels for the salad

The classes were filled with tips that make recipes come out better. Here’s one: many recipes for Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai) have you dump all the coconut milk in a pan and bring it to a boil; Kasma explained that boiled, coconut milk has a tendency to curdle, so she begins the recipe using water or mild chicken broth and adds the coconut milk towards the end, right before she balances all the flavors.

Kasma imparted more inside knowledge when talking about preparing the noodles for frying for the Mee Krob (Glazed Crispy Noodles). Rather than soaking the noodles, which would leave them soggy, she had the students rinse the noodles in cold tap water, drain in a colander and set aside for 30 to 60 minutes. This allowed the noodles to absorb some water and soften while then allowing the surface to dry out so that you wouldn’t get splattering when you put the noodles in the hot oil to fry. She explained that if you fry the noodles dry, they puff up more, which is undesirable in this recipe. As always, she showed the students the best brand available locally to use.

Frying Noodles

Frying noodles

This first Intermediate Class introduced two ingredients that were new to the students. Pickled garlic is used in the Crispy Fried Noodles and crispy fried shallots are used in the Spicy Mussel Salad. Kasma talked about what to look for when buying these ingredients, what brand of the fried shallots (often labelled “Fried Onions”) are best and how to make your own crispy shallots, should you be so inclined.

This class introduced methods for deep frying, both for the Mee Krob and the Pla Rad Prik – Crispy Fried Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce. I had long been an admirer of the way that Thais fry things: the fried foods in Thailand seldom taste greasy at all and their fried fish is always fried to a delightfully crispy and crunchy state that is both fun to eat and allows you to eat most of the fish. This class also had deep-fried noodles, also well-fried and not very greasy.

Making Noodles

Making Mee Krob

So I was somewhat startled to read in a cookbook by a famous Thai chef that “. . .Thais are not particularly good at deep-frying, opting to cook any piece of meat as much as possible – even fish.” He claims this comes from fear of worms from fresh-water fish. All the Thai people I know love crispy-fried fish: they cook it that way because they like it that way – they like the texture, it is non-greasy, it tastes good and eats well. I guess he’s never been to the north or the northeast where they like to eat raw meat salads – odd behavior if they’re afraid of parasites.

Kasma fries her fish in her trusty 16-inch round-bottomed spun-steel wok: it’s the perfect piece of cookware for deep-frying. This was a great class for students who were afraid to fry – Kasma showed how to do it easily and safely.

Chopping

Students prepping ingredients

As with all classes, Kasma told the students which local markets typically carry any specialty ingredients, such as fresh, whole fish (not readily available in most western supermarkets) or garlic chives (used in the Crispy Fried Noodles). She went into which recipes could be prepared ahead of time and which parts of recipes could be done in advance to make the final assembly easier without losing and freshness or flavor.

In this class Kasma also went over how to pick out a fresh, whole fish; it is something that many students had never done or even considered doing before. She gave 5 pointers (such as looking at the over-all luster of the fish and how the eyes and gills should appear) that helped even the novice choose a fresh fish. You can read Kasma’s article Selecting a Fresh Fish, excerpted from her Dancing Shrimp cookbook.

Mixing Ingredients

Mixing Ingredients

Making Sauce

Student making Mee Krob sauce

After the recipes were explained, the students divided up into groups: Kasma assigned a certain number of people for each recipe. Once the ingredients were prepped, all the students watched the members of the team do the cooking. When appropriate, as in frying a whole fish, Kasma would start the cooking process so that she could show how a particular technique is done: after that, the team members did the cooking. Kasma also oversaw the final balancing process for the recipes: one of the great strengths of her classes was learning how the various ingredients interacted to create a harmony of Thai flavors.

Of course, the best part of the evening was eating a Thai feast at the end of class.

Eating Dinner

Eating dinner, the best part of class!

After dinner, everyone helped clean up before going home.


Menu – Intermediate Thai Cooking Class Series #1

Mee Krob (Glazed Crispy Noodles)

Noodles

Mee Krob Noodles

This is a noodle dish that is almost always too sweet at the local Thai restaurants. Kasma’s version is crispy, not greasy at all (despite the deep-fried noodles) and flavorful, with just a hint of sweetness. It could almost be called a fried salad, served as it is with bean sprouts and garlic chives. It’s a dish that must be eaten within an hour of cooking, otherwise it will turn somewhat soggy and uninteresting.

Chicken Coconut Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Gai)

Soup

Chicken Coconut Soup

This is one of two soups that is found at virtually every Thai restaurant outside of Thailand. (The other is Hot & Sour Prawn Soup – Tom Yum Goong.) This, also, is a dish that I’ve been disappointed in when ordering out in the U.S. – too sweet, too rich: Kasma’s version is somewhat lighter with a bit of sour flavor. I once read a Westerner who claimed that this soup was just “Tom Yum Soup with Coconut.” This is absolutely not true. The main herbal flavor in a Tom Ka soup is galanga, with lemon grass in the supporting capacity: with Tom Yum soups, it’s just the opposite – the galanga supports the lemongrass.

You can try out Kasma’s variation on this recipe: Coconut Seafood Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Talay)

Crispy Fried Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce (Pla Rad Prik)

Fried Fish

Crispy Fried Whole Fish

(See slideshow below.)

This is a recipe that is very common in Thailand: on Kasma’s trips we would usually eat it at least a couple or three times. I was so excited the first time I made this dish by myself (after I first took the Intermediate Series in 1992) – it looked just like the dishes in Thailand! However, in Thailand I often find it too sweet for my taste: in Kasma’s version the sauce is equally sour and salty with the sweetness (from palm sugar) in the background.

The best parts to eat of the fish are the crispy-crunchy parts. My personal favorite is the head: it’s full of interesting crunchy bits interspersed with softer textures. Before I met Kasma I would never have eaten a fish head: later on I would join this class at meal time because often no one in class knew how to eat the head – I liked to help out.

Fish and seafood are an integral and important part of the Thai diet. See Kasma’s article The Thai Fish-Eating Tradition.

Spicy Mussel Salad with Aromatic Herbs and Crisped Shallots and Garlic (Yum Hoi Malaeng Poo)

Mussel Salad

Spicy Mussel Salad

Yum salads are a group of salads that are found all over Thailand and found all too seldom here in the U.S. They are sour and spicy-hot with some saltiness and sweetness: the level of sweetness will vary from one salad to the next, depending on the main ingredient, so it’s not really possible to give a generic yum dressing/sauce (although many cookbook authors do). Kasma’s dressing for this salad is interesting in that it uses three different ingredients for sour flavors – white vinegar, lime juice and tamarind juice: each provides a different layer of flavor. Sugar is used here to balance the flavors and to intensify the sourness: Kasma showed us how to do this without adding too much sweetness. (Check out Kasma’s Exercise in Balancing Flavors.)

Salad Ingredients

Mixing Mussel Salad

This dish was also an opportunity for Kasma to discuss the use of chillies in recipes. At the time of the year of this class (April), many of the chillies we could get here in the San Francisco Bay Area came from South or Central America; because of the climate, they tended to be very hot. As chillies grown in California become available, the number of chillies would need to be adjusted: initially, the local chillies will be much milder. This is the sort of information that you got in Kasma’s classes: you will not commonly find it in Thai cookbooks, which usually give a specific number of chillies in a dish without going into how you may need to modify that number to get the level of heat the dish (or your tastebuds) require.


Slideshow – Crispy Fried Whole Fish

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Scoring Fish
Resting Fishes
Coating Fish
Coated Fish
Holding Fish
Sliding Fish
Fish in Oil
Ladling Oil
Student Cooking
Turning Fish
Frying Paste
Fried Fish
Ladling Sauce
Fried Whole Fish
Fish Close-up

Scoring the whole fish

Bringing the whole fish to room temperature

Coating the fish with tapioca flour prior to frying

This fish, coated with tapioca flour, is ready to fry

Kasma is just about to slide the fish into the hot oil

Sliding the fish into the hot oil in the wok

The fish's fin is waving from the hot oil

Hot oil is ladled over the fish so it will fry evenly

One of the students takes over ladling the hot oil over the fish

Kasma demonstrates how to turn the fish over in the wok

Frying the chilli-tamarind sauce for the fish

This crispy-fried fish is ready for the chilli-tamarind sauce

Ladling the chilli-tamarind sauce over the fish

Crispy Fried Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce (Pla Rad Prik) - ready to eat

Close-up of Crispy Fried Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce (Pla Rad Prik)

Scoring Fish thumbnail
Resting Fishes thumbnail
Coating Fish thumbnail
Coated Fish thumbnail
Holding Fish thumbnail
Sliding Fish thumbnail
Fish in Oil thumbnail
Ladling Oil thumbnail
Student Cooking thumbnail
Turning Fish thumbnail
Frying Paste thumbnail
Fried Fish thumbnail
Ladling Sauce thumbnail
Fried Whole Fish thumbnail
Fish Close-up thumbnail

Here are the blogs for the next 3 Intermediate classes:

I’ve already blogged on Kasma’s Beginning Thai Cooking Series:


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2013 & May 2020