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Classes

Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #4

This is the fourth 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 also include links to the other 3 blogs at the bottom of the page. This blog is about the fourth and final Intermediate Cooking Class.

I’ve already blogged on the first three classes in the series:

Kasma Pounds
Kasma pounds Som Tam

This class begian differently than previous classes. Both the grilled chicken and the satay needed to marinate for a couple of hours so as soon as the students arrived, they were put right to work making the marinades. Once the marinades were done and the meats were absorbing all those wonderful flavors, Kasma talked about the recipes, going over details, new ingredients and techniques.

(Click images to see larger version.)

There were several important and notable techniques in this class. One of the most important was learning how to make Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam). After going over the recipes, Kasma got out her large wooden mortar and pestle (you can also use a clay, or “Lao” mortar and pestle) and demonstrated how to make her version of this dish, which includes salted crabs and is ped, ped, brio, brio – hot and sour!

Kasma also demonstrated the easiest way to crack open a coconut. For some reason, Western chefs (and even some Thai chefs) commonly teach a method where you drain the liquid from the coconut after piercing the “eyes” with an ice-pick or a Phillips head screwdriver. Some of these methods involve wrapping the drained coconut in a towel and smashing it with a hammer. These actions are unnecessary and make a simple, quick action into a time-consuming mess!

Cracking a Coconut
Kasma cracks a coconut
Scraping a Coconut
Kasma scrapes a coconut

There’s no reason to pre-drain the coconut. Just crack it open over a bowl to catch the coconut water; you can run it through a sieve later to get rid of any bits of shell or meat in the liquid. Rather than smashing the coconut into pieces, it’s really quite easy to use the dull end of a cleaver and crack the coconut into two halves by going around the equator. While those other expert chefs are still waiting for their liquid to drain, you could crack open several coconuts!

Check out our video of Kasma demonstrating this method on our website – Cracking A Coconut: The Easy Way – or on YouTube – Cracking a Coconut (offsite, opens in new window).

After it’s cracked open, Kasma showed how to use a small scraper to get coconut shreds to use in her Fried Banana Recipe

Another technique that needed to be explained was how to cut the chicken used for the satay. In making satay, the meat should be cut against the grain into a certain size to facilitate putting the meat evenly on the skewers. The meat is cut into smaller pieces prior to being placed in the marinade: that way more of the surface area will get coated with the tasty mixture.

Kasma Demonstrates
Kasma demonstrates satay
Cutting Chicken
Cutting chicken for satay

Making Satay
Making satay

After the satay has sat in the marinade for a couple of hours, it’s ready to be placed onto the skewer. Kasma demonstrated how and then it became a communal effort, with Kasma handy to provide feedback and correction as needed.

Much of the cooking in this class was done outside on the grill. Kasma supervised while students basted the meats and turned them over. Kasma uses mesquite charcoal rather than briquets to mirror what is used in Thailand, where briquets are not used. Mesquite tends to burn very hot at the start so it requires frequent turning of the meat so that the outside will not get blackened. The satay was grilled on two smaller grills.

Grilling
Grilling
Sticky Rice Steamer
Sticky Rice Steamer

Both the Grilled Chicken and Green Papaya Salad are from Isan (or Isaan) (northeastern Thailand). Kasma served white sticky rice, the preferred rice in the northeast, with this meal, cooking it in the traditional bamboo basket arrangement pictured to the right. (See Kasma’s recipe for Steamed White Sticky Rice (Kao Niow Neung).)

Once students have completed this Intermediate Series, they were eligible to go onto Kasma’s advanced classes. When she retired there were 9 Advanced Series of 4 classes each – sets A through I. The Advanced classes opened up an entire world of Thai cooking that is unknown to anyone who’s not visited Thailand (and some who have!). Kasma estimates that the restaurants here in the U.S. offer only about 5% of the total number of recipes available in Thai cuisine. The Advanced Classes were a chance to learn about the other 95% and, best of all, to sample how they taste. The Thai Cooking Class Menus – Advanced Series show some of the variety that was available in the classes. My blog on The Best Thai Food in America? goes over just one meal in one of the weeklong Advanced classes. I really should take the question mark out of the title!


Menu – Intermediate Thai Cooking Class Series #4

Thai-Style Marinated Grilled Chicken Served with Sweet and Tangy Dipping Sauce (Gai Yang Song Kreuang)

Grilled Chicken
Thai-style Grilled Chicken & Dipping Sauce

Grilled chicken is found all over Thailand as a street food. The vendors who make and sell Gai Yang, like many vendors, largely hail from northeastern Thailand or  Isan (also spelled Isaan). Kasma’s version has a very tasty marinade that includes coriander seeds and curry sauce – it grills up very nicely and is delicious. I have never seen grilled chicken in Thailand served without a dipping sauce and Kasma’s is no exception. Her sauce uses dried red hot chillies and comes out with a tasty blend of sweet and sour flavors, with a bit of salty as well. It’s a great sauce and any leftover can be refrigerated almost indefinitely.

Hot-and Sour Thai-Style Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam Thai)

Green Papaya Salad
Green Papaya Salad

Is there a more quintessential street food that Som Tam – Green Papaya Salad? The word som means “sour” and tam means “to pound,” for this salad is made in a mortar and pestle. There are other Som Tam salads that do not use green papaya but are made in a somewhat similar fashion.

Green Papaya by itself is fairly bland: it’s pounded lightly to soften it up and help it to absorb the flavors which are salty (from fish sauce), sour (from limes), hot-spicy (from Thai chillies) and also a bit of sweet (from palm sugar). When you order from a street vendor, you specify the flavors you wish to emphasize; Kasma always orders ped, ped, brio, brio – ped being spicy-hot and brio meaning sour – and she makes her Som Tam the same way. As is often found in Thailand, Kasma includes whole salted crabs, separated into pieces, in her recipe, to provide a bit of salty flavor (you suck the salty brine out of the pieces) and a bit more texture. The result is a fiery, sour delight.

You may enjoy the following:

Chicken Satay (Sateh Gai)

Chicken Satay
Chicken Satay
Pork Satay
Pork Satay

Satay plus Salad
Satay plus Green Papaya Salad

Satay (Sateh) is another quintessential street food. You can find it on the street and in many markets, being grilled over charcoal. Kasma teaches it with two meats: chicken and pork. The secret is in cutting the meat just right as described above. One trick Kasma uses is to put the meat in the freezer until it firms up to make it easier to cut into uniform peaces of the correct size. Satay is nearly always served with . . .

Spicy Satay Peanut Sauce (Nam Jim Tua)

Peanut Sauce
Spicy Satay Peanut Sauce

Kasma’s peanut sauce has many ingredients and takes a while to make and it is the most flavorful peanut sauce I’ve ever tasted. The key to the flavor is the roasted spices (cumin, coriander seed and dried red chillies). The base is coconut milk and ground peanuts.

Kasma prefers not to use peanut butter. As she said in her first cookbook It Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions and The Joys of Thai Cooking, “Many cookbooks advise you to use peanut butter for making peanut sauces, but I think peanut butter always tastes like peanut butter no matter what you do to it.” Peanut butter is really an American invention, not Asian. Besides, it’s the work of a minute to grind the peanuts in a clean coffee grinder. Since they are ground on the spot, they retain their freshness and flavor. You’ll get a lighter-tasting sauce and the flavor of the peanuts will blend in more intricately with the spice flavors.

If you have leftovers of this sauce, you can serve it on other meats or even on vegetables: steamed vegetables topped with this peanut sauce are delicious.

This is one of the few Thai recipes to truly feature peanuts. Peanuts appear in some curries and salads such as Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad) but are not a very important ingredient in Thai cooking. In fact, peanut sauces, such as this one, actually originated further down the Malay peninsula and in the Indonesian archipelago where they dominate the offerings in food bazaars and streetside stalls as well as in refined restaurants.

It’s a mystery why many recipes that are falsely labelled “Thai” have virtually nothing used in Thai cuisine except peanuts. Check out Kasma’s feature article on Peanuts & Thai Cuisine.

Fried Bananas (Kluay Tod)

Fried Bananas
Fried Bananas
Fried Strawberries
Fried Strawberries

Fried Bananas – Kluay Tod – are another treat found as street food, in markets throughout Thailand and in some restaurants. Kasma’s version uses a secret ingredient to make the batter extremely light and crispy: her version tastes delightful.

In this class she also fried up some strawberries as an extra treat. You can fry many other fruits with this batter and they taste delicious. This is partly because of the batter: there are usually a few scraps of the batter left and students usually eat those random pieces up, as well, because they taste so good.


Slideshow For Grilled Chicken – Gai Yang

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

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Don’t miss:

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


Written by Michael Babcock, June 2013

Categories
Classes

Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #3

This is the third 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 third Intermediate Cooking Class.

I’ve already blogged on the first two classes in the series:

Student Stir-Fries
A student stir-fries as Kasma watches

Kasma’s classes at their best were very much like a group of friends coming together to cook. By the 3rd Intermediate Class, people were getting to know each other and were more comfortable together. By this class they had gotten used to the class format of breaking into groups and taking a recipe from start to finish. If they weren’t hooked on Thai food before this class (most people were), this class was bound to do so!

(Click images to see larger version.)

This class also mirrored what would happen in most advanced classes. One of the recipes was typically a snack (in this class it’s Miang Kam – Tasty Leaf-wrapped Tidbits) and another recipe was a Thai dessert. I know no place in America other than by going through all of Kasma’s classes where you could get such a complete introduction to various Thai foods and desserts in particular. The food in this class was also trending to spicier than before.

Bai Cha Plu
Bai Cha Plu - Wild Pepper Leaf

One of the strengths of Kasma’s classes was introducing Asian ingredients that are generally unknown to us westerners. In this class the Tasty Leaf-Wrapped Tidbits (Miang Kam) traditionally uses a leaf called bai cha plu – piper sarmentosum – the wild pepper leaf. Since we can find it in local markets, Kasma used it in the class alongside her usual substitute, spinach leaves. Strangely enough nearly all writers about Thai food (including famous ones who should know better) misidentify this leaf as “betel leaf,” which is bai plu – piper betel. See Kasma’s blog Miang Kam uses Bai Cha Plu NOT Betel Leaf (Bai Plu)

In this class, Kasma also introduced fresh water chestnut, used in the Tapioca Pudding. Most students had only tasted canned water chestnuts: the fresh one is fresher, crunchier with a natural sweetness.

Chopping Ingredients}
Chopping ingredients for a paste
Prepared Ingredients
Prepared ingredients (paste on right)

In the Intermediate and then Advanced classes, Kasma showed how the same ingredients can be combined in a multitude of ways to make different dishes. In this class, the students learned how to use the mortar & pestle to make a curry paste (Panaeng Curry) from scratch. They learned a delicious stir-fry, which also uses the mortar and pestle to make a paste to be used in the stir-fry. In later classes students got to learn Thai dishes that virtually can not be found elsewhere in this country; some classes focused on regional cuisine. Kasma estimates that the restaurants in the United States probably offer around 5% of the dishes available in Thailand: in her Advanced Classes, you got to sample a large number of that other 95%.

Fresh Water Chestnuts
Peeling fresh water chestnuts
Stir-frying
Stir-frying can be fun!


Menu – Intermediate Thai Cooking Class Series #3

Miang Kam (Tasty Leaf-wrapped Tidbits)

Miang Kam
Miang Kam - Tasty Tidbits
Assembling Miang Kam 1
Assembling Miang Kam 1

Miang is a Thai word used to describe a whole class of leaf-wrapped food. Kasma has a cookbook (written in Thai) that consists only of various miang that you can make. Miang Kam has to be one of the all time best appetizers anywhere in the world: tasty and fun to assemble. It consists of a number of ingredients cut into pea-sized pieces (these are the tidbits), which are wrapped up in a green leaf: in Thailand they use bai cha plu (see above) but you can substitute with any leafy green – Kasma prefers Spinach when she can’t get bai cha plu locally. (We are lucky enough to have 3 or 4 local markets that often carry the leaf.)

Assembling Miang Kam 2
Assembling Miang Kam 2

In Kasma’s recipe the tidbits are all arranged on a plate so that each person can assemble their own snack. Once each of all of the ingredients are placed on the leaf, a dab or two of sauce is added and the leaf is folded to enclose everything. Then, and this is critical, the entire leaf with all of the tidbits is popped, whole, into the mouth. The magic of the snack is the interaction of all the different ingredients: when done right you get a burst of flavors that light up the entire palate: description can not do it justice.

Miang Kam 2
Assembled Tasty Tidbits

Miang Kam a common snack in Thailand, both at restaurants, where it is often served as Kasma serves it in class, and as a street food, where it is often sold pre-wrapped so that the buyer can just pop it right into her or his mouth.

Kasma’s version is my all-time favorite. There are no less than 10 different ingredients to wrap up in the leaf, including one that I’ve never seen in Thailand – crispy rice pieces – which adds a crunchy texture. Most of the Miang Kam I’ve had in Thailand has had anywhere from 4 to 6 or 7 ingredients. Check out Kasma’s recipe for Tasty Leaf-wrapped Tidbits – Miang Kam.

Panaeng Beef Curry (Kaeng Panaeng Neua)

Panaeng Beef Curry
Panaeng Beef Curry

Kasma’s version of Panaeng Beef Curry is another dish that I prefer over anything I’ve eaten in Thailand: partly because of the beef. In Thailand the beef is not as good as in the United States; in Thailand, for this dish, beef is typically cooked well-done in coconut milk for at least an hour before being added to the curry. Kasma’s version uses skirt steak, which she cooks rare: it comes out tender and tasty.

This is a dry curry using coconut milk where the curry sauce barely coats the meat. The beef version of this dish is especially tasty because it uses several roasted spices: the roasting gives a different and delicious dimension to the dish. In introducing the recipe, Kasma went over using different meats: when making the dish with chicken, the spices are not roasted; for pork, they are just lightly roasted. Roasted garlic and shallots add another dimension lacking in most other coconut-based curries.

Be sure to view the slide show below.

Spicy Southern-style Stir-fried Shrimp and Squid (Pad Ped Goong/Pla Meuk)

Stir-frying in Wok
Preparing the dish
Seafood Dish
Spicy Stir-fried Shrimp & Squid

Given its name, you would expect this dish to be spicy-hot; and it is. It uses a simple paste, made using the stone mortar and pestle, that includes lemon grass, galanga, garlic, cilantro roots and chilli peppers. Kasma uses both Serrano and Thai chillies in the dish. Sliced shallots are added to provide a different texture along with their distinctive taste. It can be made with any seafood; Kasma uses cuttlefish and shrimp. It’s spicy and somewhat sour and salty. A delicious dish.

Tapioca Pudding with Water Chestnuts and Coconut Cream (Ta-koh Sakoo)

Tapioca Pudding
Tapioca Pudding with Water Chestnuts

This recipe is a kanom wan (sweet snack). Growing up in America, tapioca pudding was an unappetizing confection that deserved the name “Fish Eyes and Glue.” This dessert is another story. It uses small tapioca pearls in a sweet syrup. What makes it so delicious is the addition of a coconut cream sauce that is both sweet and salty: it is the combination of flavors that takes the dish out of the merely mundane and into the spectacular. Served warm, it softly melts in your mouth with the saltiness accentuating and off-setting the sweet. It is truly comfort food!

You can read Michael’s blog on Thai (Sweet) Snacks – (Kanom Wan)


Making Panaeng Curry – A Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

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Here are the other Intermediate Class Blogs:

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


Written by Michael Babcock, June 2013 & May 2020