Food ingredient

Gingko Nuts

My Mother and Gingko Nuts

Today is the first anniversary of my mother’s passing. I spent the morning cracking and peeling gingko nuts – a nourishing, medicinal food that mother absolutely loved. During the last several years of her life, she was frail and unable to walk or stand for very long. So every time I went home from across the ocean to visit her, I would bring a big bag of gingko nuts and we would spend precious hours together sitting by the dining table after breakfast cracking and peeling them.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Cracking Gingko Nuts
Cracking gingko nuts

Using a stone pestle, I would gently tap the ridge of the pistachio-sized nuts to crack them and mother would peel off the shell and as much of the paper-thin membrane encasing the kernels as she could. The shelled kernels were then soaked in water to loosen the parts of the membrane that tightly hugged the soft, edible flesh. After the nuts were all cleaned, they were boiled in water sweetened with a little bit of raw sugar or wild honey and that would become her late afternoon snack or a light dessert after a light evening meal. Simply prepared, the nuts retained their delicious flavor and delightful, soft-but-chewy texture. There would be plenty left for many more servings over the course of my visit. Mother always looked forward to her bowl of gingko nuts – they gave her tremendous satisfaction and comfort, while at the same time, nourish her in the evening of her years.

Gingko Nuts
Gingko nut close-up

Cracking and peeling gingko nuts took time, but what better way to spend countless, precious hours with my elderly mother that I would always treasure. We talked and laughed and told stories, but most of the time, we were just silent, cherishing every moment of just being with one another. This activity was the last food prep and cooking activity I shared with my mother, and whenever I crack and peel gingko nuts, I will always remember the many timeless mornings spent with her preparing one of nature’s great healing foods – as well as all the times in my life that I had spent with her preparing nourishing foods for the family and, in the process, learning from her the secrets of cooking, which I now share with my cooking students.

Like my mother, I love both the taste and the texture of fresh gingko nuts. When cooked right, they are soft and chewy, somewhat remiscent of sticky rice. Although the nut has a slightly bitter taste, to her and me and everyone else who loves gingko nuts, it is not unpleasant and is a reminder of its medicinal properties.

Gingko Nuts
Gingko nuts soaking in water

Technically speaking, gingko nuts are not really nuts but the seeds of the gingko tree (Gingko biloba, commonly known as the maidenhair tree). They bear no resemblance whatsover to other nuts in texture, flavor or nutrition. They taste more like some kind of legume or vegetable. Although many Asian markets in the Bay Area carry refrigerated, vacuum-sealed bags of peeled and cooked gingko nuts, these taste awful and should be avoided. Buy only the whole, unshelled gingko nuts from dried goods stores in Chinatown. They look a lot like pistachio nuts in size, color and form, but are pointy at one end. In fact, during her first trip to the United States some forty years ago, mother almost mistook pistachios for gingko nuts. She was very excited to see what she thought were cracked gingko nuts in a supermarket, until she took a closer look. Of course, she quickly learned to love pistachios as well.

Cooked Gingko Nuts
Cooked gingko nuts

I prefer to buy gingko nuts from bulk bins, rather than already bagged in net bags in some Asian grocery stores. That way I can see the individual nuts more clearly and select ones that are large and white and not broken, discolored, moldy or mildewy on the outside of the shell. When cracked and shelled, the kernels inside should be plump and cream-colored; after they’re cooked, they turn a lovely bright yellow color with a radiant sheen. It takes a little work to crack and peel gingko nuts, but it’s well worth the effort and, to those who like to cook and eat healthy foods, this prep work can be a therapeutic activity.

Gingko nuts were introduced into Thailand by the Chinese and all gingko nuts sold in the country are imported from China. Thailand is too hot and tropical a country to grow the temperate-climate gingko tree. The city of Bangkok, which had its beginnings as a Chinese trading post a few hundred years ago, is said to have the largest Chinese population of any city outside a Chinese country (i.e., China, Taiwan, Singapore). In the Old Market (Talad Kao) of Bangkok’s Chinatown, there are many stores selling gingko nuts, both whole unshelled and peeled and cooked. (See picture, below right.) They are also available in many of the city’s shopping centers and marketplaces which have stores or stalls that carry Chinese goods. Chinese restaurants around the city feature dishes made with gingko nuts, including stews, soups, stir-fries and desserts. Often, gingko nuts are cooked in a rice congee along with chestnuts, lotus seeds, red dates and medicinal roots, bark and herbs. They are not only delicious but very nutritious.

Gingko Nut Dessert
Gingko nut dessert - Oni Pae Guay

Gingko nuts have made their way into a few Thai sweet snacks and desserts, which are adapted from the Chinese. One such dessert, called Oni Pae Guay (using the same Chinese name of a common Chinese dessert), is often on the dessert menu of many large Thai restaurants. It takes the form of a creamy, smooth and sweet, mashed taro paste (but less sweet than the Chinese version), topped with slices of cooked Chinese red dates and a few gingko nuts, with the added Thai touch of a salty-sweet coconut cream sauce. Another sweet snack is a soupy pudding of job’s tears (another healing food native to most of East and Southeast Asia – a grain reminescent of barley and often called “pearl barley”), accented with gingko nuts and strips of slivered young coconut meat, cooked in young coconut juice flavored with pandan leaves (a medicinal herb in traditional Thai herbal medicine prevalently used to flavor and color many Thai desserts). This fusion Thai-Chinese dish is both a delicious and healthy snack/dessert. In tribute to my mother and her love of gingko nuts, I introduced this dessert just a little over a week ago in my new Advanced I evening cooking series to commemorate her passing a year ago this month.

Gingko Nuts
Gingko nuts in Bangkok's Chinatown

Gingko nuts are a medicinal food in much of the Orient. They are an excellent antioxidant, rich in vitamins, micronutrients and amino acis, and have become known for their anti-aging properties. Other benefits include improving circulation to the coronary artery and the brain, sharpening of the memory and aiding in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. In traditional Chinese medicine, gingko nuts have been used for thousands of years to strengthen the lung and kidney meridians. They are used as a “yang” kidney tonic to increase energy, reduce the frequency of night-time urination and incontinence, relieve bladder irritations, and reduce excess mucus in the urinary tract and excess vaginal discharge. A tea made from boiling the nuts is used to treat lung weakness and congestion, including coughing with an excess of phlegm, wheezing, and asthma. They are also used to treat hearing loss, dermatological disorders and psoriasis. I particularly like this passage in an article on Chinese healing herbs: “Long-term consumption helps nourish yin, maintain youth, fight aging, expand capillaries, improve metabolism, promote ruddy and healthy look, provide extra energy and grant longer and healthier lives.” But there is a caveat: don’t eat the kernels raw and don’t eat too many in one sitting (7 for children and 15 to 20 for adults) as they can have a toxic side effect for some people.

Now, whenever I peel gingko nuts, I will always remember my mother, who taught me how to cook, who taught me how food is medicine and the first line of defense against illnesses, and who introduced to me a host of exotic ingredients that I still use today and pass on to my cooking students. Her legacy lives on.

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit on October 9, 2013

Classes Food

Beginning/Intermediate Weeklong Thai Cooking Class

The Beginning/Intermediate Weeklong Thai Cooking Class once offered by Kasma Loha-unchit in Oakland (San Francisco Bay Area) was a chance to spend a week learning how to cook delicious, authentic Thai food and to feast on the results of your learning. It was roughly equivalent to Kasma’s Beginning and Intermediate Evening Series cooking classes with some advanced class thrown in. There were no pre-requisites.

Kasma retired from teach in 2020 and no longer teaches the weeklong classes. I’m leaving this blog up as a historical record.

This post includes a slide show of all of the dishes taught in the class followed by the Beginning/Intermediate Class menu. After the menu I’ll include links to photos of the class.

In the Beginning/Intermediate Weeklong Thai Cooking Class, students were introduced to nearly all of the main Thai ingredients and cooking techniques – the basics of Thai cuisine. Students were taught how to balance flavors to create authentic Thai food in a series of tasting exercises. They learned how to use the mortar and pestle to make both simple pastes and complex curry pastes. Although they learned around 45 different recipes, the real teaching was how to cook Thai food with or without a recipe. At the end of each day, there was a multi-course Thai feast, the fruits of their learning and labor. These classes are especially missed because you will not find tastier Thai food anywhere in the United States.

The slideshow below will show you some of what studens ate in this class, alas, no longer offered.

(You may need to wait a bit for the slide show to load.)

Kasma’s Beginning/Intermediate Class Dishes

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

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Beginning/Intermediate Class Menus

Monday, Day 1, Beginning/Intermediate Weeklong Class

  • Miang Kam Tasty Leaf-Wrapped Tidbits (a very tasty finger salad, snack or appetizer – common street food in Thailand)
  • Garlic-Peppered Shrimp (Gkoong Tawd Gkratiem Priktai)
  • Garlic-and-Pepper-Encrusted Pork (Moo Tawd Gkratiem Priktai)
  • Spicy Calamari Salad with Lemon Grass, Mint and Lime Sauce (Yam Bplah Meuk)
  • Massaman Chicken Curry with Potatoes and Pearl Onions (Gkaeng Massaman Gkai)
  • Salmon Poached in Green Curry Sauce with Thai Eggplants and Thai Basil (Gkaeng Kiow Wahn Bplah Salmon)
  • Stir-fried Broccoli with Thai Oyster Sauce (Broccoli Pad Nahm Man Hoi)
  • Hot and Sour Wok-Tossed Cucumbers and Tomatoes with Shrimp (Pad Bpriow Wahn)
  • Steamed Jasmine Rice (Kao Hawm Mali)
  • Fragrant Bananas in Coconut Cream (Gkluay Buad Chi)

Tuesday, Day 2, Beginning/Intermediate Weeklong Class

  • Savory Fried Shrimp Cakes Served (Tawd Man Gkoong)
  • Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Relish
  • Spicy Northeastern-style Chopped Pork Salad with Mint and Toasted Rice (Lahb Moo)
  • Hot and Sour Prawn Soup (Dtom Yam Gkoong)
  • Curried Mousse of Red Snapper in Banana Leaf cups (Haw Moek Bplah)
  • Spicy Basil Chicken (Gkai Pad Gkaprow)
  • Stir-fried Long Beans with Roasted Chilli Sauce and Thai Basil (Tua Yao Pad Prik Pow)
  • Steamed Jasmine Rice (Kao Hawm Mali)
  • Tapioca Pudding with Water Chestnuts and Coconut Cream (Dtakoh Sakoo)

Wednesday, Day 3, Beginning/Intermediate Weeklong Class

  • Chicken-Coconut Soup with Galangal and Oyster Mushrooms (Dtom Kah Gkai)
  • Spicy Mussel and Scallop Salad with Aromatic Herbs and Crisped Shallots and Garlic (Yam Hoi Malaeng Poo Gkap Hoi Shel)
  • Panaeng Beef Curry with Home-made Curry Paste (Gkaeng Panaeng Neua)
  • Crisped Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce (Bplah Rad Prik)
  • Stir-fried Eggplant with Chillies and Thai Basil (Pad Makeua Yao)
  • “Red-Flamed” Morning Glory (a favorite Thai vegetable) (Pak Boong Fai Daeng)
  • Steamed Jasmine Brown Rice (Kao Hawm Mali Dtam)
  • Coconut-Flavored White Sticky Ricewith Mangoes (Kao Niow Mamuang)
  • Black Sweet Rice Pudding with Toasted Coconut and Sesame (Kao Niow Dam)

Thursday, Day 4, Beginning/Intermediate Weeklong Class

  • Glazed Crispy Noodles (a snack or appetizer) (Mee Krawb)
  • Anise-Cinnamon Duck Soup Noodles (Gkuay Dtiow Nahm Bped Dtoon)
  • Crushed Chilli Sauce for Duck Noodles (Nahm Jim)
  • Garlic Noodles with Barbecued Red Pork (Thai-Style Pasta Salad) (Bamee Haeng Moo Daeng)
  • Thai-style Stir-fried Noodles (Pad Thai)
  • Pan-Fried Fresh Rice Noodles Topped with Chicken and Asian Broccoli Sauce Gkuay Dtiow Rad Nah Gkai)
  • Rice Vermicelli Cooked in Spiced Coconut Cream Sauce (Mee Gkati)
  • Fried Bananas (Gkluay Tawd)

Friday, Day 5, Beginning/Intermediate Weeklong Class

Fieldtrip to Asian Markets – 8:00 a. m. to 10:30 a. m.; class 10:30 a. m. to 5:30/6:30 p.m.

  • Thai-style Marinated Grilled Chicken with Sweet-and-Sour Chilli Dipping Sauce (Gkai Yahng Sohng Kreuang)
  • Hot-and-Sour Thai-Style Green Papaya Salad (Som Dtam Thai)
  • Steamed White Sticky Rice (Kao Niow Neung)
  • Chicken/Pork Satay (Sateh Gkai/Moo)
  • Shrimp Satay (Sateh Gkoong)
  • Spicy Satay Peanut Sauce (Nahm Jim Tua)
  • Hot and Sour Cucumber Salad (Yam Dtaeng Gkua)
  • Charcoal-Roasted Striped Bass in Banana Leaf (Bplah Gkapong Pow)
  • Hot and Sour Chilli Sauce (for Striped Bass)
  • Thai-Style Coconut “Macaroon” Cakes (Kanom Bah Bin)

Note: You may have noticed that the Thai transliteration of the dishes is slightly different for the photos in the slideshow and the menu. Please see A Note on Thai Spelling and Pronunciation

Photos of the class

Written by Michael Babcock, October 2013 & June 2020