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Beginning Thai Cooking with Kasma, Class #2

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Kasma Loha-unchit teaches a beginning series of 4 Thai cooking classes several times a year. This is my blog on the second of those four classes, exploring how the classes take place and what delicious Thai dishes are served. Kasma has been teaching Thai cooking to U.S. students since 1985.

Kasma Teaching

Kasma goes over recipes

I’ve already blogged about the first class – Beginning Thai Cooking with Kasma, Class #1. The second session has another 4 recipes, picked in part to allow Kasma to introduce more essential Thai ingredients. Like all classes, this one began with Kasma going over the recipes and introducing any new ingredients or techniques in the recipes. This class includes 4 very popular Thai dishes so there is lots to discuss.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Prepping Food

Students prepping ingredients

Students at Work

Cutting banana leaves

For the next part of the session, students are divided into teams to work on the individual recipes. They chop and mince, pluck basil leaves and do all of the prep work for the recipe they are working on. This class also includes Haw Mok, the popular fish curry dish that is served in banana leaf baskets, so Kasma spends some time demonstrating how to cut the banana leaves and then how to fold them into the basket; then each student makes their own basket, to be filled later.

Adding Lard

Adding lard to season a wok

Seasoning Wok

Seasoning a wok

In this second session, Kasma also goes over the process of how to season a wok. Kasma’s preferred woks are round-bottom, spun steel woks of a reasonably heavy gauge; carbon steel woks are an acceptable substitute. She prefers the kind with two metal “ears,” finding that the woks with a single long wooden handle are too unstable. Just as with cast iron, spun steel woks have to be “seasoned” before use. After the machine coating on a new wok is removed, Kasma heats the wok on high heat and then spreads it with lard (the absolute best fat for seasoning a wok), which is baked into the steel and provides a protective covering. Kasma’s classes are filled with practical demonstrations and information of this type.

Student Stir-fries

Student stir-frying vegetables

Ready to Eat

Ready to Eat

The last part of the class is taken up with cooking the prepped recipes and (of course!) eating. Kasma’s class are set up so that everyone can watch the final food cooking. The cooking is done sometimes by Kasma and often by students, under her supervision. She often asks for volunteers: if you take a class, don’t be shy! You have the chance to have a master cook show you how to cook delicious Thai food.

Of course, the best part of the class is the feast at the end. Unlike many cooking classes, here you get a full meal, not just a small tasting of each dish.

Beginning Thai Series Class #2 Menu

Hot & Sour Soup

Hot & Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Prawn Soup – ต้มยำกุ้ง (Tom Yum Goong): Hot & Sour Soup (Tom Yum) is one the best known Thai soups. In Thailand you can get a tom yum based soup with many things: from shrimp to crispy-fried fish. Kasma’s version uses shrimp and is just as described – hot (spicy) and sour;  the heat is from chillies and the sour is from lime juice  with lemon grass and galanga providing an herbal background. Delicious!

You can see Kasma’s recipe here: Hot and Sour Prawn Soup – (Tom Yum Goong)

How Mok Pla

Red Curried Fish Mousse

Curried Mousse of Red Snapper in Banana Leaf Cups – ห่อหมกปลา (How Mok Pla): Haw Mok is another quintessential Thai dish, though other countries (such as Cambodia) have their own versions. In some restaurants they have mixed seafood Haw Mok, sometimes served in hollowed-out young coconuts but it is more usual to see this dish steamed in banana-leaf baskets, such as we see here. This is a dish that, in Thailand, you’ll find both in the markets, where people buy them as “take-out,” and in restaurants. Kasma’s version here uses fresh red snapper. As you can see, it’s a dish that presents very well. Another advantage is that you can prepare it in advance and then re-heat it prior to serving. In planning a Thai meal, it’s good to have some dishes like this so you don’t have too many stir-fries right before the meal.

Basil Chicken

Basil Chicken

Spicy Basil Chicken – ผัดกะเพราหไก่ (Pad Kaprao Gai): Anything cooked pad kaprao (stir-fried with holy basil) is another essential Thai dish. In Thailand this dish is often served as a one-dish meal over rice, sometimes with a (crispy) fried egg on top. Kasma’s version uses ground chicken, for convenience: in Thailand, often chicken meat would be cut into very small pieces, nearly the equivalent of ground meat. Personally, I prefer this dish using pork and cooked very, very spicy/hot. The recipe as taught here in class is infinitely variable: you can make it with nearly any meat or seafood.

Kasma’s recipe from this class is available online as Spicy Basil Chicken – Gai Pad Kaprao. For variations on the recipe, see the following two blogs:

Oyster Sauce Broccoli

Oyster Sauce Broccoli

Stir-fried Broccoli with Thai Oyster Sauce – บรอคโคลี่ผัดน้ำมันหอย (Broccoli Pad Nam Man Hoi): I find that Asian cuisines are miles ahead of us when it comes to vegetables. Walking through Asian markets I always see a plethora of fresh greens, previously unknown to me (before meeting Kasma, that is). This recipe is what I think of as The Universal Vegetable Recipe. A deceptively easy dish, the main ingredient is Thai oyster sauce; it can be adapted to virtually any vegetable you desire. In class, Kasma makes it with broccoli; it’s the one way I like broccoli. This recipe also got me enjoying cauliflower for the first time in my life.

Also see Michael’s blog on The Universal Vegetable Recipe.

See Michael’s blogs on the other three classes in this series:

Written by Michael Babcock, August 2012

Beginning Thai Cooking with Kasma, Class #1

Michael Babcock, Sunday, July 1st, 2012

My wife, Kasma Loha-unchit, has been teaching Thai cooking to U.S. students since 1985. This blog talks about her first beginning class in an evening series of four classes. Kasma prefers to teach a series of classes because it’s impossible to give an adequate introduction to Thai food in just one class.

Kasma teaching

Kasma teaching

Living with Kasma, I tend to take great Thai food for granted. When I met Kasma, she had been teaching classes for 6 years so they’ve always been part of our life together. I attended her beginning series back in 1992 and subsequently attended the Intermediate series and several of the Advanced classes.

(Click images to see larger version.)

These days, I mostly show up when the class sits down to eat: I like to think of this as giving a disinterested third-party opinion about the food; really, the food is just too good not to come eat.

Thai Ingredients

Various ingredients

Although I can cook a number of Thai dishes reasonably well – I don’t even need the recipes for some of them – recently I decided to sit in on the beginning series again, knowing that there’s a lot for me to remember and a lot more to learn.

All of the classes start out with Kasma going over the recipes and introducing any new ingredients or techniques in the recipes. In the beginning series the introduction can take a bit longer because there are so many more things to introduce and go over. I had forgotten how much information Kasma gives you: we’ve had several students who have taken the beginning series more than once, for good reason!

Students Tasting

A coconut milk tasting

Coconut Milk

The coconut milk

One of the best parts about Kasma’s classes are that you learn how to use ingredients that are available locally. In the very first class students taste eight or nine different brands of coconut milk to get a sense for what is available and to learn which are the good brands. The correct brand of many ingredients can make a large difference in the finished taste and one of Kasma’s strengths is introducing students to the best brands that she knows. Students learn to cook authentic Thai food with the ingredient they can purchase in the United States.

Prepping Food

Students prepping food

Kasma Cutting

Kasma demonstrating

All classes are at least partially hands on. Students do virtually all of the food preparation – the chopping, de-shelling shrimp and so on. Kasma supervises (somehow not seeming to miss anything as the 13 students work) and steps into demonstrate as needed.


Ingredients for one dish

Kasma Cooking

Cooking Massaman Curry

Once all of the ingredients are ready, they are gathered by the stove to be cooked. Kasma tends to do more of the cooking in the first class; as the series progresses, students do more and more of the cooking. She’ll often ask for volunteers and then supervise as the student does the actual cooking. One good think about Kasma’s classes is that all the recipes are intended for groups of people, so you are cooking the dishes just as you would when you cook at home.

Perhaps the most valuable part of the first class is learning to harmonize flavors. (See Creating Harmony with Primary Flavors.) As the two curry dishes of this class are assembled, at critical points, just before ingredients such as palm sugar or fish sauce are added, students are given a taste of the dish; then the important ingredients are added incrementally, with tastes after each addition. Re-taking the class, I again felt the excitement of the alchemy of cooking, how a dish that tasted not quite right could slowly change into something absolutely fabulous. I love the “WOW” moments when you think the dish is complete and Kasma adds just another teaspoon of palm sugar (for example) and everything just POPS! into place – the dish is perfect.

Of course, the best part of the class is when you sit down to eat all the food that you’ve prepared. Unlike many cooking classes, here you get a full 4 or 5 course meal complete with deliciously steamed jasmine rice.

Beginning Thai Series Class #1 Menu

Green Curry

Green Curry

Green Curry with Fish, Shrimp and Eggplant – แกงเขียวหวาน (Kaeng Kiew Wahn) In the first series, Kasma teaches many dishes that are more familiar to people in the United States. Green Curry is possibly the favorite curry of people in Thailand. I can eat Green Curry fairly often and I never get tired of it. In this first class, Kasma uses a prepared paste (Mae Ploy) and shows how to balance the flavors to get a delicious result. The very first time I took the class I was amazed at how delicious the dish was – it was far better than anything I’d ever had in a restaurant in this country. What struck me was how easy it was to get such a good result; I still don’t understand why the restaurants here can’t do better.

Massaman Curry

Massaman Curry

Massaman Chicken Curry with Potatoes and Baby Onions – แกงมัสมั่นไก่ (Kaeng Massaman Kai) In July of 2011, Massaman Curry was anointed by CNNGo as The World’s Most Delicious Food. It’s a very different curry than Green Curry. The word “Massaman” means Muslim so this literally is “Muslim Curry.” It’s possible that it was created at the court of King Narai to serve to Persian envoys. It’s made with roasted spices and almost has more of an Indian taste than a Thai taste. Kasma’s version uses chicken thighs and baby onions; it’s a very, rich curry – a little goes a long way. At the bottom of this page is a slideshow of Kasma cooking Massaman curry.

Hot & Sour Vegetables

Hot & Sour Vegetables

Hot and Sour Vegetable – ผัดเปรี้ยวหวาน (Pad Preow Wan)One advantage that Asian cuisine has over American would be the wide variety of vegetables and vegetable dishes. This dish uses pickling cucumbers in a stir-fry with tomatoes and shrimp. The hot comes from chillies (wax peppers in Kasma’s version) and the sour from vinegar.

Bananas in Coconut Milk

Bananas in Coconut Milk

Bananas Simmered in Jasmine-Scented Coconut Milk – กล้วยบวชชี (Kluay Buat Chee). There are a wide variety of snacks in Thailand, many of which use coconut in some form. Bananas in Coconut Milk is one of the best known ones. The name is quite interesting – กล้วยบวชชี (Kluay Buat Chee):

  • กล้วย (kluay) – means banana
  • บวช (buat) – to ordain
  • ชี (chee) – nun

So the meaning is literally “bananas ordained as nuns.” In Thailand, nuns wear white so it’s a reference to the bananas in a coconut (white) sauce.

Slideshow – Massaman Curry

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Kasma Cooking
Stirring Massaman Curry
Tasting Exercise
Adding Tamarind
Curry with Chicken
Massaman Curry
Plating the Curry
Finished Dish

Kasma cooking Massaman Curry - แกงมัสมั่น (Kaeng Massaman)

Here the Massaman paste has been cooked in coconut cream

Tasting the curry to learn how to harmonize flavors

Here Kasma adds the Tamarind to the Massaman curry

The chicken and onions have been added

Massaman Curry - ready to serve

Putting the Massaman Curry in a serving dish

Massaman Curry in a serving dish. Yum!

Kasma Cooking thumbnail
Stirring Massaman Curry thumbnail
Tasting Exercise thumbnail
Adding Tamarind thumbnail
Curry with Chicken thumbnail
Massaman Curry thumbnail
Plating the Curry thumbnail
Finished Dish thumbnail

See Michael’s blogs on the other classes in this series:

Written by Michael Babcock, July 2012

Kasma Loha-unchit in Songkla (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Kasma Loha-unchit in Songkla

Kasma Loha-unchit

Kasma Loha-unchit

This picture shows Kasma at the National Museum in Songkla, a southern seaside city on the Gulf side of Thailand. The museum was originally the governor’s mansion and is well worth  a visit. Even on very warm days, it’s cool inside. The picture on my computer desktop rotates every day and I’m always glad when this picture appears.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture  each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.