From 1985 until her retirement in 2020 Kasma Loha-unchit (my wife), taught thousands of students how to cook delicious Thai food. This blog talks about her first beginning class in an evening series of four classes. Kasma preferred to teach a series of classes because it is impossible to give an adequate introduction to Thai food in just one class.
I also blogged on the other classes in this series:
- Beginning Thai Cooking with Kasma, Class #2.
- Beginning Thai Cooking with Kasma, Class #3.
- Beginning Thai Cooking with Kasma, Class #4.
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 had 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.)
After those classes, for many years (until she retired!) I simply showed up when it was time to eat. I liked to think of this as giving a disinterested third-party opinion about the food; really, the food was just too good not to come eat.
Although I can cook a number of Thai dishes reasonably well – I don’t even need the recipes for some of them – I wrote this in 2012 after I decided to sit in on the beginning series again, knowing that there was a lot for me to remember and a lot more to learn.
All of the classes started out with Kasma going over the recipes and introducing any new ingredients or techniques in the recipes. In the beginning series the introduction could take a bit longer because there were so many more things to introduce and go over. Retaking the series, I had forgotten how much information Kasma gave: we had several students who took the beginning series more than once, for good reason!
One of the best parts about Kasma’s classes was that you learned how to use ingredients that are available locally. In the very first class students tasted eight or nine different brands of coconut milk to get a sense for what was 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 was introducing students to the best brands that she knows. Students leared to cook authentic Thai food with the ingredients they can purchase in the United States.
All classes were at least partially hands on. Students did virtually all of the food preparation – the chopping, de-shelling shrimp and so on. Kasma supervised (somehow not seeming to miss anything as the 12 students worked) and stepped into demonstrate as needed.
Once all of the ingredients were ready, they were gathered by the stove to be cooked. Kasma tended to do more of the cooking in the first class; as the series progressed, students did more and more of the cooking themselves. She often asked for volunteers and then supervised as the student did the actual cooking. One good thing about Kasma’s classes was that all the recipes are intended for groups of people, so you cooked the dishes just as you would when you later cooked them at home.
Perhaps the most valuable part of the first class was learning to harmonize flavors. (See Creating Harmony with Primary Flavors.) As the two curry dishes of this class were assembled, at critical points, just before ingredients such as palm sugar or fish sauce were added, students were given a taste of the dish; then the important ingredients were 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 loveed the “WOW” moments when you thought the dish was complete and then Kasma added just another teaspoon of palm sugar (for example) and everything just went POP! into place – the dish was perfect.
Of course, the best part of the class was when you sat down to eat all the food that you prepared. Unlike many cooking classes, here you got a full 4 or 5 course meal complete with deliciously steamed jasmine rice.
Beginning Thai Series Class #1 Menu
Green Curry with Fish, Shrimp and Eggplant – แกงเขียวหวาน (Kaeng Kiew Wahn) In the first series, Kasma taught 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 used a prepared paste (Mae Ploy) and showed 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 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 and Sour Vegetable – ผัดเปรี้ยวหวาน (Pad Preow Wan) One advantage that Asian cuisine has over American is 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 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.
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Written by Michael Babcock, July 2012 & May 2020