Home   Blog   Classes   Trips   More   back

Posts Tagged ‘curry’

Kaeng Ron Baan Suan – A Chiang Mai Restaurant

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Perhaps my favorite restaurant in Chiang Mai is ร้านอาหารแกงร้อนบ้านสวน – Raan Ahaan Kaeng Ron Baan Suan – meaning, literally, “hot curry garden house restaurant;” it’s usually referred to as Kaeng Ron Baan Suan. According to their website, it features “Delectable Northern and Thai Cuisine in a Traditional Lanna Garden” and the food is very delectable indeed! They have a number of Northern specialties that make it well worth a visit.

Restaurant Front

Entrance to Kaeng Ron Baan Suan

Restaurant Sign

Sign for Kaeng Ron Baan Suan

(Click images to see larger version.)

To the upper left is a photo of the entry into the restaurant. The picture on the right shows the restaurant sign – แกงร้อนบ้านสวน (Kaeng Ron Baan Suan). You can find the restaurant location below.

Restaurant Interior

Eating in the garden

Restaurant Server

Our server

The seating area is, indeed, in a nice garden setting (shown to the left). To the right is our server on one of Kasma’s recent small group trips to Thailand; Kasma takes two of her trips here for a lunch-time feast with some of the delectable northern dishes that the restaurant is known for.

If you’d like, you can go directly to a slideshow of some of our favorite dishes at the bottom of the page.

Of course, the main reason for coming here is the food, which is spectacular.

Dipping Sauces

Platter with sauces

Fried Naem Sausage

Fried Naem Sour Sausage

Kasma always begins with at least one of the two dishes above. At the upper left is a platter with various vegetables, meats and pork skin that will be eaten with the sauces on the platter. The right-most sauce in Nam Prik Nuum – a very spicy, young green chilli sauce. The left sauce is Nam Prik Ong – a pork-based sauce.

Kasma also finds it hard to pass up the dish on the upper right – Fried Naem Sour Sausage Slices (Naem Tod). To eat this dish, you pop a piece of the fried sour sausage into your mouth along with some or all of the accompanying items of your choice: fried peanuts, ginger, a bite of Thai chillie (hot!) and/or some cabbage.

Naem is something you really should try when in Northern Thailand. Check out Kasma’s blog Don’t Miss Naem Sour Sausage When Visiting Northern Thailand. Naem is often served “raw” (it is a fermented product) so Kasma prefers to order it in this form where it is cooked from the deep-frying.

Hunglay Curry

Hunglay Curry

Sticky Rice

Sticky Rice

The dish on the left is another “must-order” dish (there are so many here!) – one of my top ten favorite Thai dishes: It is Northern Hunglay Pork Curry (Kaeng Hunglay), a flavorful pork curry made with rich, fatty pork – so delicious. At this meal, Kasma always orders sticky rice served in a traditional fashion: each person (or pair) gets an individual basket with the sticky rice, which is eaten with the fingers.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken

Green Papaya Salad

Green Papaya Salad

Two other favorites above. The first dish is “Garden House” Crispy Fried Chicken (Gai Tod Baan Suan) – their own particularly delicious version of fried chicken. The other dish is, of course, Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam).

Fruit Salad

Fruit Salad

Charcoal-Grilled Catfish

Charcoal-Grilled Catfish

Two more great dishes. On the upper left is another of my current top ten Thai dishes: Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Mixed Fruit Salad (Tam Ponlamai). I first had this scrumptious salad here at Kaeng Ron Baan Suan. It looks like a fairly innocuous fruit salad but nothing can really prepare you for the combination of sour/hot-spicy (from chillies)/garlicky explosion of flavors in your mouth: in combination with the fruit it is extraordinary.

The second dish, especially tasty here, is often found as a street food: Charcoal-Grilled Catfish, “Sweet Fish Sauce” and Neem Leaves (Sadao Nam Pla Wan Pla Doog Yang). The neem leaves have an extremely bitter taste by themselves; however, in combination with the succulent grilled catfish and the sweet dipping sauce they add an exciting taste and texture to the dish. I don’t know of anything quite like this in western cuisine.

Eggplant Dish

Stir-fried Eggplant

Curry Dish

Northern Spicy Curry

Two more dishes that Kasma orders here. To the upper right is Long Eggplant Stir-fried with Holy Basil (Makeua Yao Pad Kaprao). On the right is Northern Spicy Curry with Vegetables (Kaeng Awm).

Drinks

Papaya Drink

Papaya “Smoothie”

Watermelon Drink

Watermelon “Smoothie”

I usually get a blended fruit drink to accompany my meal; they are essentially fresh fruit blended with a little ice to make a fruit smoothie. This type of drink is called pan, which is pronounced with a “bp” at the front, so more like “bpan.” They are a very refreshing drink to go with all the flavorful and (often) spicy dishes.

Desserts

Assuming you have room left after such a scrumptious feast, there are a number of Thai kanom to try, which will refresh your mouth after the spicy food.

Dessert

Ruam Mitr

Gingko Nut Dessert

Gingko nut dessert – Oni Pae Guay

Above left you see a version of Iced Sweet Coconut Milk with Various Tidbits (Ruam Mitr). On the right is Oni Pae Guay, made from 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. (See Kasma’s recent blog on Gingko Nuts.)


Slideshow of Dishes at Kaeng Ron Baan Suan

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Dipping Sauces
Fried Naem Sausage
Hunglay Curry
Sticky Rice
Kaeng Hoh
Fried Chicken
Green Papaya Salad
Fruit Salad
Charcoal-Grilled Catfish
Eggplant Dish
Curry Dish
Papaya Drink
Watermelon Drink
Thai Dessert
Gingko Nut Dessert

Platter with two dipping sauces – Nam Prik Nuum & Nam Prik Ong

Fried Naem Sour Sausage Slices (Naem Tawd)

Hunglay Curry (Kaeng Hunglay Moo) from Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant

White Sticky Rice (Kao Niow) served in a traditional basket

Thai-style "Chow Mein" (Kaeng Hoh)

"Garden House" Crispy Fried Chicken (Gai Tawd Baan Suan)

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Mixed Fruit Salad (Tam Ponlamai)

Charcoal-Grilled Catfish with Neem Leaves (Sadao Nam Pla Wan Pla Doog Yang)

Long Eggplant Stir-fried with Holy Basil (Makeua Yao Pad Kaprao)

Northern Spicy Curry with Vegetables (Kaeng Awm)

Papaya "Smoothie" (Malagaw Pan)

Watermelon "Smoothie" (Taeng Mo Pan)

Sweet Coconut Soup with Various Tidbits (Ruam Mitr)

A gingko nut dessert - Oni Pae Guay - at Kaeng Ron Ban Suan restaurant in Chiang Mai

Dipping Sauces thumbnail
Fried Naem Sausage thumbnail
Hunglay Curry thumbnail
Sticky Rice thumbnail
Kaeng Hoh thumbnail
Fried Chicken thumbnail
Green Papaya Salad thumbnail
Fruit Salad thumbnail
Charcoal-Grilled Catfish thumbnail
Eggplant Dish thumbnail
Curry Dish thumbnail
Papaya Drink thumbnail
Watermelon Drink thumbnail
Thai Dessert thumbnail
Gingko Nut Dessert thumbnail

Location

ร้านอาหารแกงร้อนบ้านสวน – Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant
149/3 ม.2 ถ.เลียบคลองชลประทาน ต.ช้างเผือก อ.เมือง จ.เชียงใหม่ 50300
149/3 Moo 2, Lieb Klong Chonprathan Rd.,Chang Phueak, Muang 50000
Tel.+66 5322 1378 , +66 5321 3762
Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Website (in Thai only).
Map to Kaeng Ron Baan Suan.
Hours: 10:30 to 22:30

Here’s another review of Kaeng Ron Ban Suan.


Written by Michael Babcock, January 2014

Current Top Ten Thai Dishes

Michael Babcock, Friday, November 15th, 2013

In this blog I talk about my current “Top Ten” favorite Thai dishes. I have to say “current,” because this is an ever-changing list, based on current tastes and on what recipe Kasma has just created. Sometimes a new dish just has to be included, though many of these dishes are on the list on a permanent basis.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Pork & Tofu

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu

Kasma estimates that restaurants in the U.S. typically serve maybe 5% of the number of different dishes available in Thailand. If you were to take all of Kasma’s Thai Cooking classes, you’d learn somewhere around 250+ different Thai recipes, many of which are seldom found outside of Thailand. My list of top ten dishes is composed of dishes that I’ve eaten both in Thailand and as Kasma’s creations.

I think the best characteristic of a top ten dish is the delight that you feel when you eat it. Often such a dish will light up all of your taste buds, your entire palate. It will be almost impossible to describe: although you’ll be able to point out flavors that come into consciousness, listing or talking about them is never enough because the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. Even a strong flavor that jumps out can be eaten only in context with the entire backdrop of flavors. To use an overworked analogy, it’s like trying to describe a color to a blind person: this is true even trying to describe this taste to someone who knows what good Thai food should taste like. The only way to really experience the dish is to eat it.

Thai Salad

Wilted Green Salad

Many of the dishes here taste so good, are so delightful, that it’s hard to stop eating. With others, particularly the curries, you can’t really eat a lot because they are so rich. In both instances, even with just a few bites, you feel satisfied and happy to have eaten such a delightful dish.

With two exceptions, recipes are not included. Kasma has developed nearly all of her recipes for teaching in her Thai cooking classes. If you want the recipe, start taking the classes! In these dishes the flavors come together in a startling, stupendous harmony: there’s no way to give a listing of exact ingredients that will give the exact balance of the dish – they must be cooked “to taste” and you have to know what you’re looking for – you need a supremely (Thai-) educated palate. Kasma has written about this process and included a tasting exercise:

Eggplant Salad

Roasted Eggplant Salad

It really takes someone who knows exactly what they are doing and what they are looking for: Kasma, for instance. Once you’ve tasted the dish as it is, then, maybe, you’ll be able to use your expertise to duplicate it.

Four of the dishes below are taught in day 2 of the Weeklong Advanced Thai Cooking Class 2D: I’ve previously blogged on this class in The Best Thai Food in America?. I really should remove that question mark. Also, three of the dishes are in my blog from October 2012 on Five Favorite Thai Dishes.

A Note on Rice

Hunglay Curry

Hunglay Curry

In Thailand, when it’s time to eat, what you say is taan kao (or kin kao), which literally means “eat rice.” The real food of a meal, traditionally was the rice – kao; everything else was grouped under the heading gab kao – literally “with rice.”

As a westerner, I was used to thinking of rice as an accompaniment to a meal, something that you could simply not eat if you weren’t too hungry or if you were counting carbohydrates. Many (probably most) dishes in Thai cuisine (not noodle dishes) are meant to be eaten with rice and, really, they do not taste as good without it. When you serve a curry (such as the Goat Curry or Hunglay Curry) over rice, the taste of the rice, with the curry sauce mixed in, is an integral part of the taste and the whole experience. With most of the dishes below, it is assumed that they are eaten with rice: without the rice, they would not be on the list.


Go directly to a slideshow of all the dishes at the bottom of the page.

The Top Five Dishes

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee)

Tofu Dish

Fermented Tofu and Pork Belly

This dish is a perfect example of a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The “secret ingredient” in this recipe is the red fermented tofu and its brine, which is stir-fried (quickly) with the pork belly (thinly sliced pork belly cooks very fast), chopped garlic, rather large garlic cloves, Thai chillies, fish sauce and some sugar to balance. It is impossible to describe and easy to keep eating and eating, because it is so delicious, despite how rich it is with the fatty pork belly. A stunning dish. Must be eaten with rice.

I first had this dish at the old Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi (the picture at the top of the page to the right is from there). The picture to the left here shows Kasma’s version, cooked during one of her Advanced classes (Set H). The flavor of the two dishes, although slightly different, are quite similar. Both are great.

Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad with Roasted Peppers and Shrimp (Yam Makeua Yao)

Eggplant Salad

Roasted Eggplant Salad

This is one dish that never leaves my Top Five list and hasn’t from the moment I tasted it. A perfect example of a Thai yum (or yam) – a Thai “salad” with a sauce that is sour-spicy/hot with hints of sweet and salty. The eggplant must be charcoal-roasted for this dish, preferably with something like mesquite (here in the U.S., at least) that imparts that wonderful, wood-smoky flavor. One time a student of Kasma’s brought the dish to a potluck having oven-roasted the eggplant: it was a grave disappointment.

The sour-spicy-salty dressing in combination with the  grilled eggplant is a delight and the other ingredients (the shrimp, dried shrimp, sliced shallots and egg) add texture and other accents to the mouth. It is usually a very spicy salad requiring lots of rice to help mitigate the heat.

Kasma’s recipe for this dish is available online: Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad. Try it after doing Kasma’s balancing flavor exercise. Be warned: there is something about roasting the peppers that can make them incendiary.

In addition to Kasma’s classes, My Choice Restaurant in Bangkok has a very good version. (See the third picture of this blog, above right.)

Hot and Spicy Drunkard’s Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Ground Pork, Thai Chillies and Holy Basil (Gkuay Dtiow Pad Kee Mao)

Drunkard's Noodles

Hot & Spicy Drunkard's Noodles

If ever there was a dish that I find hard to stop eating, it is this one. This dish is widely available in Thailand and even shows up on menus in the United States, though in the U.S. it never fails to disappoint. Kasma’s version uses fresh chow fun rice noodles  from a local shop, Yuen Hop Noodle Company, on Webster Street in Oakland, that are delicious to begin with. Add in in ground pork  (we get pastured pork from Riverdog Farms at the Berkeley Farmer’s market), Asian broccoli (ka-nah), a head of garlic, 15 to 20 Thai chillies (yes, this is one dish that must be served spicy/hot), some black soy, Thai oyster sauce and fish sauce, and a large amount of holy basil leaves (you can’t have too much in this dish) and you have an astounding dish with delightful taste and mouth feel. My favorite noodle dish of all time.

By the way, these are called “Drunkard’s Noodles” because they are so spicy that in order to cool the tongue, people are known to drink massive quantities of beer. Do not scrimp on the Thai chillies!

I have never had a better version than Kasma’s.

Spicy Stir-Fried Preserved Black Eggs with Crisped Holy Basil and Chopped Pork (Kai Yiewmah Pad Gkaprow Gkrawb)

Stir-fried Black Eggs

Stir-fried Black Eggs & Pork

Ahh, preserved black eggs (or century eggs), an ingredient that before I met Kasma I would not have considered eating. (See the Wikipedia entry – Century Egg.) To make them (according to Wikipedia), eggs are coated in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for several weeks or even months until the egg white turns a dark, translucent brown and the yolk takes on a dark green to grey color. Kasma says an ingredient missing in the Wikipedia entry, though, is tea leaves: the best preserved eggs are made with tea leaves. The brand she buys lists tea leaves as the primary ingredient. Century eggs can have a rather strong odor, reminiscent of ammonia and sulfur. They are absolutely foreign to a western sensibility and  are, I would say, an acquired taste: over the years, I have learned to like them in congee (johk).

Although a version of this dish is found in many restaurants in Thailand, I had always resisted trying it, until Kasma created this version of the recipe for one of her Advanced Thai Cooking Classes (Advanced Set I).

This recipe actually replaces Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao, which was previously a top five dish. This is a dish that I simply cannot describe adequately. The flavors (indeed, most of the ingredients) are the same as are found in the Drunkard’s Noodles above without the noodles – this dish is served over rice. What is indescribable is what happens to the preserved eggs when you fry them until they are blistered and browned all the way around: they acquire a texture and a taste that, combined with the pork and other seasonings, is outrageously delicious. Simply a stunning dish.

Another difference between this and the traditional pad kaprao (stir-fried with holy basil) recipe is that this one includes crispy-fried holy basil leaves, which add a different flavor and a crunchy texture to the mix.

There is a recipe – Spicy Basil Chicken Recipe– that can be used as the basis for making this recipe yourself. You’ll have to add the preserved egg and also make crispy-fried holy basil.

By the way, the name for preserved eggs in Thai is kai yiao ma (ไข่เยี่ยวม้า), which literally means “horse urine eggs” (yum!), so-called because of the distinctive ammonia odor.

Wilted Greens Salad with Coconut-Lime Chilli Sauce, Fried Chinese Sausage, Crisped Garlic and Crisped Shallots (Yam Dtam Leung)

Wilted Green Salad

Wilted Green Salad

There is simply no way to do justice to this dish with words. Like the eggplant salad, another yum (or yam) salad, it  really must be made with dtam leung greens: nothing else tastes as good. Dtam leung is a vine that grows in the rainy season throughout southeast Asia. It is typically called “ivy gourd” in English. We are able to eat this dish only when we are in Mae Hong Son (at the restaurant, Bai Fern) – as shown in the second picture of this blog, above on the left) or here in the San Francisco Bay Area (shown directly to the left), during the summer when we’re able to get dtam leung leaves from Mithapheap Market in Oakland.

The coconut-lime chilli sauce, is equally salty and sour with a little background sweetness; the little bit of coconut cream transforms it into a different dimension.

What kicks this into the top five, is the addition of the other ingredients, which expand the taste and, in particular, the textures: chinese sausage, carrot shreds, green onion, shallots, unsalted, roasted peanuts, and (the pièces de résistance) crisp-fried garlic and crisp-fried shallots. The wilted green in the sauce provides the backdrop and with each bite, a different taste/texture combination pops into consciousness. Oh my, it is so very tasty.

In Thailand, this salad is usually made with crisped, batter-fried dtam leung. Bai Fern Restaurant was the only one that made it with the wilted greens. In fact, so many Thais complained that it is now made with the crispy-fried greens since that is what most Thai tourists prefer; Kasma has to specify that she wants wilted greens to get it made the way she likes.


The Second Five

Thai Muslim Goat Curry (Gkaeng Ped Pae)

Goat Curry

Thai Muslim Goat Curry

I have surprised myself by deciding to include this recipe in my Top Ten list. It is just so very tasty.

It’s not a very common dish in Thailand: we may have had it at a restaurant in the south once or twice. The time I remember having goat curry in Thailand was when we rented a longtail boat in Krabi and the owner’s wife made the dish for us. Kasma came up with her version of the recipe for her Advanced Set H Class.

It’s another dish where I despair of my descriptive abilities. Kasma’s version utilizes a curry paste made from scratch from many of the usual ingredients: dried chillies, salt, lemon grass, turmeric, garlic, shallots, shrimp paste – kapi, and, an absolutely critical ingredient for the taste of this dish, krachai, called, in English, lesser ginger or “rhizome.” Add in roasted coriander and cumin, some pea eggplants, various flavorings (including fish sauce and palm sugar), kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil and make sure you use bone-in goat: the marrow from the bones will provide thickening and flavor.

The dish has an excellent mouth feel. The various flavors, including a certain amount of heat from the chillies, in combination with the goat meat, are very pleasing, indeed. Another dish that must be eaten with rice.

Bitter Melon Stir-fried with Egg (Mara Pad Kai

Bitter Melon & Egg

Bitter Melon & Egg

Bitter Melonmara, in Thai – has long been one of my favorite foods; I don’t know why. Many people find it too bitter but I’ve always enjoyed the flavor.

This is the simplest to make of my top ten dishes; it is also the one that I make the most. It consists of bitter melon stir-fried with eggs and has four ingredients: oil (I like duck fat or lard), bitter melon, eggs and fish sauce.

Served over rice, it’s a perfect one-dish meal: you’ve got your protein source (egg), vegetable (bitter melon) and healthy fat (lard or duck fat), all served over carbohydrates.

We do have a recipe for this dish: Bitter Melon & EggMara Pad Kai. I also make it with chorizo, though you can also substitute naem sausage for the chorizo if you want to stick with Thai ingredients: see my blog, Bitter Melon, Chorizo & Egg.

Northern Hunglay Pork Curry (Gkaeng Hunglay)

Hunglay Curry

Northern Hunglay Pork Curry

It’s hard not to put this curry in the top five dishes, where it usually resides.

According to Kasma, this curry originated with the Shan people in Burma and was adapted into Northern Thai cuisine. The restaurant Kaeng Ron Ban Suan in Chiang Mai has a good version (as shown in this blog’s 4th picture, above left). The picture to the right is Kasma’s version, made with a combination of fat-laced pork butt and pork belly. It’s a fairly standard curry paste (lemon grass, dried chillies, galanga turmeric, garlic, shallots, salt, shrimp paste) with the addition of hunglay curry powder: Kasma gets hers at the fresh market in Mae Hong Son. Additional flavoring comes from ginger and flavor seasonings such as fish sauce, tamarind and palm sugar. The result is a rich, delicious tasting dish that is immensely satisfying.

Poached Basa Steaks Cooked Ruen Mai-Style in Choo Chee Curry Sauce (Choo Chee Bplah Sawai)

Choo Chee Fish

Choo Chee Fish

Choo Chee curries are red, coconut-based curries. Kasma developed her version of the dish (shown to the left) after enjoying a meal at Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi several years ago. It’s a rich red curry made more distinctive by the addition of roasted spices: peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin.

Kasma’s version is made with meaty basa (also called swai) steaks. A very filling and satisfying dish.

Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Mixed Fruit Salad (Dtam Ponlamai)

Fruit Salad

Hot-and-Sour Fruit Salad

I first had this dish at Kaeng Ron Ban Suan restaurant in Chiang Mai, where it was the inspiration for Kasma’s version. I prefer Kasma’s version mainly because I like the combination of fruits available in U.S. in the summer, when we typically make it.

I love the unexpected flavors in the salad: garlic, chillies, and dried shrimp. I would never think of using those ingredients with fruit in a salad. When you bite into the chilli and garlic it is startling and, yet, somehow it all blends together, pulled together by a sweet (palm sugar), salty (fish sauce) and sour (lime) sauce.

Everything but the fruit is prepared using a mortar and pestle, hence the name – dtam (meaning to pound – the word found in Som Dtam – Green Papaya Salad) and ponlamai (meaning fruit).


Honorable Mention

Golden Yellow Turmeric Sticky Rice with Sweet-and-Savory Shrimp-Coconut Topping (Kao Niow Leuang Nah Gkoong)

Turmeric Sticky Rice

Turmeric Sticky Rice

I feel somewhat badly that I’ve failed to include a dessert in my Top Ten list. I want to give this kanom an honorable mention because it illustrates much of what is good about Thai kanom and, indeed, about Thai cooking. (See Michael’s blog Thai Sweet Snacks – Kanom Wan.)

This dish consists of a sweet (with a bit of salty) sticky rice that has been colored with turmeric. It is completed with a slightly salty coconut cream sauce and a topping made from shrimp (head-on), shredded coconut, garlic, finely slivered kaffir lime leaves and the seasonings; it’s a sauce that is shrimpy, savory and sweet, all at the same time. All colors are natural: the yellow from the turmeric and the startling red from the goop in the shrimp heads.

What I like about it, is the way it lights up the palate. The sweet and salty together is heavenly; then add in the savory-shrimpy-sweet topping (so unexpected in a dessert), and accent it with slivered kaffir lime leaf. It is just a delight.

Like the best of Thai food, it includes distinct harmony groupings (sweet, salty), that both call out for individual attention and also delightfully blend together. Add in the unexpected, the delightful way it feels in your mouth, and it can be hard to stop eating.


Slideshow of Current Favorite Thai Dishes

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Tofu Dish
Pork & Tofu
Eggplant Salad
Eggplant Salad
Drunkard's Noodles
Stir-fried Black Eggs
Wilted Green Salad
Thai Salad
Goat Curry
Bitter Melon & Egg
Hunglay Curry
Hunglay Curry
Choo Chee Fish
Turmeric Sticky Rice

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee)

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee) from Ruen Mai Restaurant

Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad with Roasted Peppers and Shrimp (Yam Makeua Yao)

Roasted Eggplant Salad (Yam Makeua Yao) from My Choice restaurant

Hot and Spicy Drunkard's Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Ground Pork, Thai Chillies and Holy Basil (Gkuay Dtiow Pad Kee Mao)

Spicy Stir-Fried Preserved Black Eggs with Crisped Holy Basil and Chopped Pork (Kai Yiewmah Pad Gkaprow Gkrawb)

Wilted Greens Salad with Coconut-Lime Chilli Sauce, Fried Chinese Sausage, Crisped Garlic and Crisped Shallots (Yam Dtam Leung)

Wilted Greens Salad (Yam Dtam Leung) from Bai Fern restaurant

Thai Muslim Goat Curry (Gkaeng Ped Paeh)

Bitter Melon Stir-fried with Egg (Mara Pad Kai)

Northern Hunglay Pork Curry (Gkaeng Hunglay)

Hunglay Curry (Kaeng Hunglay Moo) from Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant

Poached Basa Steaks Cooked Ruen Mai-Style in Choo Chee Curry Sauce (Choo Chee Bplah Sawai)

Golden Yellow Turmeric Sticky Rice with Sweet-and-Savory Shrimp-Coconut Topping (Kao Niow Leuang Nah Gkoong)

Tofu Dish thumbnail
Pork & Tofu thumbnail
Eggplant Salad thumbnail
Eggplant Salad thumbnail
Drunkard's Noodles thumbnail
Stir-fried Black Eggs thumbnail
Wilted Green Salad thumbnail
Thai Salad thumbnail
Goat Curry thumbnail
Bitter Melon & Egg thumbnail
Hunglay Curry thumbnail
Hunglay Curry thumbnail
Choo Chee Fish thumbnail
Turmeric Sticky Rice thumbnail

Written by Michael Babcock, November 2013

Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #3

Michael Babcock, Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Kasma Loha-unchit has been teaching Thai cooking in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1985. This blog looks at the third class in her 4-session Intermediate Thai Cooking Series, sequel to the Beginning Thai Series (also 4 classes).

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 are very much like a group of friends coming together to cook. By the 3rd intermediate class, people are getting to know each other and are more comfortable together. By this class they’ve gotten used to the class format of breaking into groups and taking a recipe from start to finish. If they’re not hooked on Thai food before this class (most people are), this class is bound to do so!

(Click images to see larger version.)

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

Bai Cha Plu

Bai Cha Plu - Wild Pepper Leaf

One of the strengths of Kasma’s classes is 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 uses 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 introduces fresh water chestnut, used in the Tapioca Pudding. Most students have 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 shows how the same ingredients can be combined in a multitude of ways to make different dishes. In this class, the students learn how to use the mortar & pestle to make a curry paste (Panaeng Curry) from scratch. They learn 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 get to learn Thai dishes that virtually can not be found in this country elsewhere; some classes will focus 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 get 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 #2

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 in his or her 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.

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 goes 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.

Roasting Chillies
Roasting Coriander Seeds
Roasted Coriander Seeds
Grinding Spices
Toasten Oven
Shallots & Garlic
Shrimp Paste
Roasting Shrimp Paste
Roasted Shrimp Paste
Smelling Shrimp Paste
Pounding
Making a Paste
Paste with Chillies
Pounded Curry Paste
Cutting Meat
Meat Close-up
Heating Coconut Cream
Adding Paste
Cooking Paste
Cooked Curry Paste
Adding the Meat
Cooking the Meat
Adding Thai Basil
Panaeng Curry Cooking
Panaeng Curry Team
Panaeng Beef Curry
Close-up of Panaeng Curry

Roasting chillies, stove-top

Roasting coriander seeds in a iron skillet

Roasted coriander seeds - Panaeng Curry uses roasted spices

Grinding spices in the "coffee" grinder

Roasting shallots and garlic in a toaster oven

Roasted shallots and garlic, ready for pounding into a paste

Shrimp paste (kapi) is wrapped in a banana leaf

The shrimp paste (kapi) is then roasted over a flame

Roasted shrimp paste (kapi) - ready for pounding

Shrimp paste (kapi) is quite fragrant!

Beginning to make the curry paste with a stone mortar & pestle

The curry paste is progressing

The curry paste with pounded chillies, almost ready

Pounded Panaeng Curry paste, ready for cooking

Cutting the skirt steak for the Panaeng Curry

Close-up of cutting beef against the grain

Heating coconut cream for frying the curry paste

Adding the curry paste to the coconut cream

Cooking the curry paste in the coconut cream

The curry paste is cooked until it is aromatic

Adding the skirt steak to the curry paste & coconut cream mixture

The beef is lightly cooked in the paste mixture

Thai Basil and slivered kaffir lime leaves are added to the pot

The Thai basil has wilted: almost finished!

The 4 members of the Panaeng Curry team

Panaeng Beef Curry (Kaeng Panaeng Neua)

A close up of the Panaeng Curry, ready to eat

Roasting Chillies thumbnail
Roasting Coriander Seeds thumbnail
Roasted Coriander Seeds thumbnail
Grinding Spices thumbnail
Toaster Oven thumbnail
Shallots & Garlic thumbnail
Shrimp Paste thumbnail
Roasting Shrimp Paste thumbnail
Roasted Shrimp Paste thumbnail
Smelling Shrimp Paste thumbnail
Pounding thumbnail
Making a Paste thumbnail
Paste with Chillies thumbnail
Pounded Curry Paste thumbnail
Cutting Meat thumbnail
Meat Close-up thumbnail
Heating Coconut Cream thumbnail
Adding Paste thumbnail
Cooking Paste thumbnail
Cooked Curry Paste  thumbnail
Adding the Meat thumbnail
Cooking the Meat thumbnail
Adding Thai Basil thumbnail
Panaeng Curry Cooking thumbnail
Panaeng Curry Team thumbnail
Panaeng Beef Curry thumbnail
Close-up of Panaeng Curry thumbnail

Don’t miss:

Here is the next Intermediate Class Blogs:

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

You can find out all the necessary details about class times, dates and policies on our website.


Written by Michael Babcock, June 2013

Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #2

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Kasma Loha-unchit’s 4-session Intermediate Thai Cooking Series takes up where her Beginning Thai Cooking Series leaves off. It’s a chance to learn new ingredients, techniques and Thai recipes. 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:

(Click images to see larger version.)

As always, the class begins 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 are more to come in the intermediate classes. In this second class, students learn about roasted rice powder, kaffir lime peels (they’ve already been introduced to the leaves), and shrimp paste (kapi or gkabpi).

New ingredients are covered extensively. When introducing toasted rice powder, kasma shows the students a couple of locally available packages and talks 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 is made locally at a Cambodian market. The products are passed around so that students can taste them. She also goes 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 are an important ingredient in three of the recipes. Kasma explains the two types that will be used this evening and explains 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 use the mortar and pestle extensively in this series. Three of the recipes in this class, involve intensive pounding so Kasma goes 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 are explained, students volunteer (or are assigned) to one of the recipes and break into teams to do the preparation. Kasma supervises making sure everything is done correctly.

Cutting & Chopping

Students cutting & chopping

Cutting Lemongrass

Cutting lemongrass

Roasting Galanga

Roasting dried galanga

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

Once the ingredients are prepped, Kasma demonstrates 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’s the feast at the end of the class.

And after the feast, everyone helps to clean up.

One thing I appreciate about Kasma’s classes is that you learn 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 do every aspect of the meal preparation, from chopping, roasting and pounding to cooking, eating and clean-up, just as you will at home. Everyone gets to watch the final assembly of every dish, learning how to prepare every dish in the class, rather than just the single dish they’ve 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

It’s 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: you have to get through to Kasma’s Advanced Set G 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.

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 learn 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 teach 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

Don’t miss:

Here are the next Intermediate Class Blogs:

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

You can find out all the necessary details about class times, dates and policies on our website.


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2013

Five Favorite Thai Dishes

Michael Babcock, Monday, October 15th, 2012

Living with Thai cooking teacher Kasma Loha-unchit and traveling all over Thailand together, I have been exposed to a very large number of Thai dishes. I am often asked by students which are my favorites. Talk about a difficult choice! There are dozens of dishes that I could put on such a list: I sometimes joke that my top 10 list has 30 dishes on it. If forced to pick, though there are 5 dishes that would most likely always make the cut. These are those 5 dishes.

By the way, Kasma estimates that what you see on menus in Thai restaurants here in the United States represents perhaps 5% of the total number of dishes: unless you travel to Thailand and eat adventurously (or take Kasma’s Advanced Thai cooking classes), you’ll miss out on the incredible variety offered by Thai Cuisine.

Spicy Basil Pork (Pad Kaprao Moo):

Although pride of place at the top of the list goes to Spicy Basil Pork, I’m not actually going to say very much about this dish because I’ve already written a blog on it: Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao.

Basil Pork

Basil Pork

It suffices to say that this is the one of the most popular dishes in Thailand. You can make almost anything pad kaprao – stir-fried with basil. My favorite of all the versions is when it is made with ground pork, holy basil (kaprao) and lots of fiery hot Thai red chilies. It is best if the ground pork is not too lean.

(Click images to see larger version.)

In Thailand when you ask if someone has eaten, you literally ask them if they have eaten rice. This dish is a perfect illustration of a dish that tastes so much better when it is eaten with rice. It’s good with jasmine rice, and it’s also good with brown rice, GABA Rice, or a combination of both.

People often think of Thai cooking as being very labor intensive. This is one dish that, once you’ve made it a few times, can be put together very quickly.

Try cooking it yourself by adapting Kasma’s online recipe for Spicy Basil Chicken.

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Tao Hoo Yee)

Pork & Tofu

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu

When I first met Kasma, I was fat phobic. I had bought into the Western medicine myth that saturated fat is bad for you. Ironically, I was the one who was eating “healthy” and Kasma was the one who had an “unhealthy” diet. I was eating low-fat, low salt and lots of tofu; Kasma had a relatively high-fat diet and ate many of the things that we are told we should not eat, such as pork belly. She was the one that was super-healthy and I was the one with all kinds of health issues. (I invite you to check out my blog on: A “Healthy” Diet .)

When I first met Kasma, I never would have eaten this dish. My loss.

I first had the dish at Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi. For me, this dish is like a beautiful dance between the pork belly and the fermented tofu. It’s a very difficult dish to describe to someone who has never had fermented tofu, which can be an acquired taste. The first time I ate it, I had a hard with its unaccustomed smell and taste. Somewhere along the line, though, I came to love it. The combination of the pork belly, garlic, Thai chilies along with a bit of fish sauce, red brine from the fermented tofu and a bit of sugar to balance flavors produces a stunning dish: it has a very rich mouth feel from the fatty pork and the fermented tofu gives it a sourness along with something very nearly indescribable.

Pork & Tofu

Kasma's Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu

This is one of my very favorite dishes of all time.

I’m showing two versions here: to the left above is the version from Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi. The second version directly to the right (click to see a larger version) is from Kasma’s Advanced Set H cooking series. Both versions are good. Kasma’s is a bit moister and just a little bit different in flavor. I would eat either one in a heartbeat.

This dish, like the Spicy Basil Pork above, does need chillies in it. One of the wonders of Thai cuisine is the melding of the 4 or 5 different flavor groups (spicy/hot, sour, sweet, salty, bitter) into a harmonious whole. However, if you remove just one of the flavor types, the whole harmony falls apart: to enjoy Thai food you really must learn to enjoy a certain amount of heat, at least for many of the dishes.

If you try to make it yourself at home, make sure you get the red fermented tofu rather than the paler variety.

There is a growing body of evidence that most forms of soy are not very healthy for you. Unfermented soy contains phytates which prevent many of the minerals from being absorbed by your body. Soy also contains substances that depress your thyroid activity. (To name only two of the undesirable qualities.) It’s ok to eat fermented soy products (such as miso, naturally made soy sauce and fermented tofu) because the fermentation process alleviates nearly all of the ill effects. I invite you to go to visit Soy Alert for a summary of many of the undesirable effects of soy and links to 70 different articles about its dangers. A good article to begin with is The Ploy Of Soy .

Stir-fried Bitter Melon with Egg (Mara Pad Kai)

Bitter Melon & Egg

Bitter Melon & Egg

Bitter melon is an ingredient that is foreign to many Westerners, although it is very widely used in both Asian and Indian cuisines. You may want to read Kasma’s article: Bitter Melon – Mara to learn more about this interesting and very healthy vegetable.

I liked bitter melon the first time I tasted it, when Kasma cooked this dish. It is, as you might suspect, a bit bitter in taste; the darker green the vegetable the more the bitter flavor.

This is a very simple dish: stir-fry the sliced bitter melon in a bit of fat (I prefer duck fat or lard) until it begins to turn a bit transparent; then add whisked eggs and cook until the egg is set and done; fish sauce is added, to taste, along the way. That’s pretty much it.

The result is a pleasantly bitter dish, with a little bit of salty fish sauce flavor combined with the egg. Served over rice, it’s a perfect one dish meal: you get your vegetable, your protein, your starch.

Yum.

Kasma teaches this dish in her Beginning/Intermediate Intensive and it is also available in Thailand. You can try this dish for yourself: Kasma’s recipe for Bitter Melon & Egg is available on our website. You may want to start out with a bitter melon that is slightly lighter in color and, therefore, less bitter.

Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad with Roasted Peppers and Shrimp (Yum Makeua Yao)

For years one dish that never leaves this list is the Roasted Eggplant Salad. When I think of this salad I think of two versions, Kasma’s and the version from My Choice restaurant in Bangkok.

Spicy Eggplant Salad

Kasma's Eggplant Salad

Eggplant Salad

Roasted Eggplant Salad

I’ve included pictures of both versions here. The leftmost picture is Kasma’s version from her Advanced Class, Set A. The picture to the right shows the dish as it was served at My Choice. I prefer Kasma’s version, which includes small dried shrimp and hard-boiled egg, which give the salad added texture and dimension.

There are several things that make this dish delicious. The first is the dressing, which is spicy/hot and sour, with a touch of sweet. The second is a combination of textures, from the soft roasted eggplant, the raw shallots, the shrimp, and, in Kasma’s version, dried shrimp and hard-boiled egg. The third factor comes from the grilled eggplants.

Green Eggplants

Green Eggplants in Thailand

Many years ago a student of Kasma’s signed up to bring this dish to a potluck. I immediately began salivating. When he brought the dish I was really disappointed because he had broiled the eggplant, not grilled them. The grilling adds an absolutely essential dimension to the dish. Without the grilling, it’s just another salad. It should be grilled with natural charcoal, such as mesquite, or flavoring chips (such as mesquite) should be added to the coals.

There is one way in which the My Choice version is superior: the eggplant itself. In Thailand there is a long green eggplant that lends itself perfectly to this dish. When grilled it is succulent and absolutely delicious. We’ve never been able to find a long eggplant in the United States that roasts up as well. Occasionally we will even come across a long green eggplant from an Asian vendor at the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market but the flavor is just not the same. We found that Filipino long eggplants do work fairly well.

Southern-Style Hot Sour Curry with Halibut/Prawns and Coconut Shoots or Green Papaya (Kaeng Lueang/Som Goong Kap Yawd Maprao/Malagaw)

The last (but not least) of my five favorites is Kaeng Som (literally “Sour Curry”). Most people are familiar with the northern version of the dish: a tangy curry that gets its sourness from sour tamarind (makahm).

Sour Curry,

Sour Curry, Southern Style

I prefer the southern version – usually called Kaeng Lueang, or “Yellow Curry” to distinguish it from the better known northern version. The yellow color comes from turmeric, a common ingredient in southern dishes. There’s a good article in the Bangkok Post by Suthon Sukphisit on this curry that explains how the southern version is different: ‘Kaeng Som’ A thai culinary classic.

Here’s how Suthon Sukphisit describes the southern version:

The taste of southern kaeng som combines sourness, saltiness and spiciness, with no sweetness, and the chilli heat strongly dominant. Because of its heat it is eaten together with dishes that counter the spiciness, like sweet-salty shrimp or pork, fish fried with turmeric, bai lieng fried with egg or the fern-like phak kuud fried with coconut cream.

This picture shows the version from Kasma’s cooking class, Advanced Set G. It’s a fiery dish that includes 30 dried red chillies, 5 large dried red chillies and 10 fresh red Thai chillies. She makes it with basa steaks, a good meaty fish. She includes sliced coconut or bamboo shoots, either of which give it a distinctive taste.

It’s a dish that will have you reaching for a napkin (to wipe the sweat from your forehead) and for something to drink (to cool the heat in your mouth).

We also get a very, very good version of this dish at Ruen Mai Restaurant in Krabi. Their version is probably hotter than Kasma’s. I can eat fairly hot after living with Kasma for over 2 decades, but a few bites of the Ruen Mai version (even with lots of rice) is enough for me.


So these are five of my current favorite Thai dishes. Please leave a comment with your own favorites.


Written by Michael Babcock, October 2012

Thai Thanksgiving Dish

Kasma Loha-unchit, Thursday, November 4th, 2010

At Thanksgiving time there’s a great option for a main course at your Thanksgiving feast – it’s Roast Duck and Pumpkin Curry.

Ingredients

Ingredients for curry

It’s  that time of year again when pretty winter squashes in different sizes, shapes and colors attract my attention at produce markets near my home. I can’t  resist picking up an assortment to take home to brighten up the greenhouse window in my kitchen. Most of them sooner or later end up in the pot, pan and wok, adding sweetness, richness and the golden color of autumn to comfort foods that warm the cool evenings of the season.

Ingredients

More ingredients

Though not as colorful and outwardly pretty, my favorite golden squash for cooking is still the Japanese kabocha, as its flavor, smoothness and creaminess are closest to the tropical “pumpkins” I grew up eating in Thailand. Although it is available year-round in the Bay Area, at this time of year, riper and tastier ones are easier to find. I look for squashes that have a good weight for their size and whose color has turned from the deep green of summer to a grayish green splashed with the golden hues of the season. The outside peel of ripened kabochas may feel a little sticky to the touch, revealing that the sugar is well-developed and sweetness is assured. (See Kasma’s blog on Kabocha Squash.)

Ready to Cook

Ready to cook

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

The bright golden flesh of kabocha cooks to a smooth and creamy consistency and is delicious paired with coconut milk in desserts and in rich, warming soups. It can also be cut into sticks, coated with seasonings and fried to make a tasty snack, served with a tamarind dipping sauce. As Thanksgiving approaches, I like to pair the golden squash with roast duck, simmering them in a spicy curry sauce to serve up as a main dish with rice. My husband, in fact, finds the combination perfect for the season, and calls it our “Thai Thanksgiving curry.”

Frying Curry Paste

Frying curry paste

The curry paste I prefer with duck is red curry. Unlike Indian curries where dry spices figure prominently, the popular Southeast Asian red curry is decidedly herbal with the majority of ingredients comprised of moist tropical herbs and roots, such as lemon grass, galanga, kaffir lime peel, cilantro roots, kachai (an aromatic ginger), garlic and shallots. To these are added a few varieties of dry seeds, such as peppercorns, coriander and cumin, and fermented shrimp paste. It is “red” from both fresh and dried red chillies, and although other curries may have a reddish color, red curry is a particular combination of ingredients that makes it more herbal and lighter-tasting than say, massaman and panaeng curries, for instance.

Cooking Curry

Duck & squash added

Several brands of red curry paste are imported from Thailand, available in plastic pouches, plastic tubs, glass jars and tin cans. I generally do not like canned pastes as canning tends to destroy the subtle flavors of more delicate herbs in the paste. My favorite brand is Mae Ploy  in small and large plastic tubs. This is a spicy and salty paste that probably will not require the addition of fish sauce during cooking. It is readily available in Asian markets that carry Thai ingredients. (See Kasma’s Favorite Brands.)

Red Curry

Ready to eat!

Save yourself the trouble of roasting the duck for the curry by buying one of the beautifully roasted ducks seen hanging in front of duck shops in Chinatown or in the cooked foods section of large, full-service Asian supermarkets. Have the duck chopped up for you into bite-size pieces, but tell them you do not need the sauce. Cook the duck with bone in and skin on to impart a rich roasted duck flavor to the curry sauce. Before serving, skim off and discard the duck fat that has melted into the sauce during cooking.

Of course, other kinds of winter squashes may be used for the curry, so if you have a preference for others of autumn’s golden fruits, try them in this curry. The calabasa now available in many farmer’s markets is delicious and should not be missed.

See our website for more in Thai recipes.


This recipe is also available on our website – Roast Duck and Pumpkin Curry


Roast Duck and Pumpkin Curry – Gkaeng Ped Bped

A Recipe of Kasma Loha-unchit

Ingredients

  • An approximately 1 1/2-lb. kabocha or other winter squash
  • 4-5 cups coconut milk (use two 19-oz cans of the Mae Ploy brand)
  • 4-6 Tbs. red curry paste
  • 1 1/2 to 2 Tbs. palm or coconut sugar
  • Fish sauce (nahm bplah) as needed to desired saltiness
  • 2 1/2 to 3 lb. roast duck, chopped through the bone into small chunks
  • 2-4 red hot chillies, cut into thin slivers with seeds (optional)
  • 2 cups Thai basil leaves and flower buds
  • Basil sprig(s) for garnish

Cut the kabocha in half, scoop out the seeds and pith. Placing the cut ends flat on a surface for balance, peel and discard the greenish skin. Then cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch chunks.

Do not shake the cans of coconut milk before opening. Spoon 2/3 cup of the thickest cream off the top of a can into a large pot placed over medium-high heat. Reduce cream until thick and bubbly (about 3 minutes), then add the curry paste. Stir and mush the paste into the coconut cream and fry for a few minutes until it is very aromatic and darkened in color. Then pour in the remaining milk from both cans, stirring well to dissolve the paste to make a smooth rich sauce.

Add 1 1/2 Tbs. of palm or coconut sugar, stirring well to blend into the curry sauce. Taste and add fish sauce only as necessary to salt to the desired saltiness (may not be necessary with some brands of curry paste which are already highly salted).

Add the kabocha chunks and duck pieces. Stir well into the sauce. If there is not enough curry sauce to cover most of the duck and squash pieces, add more coconut milk; or if the sauce already looks plenty rich, add 1/2 cup of water instead, as the squash and duck will thicken and enrich the sauce even more when they are cooked.

Return to a boil, then lower heat to medium, or just enough to boil the sauce gently. Cook partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, or cooked to your liking (15-20 minutes or more). Taste the sauce and adjust as needed with fish sauce and palm sugar to the desired salty-sweet combination. If more hotness is desired, stir in the slivered chillies.

If a lot of fat has cooked out from the duck, skim out the oil floating on top of the curry sauce. Then stir in the basil until it wilts to a bright green color. Turn off heat and spoon curry into a serving dish. Garnish top with basil sprig(s).

The preferred canned coconut milk for this recipe is Mae Ploy and Kasma’s preferred curry paste is Mae Ploy – found in plastic tubs in many Asian Markets. (See Kasma’s Favorite Brands.)


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, November 2010.