If you visit Thailand without trying a cooking class, did you really visit?
There is no better way to learn a country’s culture than through its food. Thai dishes have exploding flavors, which is why a cooking lesson while in Thailand is a must.
This private cooking class I did with Darling Thai Cooking School exceeded my expectations. It was a 8-hour day, hands-on cooking experience using artisanal methods and selecting fresh ingredients from Darling’s spacious green garden.
Read on to find out what the cooking experience was like.
Table of Contents
The class is located in Khon Kaen — a small city in the Northeastern region of Thailand — which is about 6 hours by car to Bangkok.
What I like about Darling is she doesn’t use MSG (monosodium glutamate) in any of her cooking and believes in organic food.
She is also an advocate for reducing plastic pollution. Instead of using plastic bags at the market, she uses woven baskets to carry items. For leftovers, paper boxes.
LOCAL MARKET TOUR
After Darling picked me up from my accommodation, our first stop was an hour spent at a nearby market. She took me to different vendors and explained many of the ingredients we were going to be using. Some items purchased were coconut flesh, fresh chili peppers, dried mild chili peppers, pork skin, palm sugar, fresh spearmint, and fresh coriander.
Darling grows a wide array of vegetables in her garden. I got to harvest pea eggplants, butterfly pea flowers, lemongrass, galangal, limes, and kaffir lime leaves.
The hardest was plucking out galangal. You need a gardening tool to pluck it out from the soil.
WHAT I MADE
The first thing we made was a lemongrass drink. It’s very easy to make.
You start off with peeling parts of the lemongrass and smash the ends with a knife. Add it into a pot of water with pandan leaves, for a green color, and simmer. Allow to cool and serve with ice.
Chicken Panang Curry
Darling took her time to tell me about the ingredients we used, any connection to Thai culture, and the proper preparation. She guided me through the steps to create a delicious menu of these Thai dishes.
Below, I’m prepping all the ingredients for the curry and larb gai prior to cooking. Most of the ingredients were not pre-made.
To make panang curry from scratch, you’ll need a Thai granite mortar and pestle. Start with the hardest and driest ingredients and grind one ingredient at a time. Started with coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorn, and lemongrass, one at a time. Then added garlic, wet chili peppers (for the red color), and soy paste last.
Add salt little by little when the mix is too moist. Traditionally, curry paste is prepared on a mat sitting down.
I got to extract the milk from the coconut flesh purchased at the market after using a rabbit chair to scrape the coconut flesh out of its shell. Using the rabbit chair (wooden coconut grater) is the traditional way of removing coconut flesh from the shell. I must admit it does take some getting used to.
To cook the curry, we used a clay pot and cooked over a charcoal bucket stove. You first cook the coconut milk before adding the other ingredients.
You can smell the aroma once you add the curry paste. With the clay pot, you must keep stirring or it will burn.
What makes this curry unique compared to Indian curries is it contains shrimp paste, lemongrass, and galangal.
Larb Gai (Spicy Salad)
The style of preparation for larb gai varies but the Isan (northeastern) version is made using roasted rice powder.
On the same bucket stove, we prepared larb gai. To make it, you typically use minced chicken, but in our case minced pork was used.
First, cook the pork in water with shallots and fresh pork skin. Then you add in the other ingredients and cook.
When it’s ready, you serve with rice.
Chor Muang (Flower dumplings)
To achieve the purple color for chor muang, briefly soak fresh butterfly pea flowers in water and use your hands to press through the petals to release the blue color until they turn white. Then squeeze some lime to change the color from blue to purple.
On the stovetop, cook the butterfly pea liquid with rice flour, glutinous rice flour, and tapioca starch stirring continuously until it’s well mixed.
You roll a piece of the dough into a small ball and flatten it. Fill the dough with pork filling, which contains minced pork, shallots, coriander root, pickled radish, grounded peanuts, sugar, salt, and oil.
To create the flower-like dumplings, we used a pair of dumpling tweezers. At times they weren’t coming together as I would have liked and got tired of making them. Once you’re done preparing the dumplings, you steam them for a few minutes on the stove. They are yummy!
I chose Darling’s class because we were actually cooking the food from scratch from buying to washing to chopping to cooking to plating. Elated to have savored some of the most delicious Thai dishes at the comfort of her home.
Since taking this class, I’ve remade the panang curry, lemongrass drink, and larb gai at home. The flavors of larb gai was the hardest to reproduce being outside of Thailand.
HOW TO BOOK
Even if it’s just to cook good Thai food, Khon Kaen is worthy of a trip. To book this wonderful experience with Darling, you can contact her directly on facebook or book on Cookly. Make sure you tell her I sent you.
Disclaimer: This activity was self-sponsored. All opinions expressed are my own.
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