|sweet rice with fresh mango and Fredericksburg peaches|
A few weeks ago, one of my childhood friends (the same one who was married in Greece a few years ago) and I took a cooking class at Thai Fresh in South Austin. She is very well-traveled, sort of my travel idol actually, and has a good appreciation for good food from around the world. I am a big fan of Thai food, but have never tackled making any on my own, so we met up for a little educational excursion.
Jam, who owns and runs Thai Fresh with her husband, was a great teacher. The class was well-organized and she took the time to explain ingredients and the reasons behind certain techniques, which was great since things like pandan leaves are pretty much unknown to most of us, and we may have heard of keffir lime leaves or galangal but probably haven't actually worked with them. And while the techniques are very straightforward and simple, it is as slightly different approach than how I usually cook. She filled us in on where to buy ingredients, the best brands to look for, and which substitutions to avoid and which would work. Her approach to cooking is similar to mine though, in that she makes use of ingredients that are in season and local as much as possible, so dishes will vary a bit each time you make them depending on the season.
|Tom Kha Gai soup|
The class was titled "Thai Favorites," and we made a variety of dishes. One of my favorites, Tom Kha Gai soup (coconut chicken), was far easier than I would have imagined it to be.
We also made Pad Thai and a red curry with chicken and eggplant. Both were great, but I was partial to the curry, which was just a subtle and perfect blend of the flavors that Thai food strives to balance: sweet, sour, hot, and salty. We finished the meal with a sweet rice served with mango that was also just wonderful.
So then came the time for me to try making some of these at home. I had gotten yellow squash and mango in my most recent Farmhouse Delivery, so I knew I wanted to try the curry and the sweet rice. I made a lunch time trip to MT Supermarket, which is very close to where I work, to pick up some of the other ingredients. They had everything I needed (and then some!) except the keffir lime leaves, which they were out of and pandan leaves. Thai Fresh also sells groceries, and I intended to stop there, but time got away from me, so this ended up being a bit of an experiment on substitutions.
Jam had said not to use lime juice in place of the keffir lime leaves because it would be too overwhelming, but I tried using a tiny bit of lime zest (about 1/4 tsp) in the red curry. I really don't think it added anything, and when you got a bite that actually had the zest in it, I thought it was too much. Natural Gardener has small keffir lime trees for sale, so I think I will just get one and keep it potted for future curries... they are pretty trees anyhow (but thorny).
Overall though, the curry was still a keeper, and the yellow squash were perfect in it.
I was also missing the pandan leaves for the sticky rice, and for those of you unfamiliar with them, they provide sort of a vanilla flavor. So, I added 1/4 tsp of some of the lovely Mexican vanilla I got on my trip to the Yucatan last summer. I intended to just start with a small amount and taste then add more if necessary, but 1/4 tsp ended up being plenty. It was not exact, and the pandan leaves were better... again just more subtle, and the syrup was good on it's own without adding any vanilla (the pandan leaves are optional in the recipe), but I liked it enough that I will use that substitute again if pandan leaves are M.I.A.
The Thai fresh website has a lot of great info about Thai food and cooking, and Jam has a blog as well. I highly recommend taking a class too, for anyone in Austin or nearby who may be interested. I will going back for more—probably the class on curries—that is for sure.