Napalai Thai Cuisine School is run by it’s owner, Bunny. Her nickname in Thai is rabbit so she goes by Bunny in English. Bunny has a beautiful outdoor kitchen attached to her home. It has a concrete floor, and a covered roof, but the rest is open air. She has stainless steel gas stoves and everything is spotless. She grows fresh herbs and vegetables within reach of the kitchen. Her husband drives the pickup van, and does her prep work. She also has excellent English, and a personality that deserves a show on Food Network. My class with Bunny cost 1200 THB = $44, and because it’s low season, it was a private lesson.
After selecting my menu, I got a lesson in produce. New to me was galanga, a Thai ginger that is milder and sweeter than regular ginger; Thai garlic, with is smaller than our garlic; fresh turmeric, which I though was a dried up nub of carrot; kefir leaves and lime; pea eggplant and Thai eggplant (that have dozens of varieties of eggplant).
Thai food is careful balance of flavours; sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (if you really want to get into it). The recipes were relatively simple and quick, although they had plenty of ingredients that are new to me. Everything was cooked in a wok, and coconut milk was a major player.
Banana Spring Rolls – Bite sized treats, made with phyllo, deep fried and served with sweetened condensed milk.
Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup – I really like the flavours of this dish that features coconut milk and galangal. Not spicy!
Stir Fry Holy Basil with Chicken – Since I don’t like spicy, we added two little chilis instead of 4-5. Buy the end it as about all I could handle! The rice has black rice in it, which Bunny called “raspberries”. After cooking this in the hot wok, I now understand why people cook outside. It’s hot! And smelly! And oily!
Papaya Salad is know for it’s heat, so we had to really tone this one down for me. To maintain balance, we added more cane sugar and more lime juice. I had thought this was a fruit salad, but young green papayas acts more like a vegetable. The salad is crunchy, like a coleslaw. In a mortar, we mixed the dressing ingredients. Next we added the vegetables, and then we crushed (with the pestle) and flipped until it was just juicy enough. It is excellent without heat.
To make the green curry chicken, we first had to make the green curry paste. The green colour should come from the chilis, but sometimes it’s not enough, so we added some thai basil for color (I like the flavour too). The chopped ingredients got tossed in the mortar, and then we sat on the floor and pestled away (pestled is a word, right?). Bunny told me we should hear the crack crack of the pestle on the mortar, because that means I will be a good Thai wife!
We tasted everything as we cooked, and adjusted the flavours for balance. The first pass at the curry was so bland. We needed to add more curry paste, or it would just taste like coconut milk.
Bunny also showed me that I had been eating this all wrong. You are supposed to take some rice in the spoon, using the fork to help you, then using the serving spoon, add some of the chicken, and finally pour some of the soup on top for flavour. You never take more than you are going to eat, and you never eat straight from the bowl. (Oops!)
Mango Sticky Rice – It’s rice pudding. Made with coconut milk, of course. In a wok. With soy nuts on top for crunch. We added extra sugar because Bunny said the mangoes aren’t very sweet right now. I thought it was amazing.
This is used to reheat rice! There’s also a woven hat do go on top.
- Ok, I knew how to crush garlic with my cleaver before this lesson. Bunny was impressed, but here are some other tricks I learned.
- Crush chilis with a sweeping motion to get them to open up in one fell swoop.
- Hold chilis by the stem when chopping. haha
- Sticky rice must be steamed, not boiled. It should be soaked overnight (or at least 5 hours). You can use a rice cooker, but you have to use the steaming portion, and put a cloth on the bottom so the rice doesn’t fall through.
- To juice a lime, crush it over a hard metal spoon (like it’s trying to bite the spoon) over a bowl.
- Most of Bunny’s ingredients had a metal “Chinese” soup spoon in it, which measures a tablespoon. (never knew!)
I left Bunny stuffed to the gills, with some new skills, and a great cookbook.