5AM was our pick up time. A bubblegum pink bus with a dancing elephant on the side waited for us outside the hotel. We had been doing excursions since we had arrived in Karon Beach, Phucket, Thailand four days earlier. We had almost reached the point of not even knowing what each day would bring us… but this was the day I had been waiting for: a cooking class at the Blue Elephant cooking school.
The day started at a food market where our guide Ollie, would talk us through a typical day in the life of a Thai person.
Due to their lifestyle and the fact that it is too hot and humid to be standing cooking all day, all meals are prepared with in a matter of minutes.
I made my intentions clear from the start; I was there to steal with eyes, nose and mouth. All the exotic fruits I had never seen or heard of, the combinations of ingredients, the simplicity yet complex flavours… I wanted to know it all.
As we walked into the market our guide explained how the food market worked. It was open from late the previous night for restaurants to buy their produce. We met a 78 year old woman who had been sitting there since the night before selling her “stinky” beans. Next was a lady who on a daily basis makes her fresh curry pastes. Bowls piled high with fragrant and colourful pastes. A man was shaving fresh coconut and selling the milk. A fruit vendor had an array of funny looking things, our guide talked me through most of them and bought a few for me to taste. Rambutan, multi coloured dragon fruit, durian, – all so unique in flavour.
Then we were off to the cooking school. An open planned room, with cooking stations for almost eight people to work at, opened onto the beach that stretched for miles. It was one of those pinch yourself moments.
We were shown how to make a simple springroll, tom yung goon (a very spicy broth – they only used 14 birds eye chillies for a singular serving, I used three and was close to tears), phad Thai, Thai green curry, and finally sticky rice with fresh mango.
The interesting thing about Thai cooking is the balance of flavours; it is all goes according to personal taste, but most dishes contain the flavour profiles of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and bitter. And the Thai’s love their spicy food – “the hotter the better” as most of them said.
It was an unforgettable day, and I would return in a heart beat.
This is my take on a Thai green curry… yes it is not the straight forward traditional Thai green curry, call it artistic licence if you please. It does contain the flavour profiles of a deep and flavoursome curry. It is a bit more chunky and hearty, than the typical Thai curry which only contains a few vegetables.
Ingredients for curry paste:
8 cloves garlic
6 dried bird’s eye chillies
6 lemon grass stalks, trimmed and chopped
3 tsp cumin seeds, toasted then finely ground
3 cups coriander leaves and stems, washed, roughly chopped
½ cup basil leaves, washed
3 tbsp ginger, peeled, chopped
2 fresh green chillies, seeded and chopped
30ml tamarind paste
2 tsp salt
2 ½ tbsp sugar
6 shallots, chopped
6 lime leaves, soaked in cold water, then chopped
Ingredients for curry:
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp coconut oil
1 onion, medium dice
1 tbsp curry paste
4 lime leaves
¼ tsp turmeric
2 courgette, sliced at an angle
150g cabbage, large dice
60g asparagus spears
¼ cup peas
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp lime juice
1 tin coconut milk
2 spring onion, finely sliced
10 leaves fresh basil
12 sprigs fresh coriander
- To make the curry paste; blend all of the ingredients together until it forms a smooth paste. If you are struggling to get a smooth consistency, you can add a little water. This can be stored in an air tight container for use at a later stage.
- To make the curry, heat a wok with the sesame and coconut oil. Add the onion cook quickly on a medium heat.
- Reduce the heat and add the curry paste and turmeric, cook out for 3 minutes, to develop flavours.
- Add the courgette and cabbage; ideally you want the vegetables to still have a bit of a crunch. Once the cabbage is starting to wilt, add the asparagus spears and peas.
- Finish off with the soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice and coconut milk. Allow to simmer for 2 minutes.
- Garnish with the spring onion, basil and coriander. Serve with egg noodles or rice. Season to taste with fish sauce and lime juice
Tip: add a poached egg for a play on a ramen style noodles. Fish sauce can be with held for a vegan option.