Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thai Cooking School Recap and Recipe: Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

 By Alka

Some of the best experiences of my SE Asia vacation were the cooking classes I took in Thailand, both in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai.  In Bangkok, we went to May Kaidees vegetarian cooking school, and in Chiang Mai, we went to Thai Farm Cooking School.  Both were great experiences, and I would recommend either of them.

 The first part of the day was visiting local markets to get our ingredients:
Many kinds of rice

Mmm...Thai spicy

Shopping for groceries in Bangkok

Then we would head to the kitchens and learn how to make 5-6 different dishes.  Most were the classic Thai curries and noodle dishes.   One of the most fun parts was using the traditional mortar and pestle to make our own curry paste. 

Working on my curry

Anju taking out her aggressions on the curry paste

The final product, massaman curry!

Our homemade Thai feast

After class, we all sat down and feasted on our creations.  The picture shows a sauteed vegetable dish, a curry, papaya salad, a noodle dish, and steamed rice.  We also made dessert, usually mango or pumpkin in coconut milk. 

Of course, I had to come home and recreate some of these recipes for our Foodist Colony guests.  I chose to do the Massaman curry and the papaya salad, which we served at our Around the World Lunch.   Papaya salad, or som tam in Thai,  is available everywhere in Thailand, in many different variations, on the streets or in fancy restaurants.  In fact, Laos and Cambodia, the two other countries I visited on my southeast asian trip, have their own versions.  It was my favorite dish, and I ate it at least once a day while there.  Not only is it delicious, but it is very healthy, with virtually no fat.  Unfortunately, it is often traditionally made with shrimp, so as I'm vegetarian, I couldn't always get my som tam fix while travelling.  One of the things we learned from Mai was how to make a delicious vegetarian som tam.   I was thrilled when I tried it at home; it really was very similar to the papaya salad I had in Thailand. 

See below for the recipe

The massaman curry and papaya salad at our supper club event
Vegetarian Som Tam (Papaya Salad)
Traditionally papaya salad is made in a large mortar and pestle, and the ingredients are pounded together by hand.  I improvised at home using a wooden salad bowl, and a regular pestle.  You could also use a metal bowl, or probably even plastic.  Don't use glass though, as it may break when you pound it.  If you don't have a pestle, you could also use any solid sturdy object such as a rolling pin, or a large wooden spoon. 

1-2 red chiles
8-10 green beans
1/2 sliced fresh tomato
1/2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp roasted cashew nuts or peanuts
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp soy sauce (ideally a mixture of dark and light soy sauce)
1 tbsp palm sugar (can substitute brown sugar)
1/2 green papaya, grated*  . 

1. Trim the ends of the chiles and green beans and then cut in about 1-2 inch pieces, to make the pounding easier.  If you want it less spicy, remove the seeds from the chiles first, and start with 1.

2. Using a mortar and pestle (or your designated substitutes), crush together the chiles, green beans, tomatoes, garlic, and nuts.  It takes about 10 minutes.  Think of it as your arm workout:)  You should see the ingredients come together and get paste like, but still be chunky

3. Add the lime juice, soy sauce, and sugar, mix with the chile-green bean paste to make a dressing

4. Add the grated papaya (or other vegetable) to the mixture and toss.  Each strand of papaya should be slightly coated with the dressing.  You will probably end up with some liquid at the bottom, this was my favorite part of the salad:)

5.  Taste for seasoning.   Salad is best served immediately.  If you would like to make ahead, make the dressing and grate the papaya, but keep them separate. Toss together right before serving. 

This dish is a great representation of Thai food, as it balances the tastes of sour (lime juice), sweet (sugar), salty (soy sauce), and spicy (chiles).   In Thailand, the 4 components are set out on the table and diners are encouraged to add components to customize the taste as they desire. 

* Note green papaya is sometimes available in an Asian grocery.  Regular orange fleshed papaya will not work for this recipe.  If green papaya is not available, other firm-fleshed fruits/vegetables may be used such as green mango, carrots, cucumber, radish, parsnips, or beets.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Around the World Lunch - September 5th, 2011

After a short hiatus, the Foodist Colony is back...and this time, we shared with our guests our version of
"How We Spent Our Summer Vacation."

Alka and her sister at a cooking class
in Bangkok, Thailand

Between the three of us, we were lucky enough to travel to some amazing places over the last few months, including Germany (Roompa and Guru), Thailand/Laos/Cambodia (Alka), and Portugal (all of us). We made sure to eat and drink prodigiously — all in the name of research, of course! We even managed to sneak in a little cooking...

Roompa and Guru at a kafeehaus in Baden Baden, Germany 


Back home in New York City, we treated our guests to a lunch highlighting the flavors and memories of our trips around the world.

First Course: German Biergarten
We started off in Germany, where Roompa and Guru spent some time visiting cousins in early June. We brought the biergarten to Brooklyn with a refreshing summer shandy, a blend of German ale and freshly squeezed lemonade. As our biergarten snack, we served homemade pretzels, soft and warm from the oven, with a side of obatzda.
Homemade pretzel and obatzda cheese dip
Obatzda is a classic cheese spread from Germany's Bavarian region. Our version featured camembert and mascarpone flavored with roasted garlic and onions, sweet and smoked paprika, caraway seeds, and (of course) beer, then garnished with paprika, black olives, and radishes.

Second Course: Only in America
We didn't only travel abroad this summer. Guru and Roompa spent some time in Austin and Houston, Texas, visiting his sister, and Alka spent time in California visiting hers. So what do Texas, California, and New York have in common (other than being great places to visit or live)? We sampled one of the newest American fusion foods in all three places: Korean tacos. We have a feeling that this is one delicious culinary trend that's here to stay, and we just had to bring it to the Foodist Colony.

Plating up the Korean tacos!

Guru puts on the finishing touches
The tacos started with a warm flour tortilla and dak bulgogi, a traditional Korean chicken preparation. We marinated our bulgogi in a mixture of garlic, ginger, Asian pear, gochujang (Korean chili paste), and other spices.

Next we added some homemade kimchi, a staple of Korean cuisine. Ours featured Napa cabbage and romaine lettuce seasoned with salt, garlic, chili flakes, and other spices and then fermented for several days. We also spooned in a relish made of sliced onions, Asian pears, scallions, and carrots tossed in a sesame vinaigrette. Our taco was topped with a Korean-inspired salsa roja — made with roasted tomatoes and tomatilloes, gochujang, onions, garlic, ginger, and red chiles — and a sprinkle of chopped scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

Our guests enjoying the meal
Third Course: The Big Mango
The Big Mango is an affectionate nickname for Bangkok, Thailand. The third course in our global lunch took our guests across the Pacific to this amazing city for some authentic Thai flavors.

Alka spent about three weeks in Thailand over the summer and took cooking classes in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai. For those of you who find yourselves in Bangkok and would like to try a cooking class, or just try some amazing Thai vegetarian food, she highly recommends May Kaidee's. She not only visited May's some six times while in Thailand, but also (fortunately for the Foodist Colony) took a class and bought the cookbook.

Massaman curry, papaya salad, and steamed rice
Tom yum vodka cocktail

There are as many different ways to make Thai curry as there are cooks to make it. For our third course, we blended what Alka learned at Thai cooking schools with some of our own twists to create a spicy massaman curry and som tam (papaya salad).

Our massaman curry featured South Asian influences along with traditional Thai flavors: cumin, cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, and star anise in the traditional red curry paste. We added fresh eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, and marinated tofu for a vibrant veggie version of the dish. The papaya salad, or som tam, is sometimes called Thailand's national dish, for good reason. The spicy, sweet, and sour mixture of grated green papaya, lime juice, tomato, soy sauce, and chiles is amazingly addictive — and a great fresh side dish with the curry.

Harish, Lisa, Thao, and Shilpa toasting with Thai cocktails

Traditional Thai accompaniments: sour, salty, sweet, and spicy

We also served a Thai cocktail, reminiscent of one Alka sampled during her travels. Our tom yum cocktail mimicked the flavors of tom yum soup, blending coconut water with vodka infused with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and chiles.

Dessert: Portuguese Pleasures
For our final course, we visited Portugal. Guru, Roompa, and Alka all had the pleasure of attending a beautiful wedding this summer in Sintra, Portugal, and also spent some time exploring Lisbon and the gorgeous Algarve coast. We wanted to pay homage to our wonderful time there (and our equally wonderful Portuguese friends!) with an Iberian-influenced dessert.

Harish, Lisa, and Thao enjoy cookies and ice cream

Portuguese desserts are often egg-based, and common flavorings are lemon, cinnamon, or honey. And, of course, a glass of port after a meal is traditional in Portugal. 

So we cooled off after the spicy main courses with a homemade fig-and-port ice cream, served with a honey-and-fennel cookie. We took fresh figs and cooked them down into a jam-like consistency with lemon and port, and then blended the mixture with milk and egg custard to create the ice cream.

Finally, as no Foodist Colony event is complete without a little surprise, we presented our guests with a European-style treat of sliced fresh figs, stilton cheese, and ruby-red port wine — a genuine "porto," a designation reserved for only those port wines made in Portugal. 
A perfect ending to the meal

Ajith, Deepali, and Kevin enjoy the
spirited post-lunch banter

Yum yum — tom yum!

Thanks to all of our amazing guests for making this such a great lunch. We had a fabulous time sharing our travel experiences with you, and we look forward to the next Foodist Colony event!