At the Smile Guesthouse I attend cooking school. A Dutch couple and a German girl and I each have our own “station” with a wok sitting on a gas burner. O (pronounced O?…the voice rising up at the end) teaches us “New Thai” cooking style that is an attempt to limit the amount of calories and fat in the food. Coconut milk, common to all curries and many other dishes, is normally high in fat but in new style it is diluted by half with water flavored with dried mushrooms. Girls now limit the amount of rice and noodles in their diets…not eaten every day but considered a treat. No wonder the Thai girls have such flat tummies!
For curries a little coconut milk is mixed with water in a wok. Prepared curry paste bought at the market is mixed with the water and milk and “fried” until it becomes dry. I make a “mistake” and try to mash the curry with my wok utensil…ending up with it all stuck on the back of the spatula instead of in the liquid! Everything is done precisely…the spatula is turned upside down and the paste is “chopped” and stirred into the water. More water is added until you have the right amount and consistency for a sauce. Then the chopped chicken, pork or beef or tofu is added (never fried ahead of time) along with strong tiny unpeeled garlic cloves, onions, a couple teaspoons of fish sauce, a little lime juice and half a teaspoon of sugar. Holy basil leaves are added last. For Tom Kha Gai soup, the coconut milk is never boiled because boiling separates from the fat from the “milk” and makes the soup look and taste greasy.
In the all-day class, we prepared six dishes…three curries, fish steamed in a banana leaf, (not my favorite) Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut milk soup and papaya salad. If green papya cannot be found you can fix it with shredded carrots…carrots and papaya taste the same we are told. We were supposed to eat it all afterward but of course it was much too much food for one meal. My left-overs are in my refrigerator in my room waiting for me to figure out how to reheat it for dinner tonight.
I leave for Lao soon.