As we approached the dock to enter the Amita Cooking class from the water or Khlong, or as its more commonly called a canal, I saw this friendly and energetic lady waiting to greet us. We each exited the Long Boat. I love to eat. I love to cook. When I travel I go out of my way to participate in cooking classes and learn local ways. Our agenda informed us that our FAM trip would be oriented towards a food and spa theme. I couldn’t have been happier!
The Amita Thai Cooking Class is hidden in the canals that spring out from the Chao Phraya river in old town Bangkok. The lady that created this wonderful program and class is named Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon. Tam originally received her Bachelor’s degree in Law at Thammasat University, which is Thailand’s second oldest institute of higher learning. Her turn to this area (conducing cooking classes) is an interesting story and can be found on the Amita Thai cooking Class web site.
Tam’s English is excellent and she began her class with an introduction and tour of her grounds including her spice garden, fruit trees and other various ingredients that she provides with her green and organic approach. She made us feel at home immediately and commented that she lived in the house that occupies a good portion of her lot and has another six or seven family lodgings located adjacent to hers. She employees several family members in her overall operation. Who really knows how big of a Samaritan she is and how many in her family she helps in life. Her personality is magnetic and her training skills are golden. I absolutely loved every minute of her class!
I had never heard of pea eggplant, but it is used in many Thai preparations and as described before, she literally picks what she needs from her bushes. She conveniently has the spices and other items labeled to help students understand her approach. As you walk among her gardens she defines the many uses of each component and allows everyone to sample or taste the spice leaves, if they so desire. Being naturally curious I tried each item. When in Rome!
One of the items that I faintly recall in prior cooking discussions was the Kaffir Lime she grows. It has a very heavy lime flavor and you cannot use as much as you would from an ordinary lime. Personally I am a huge fan of limes and use them in place of lemons wherever I can. She told us the leaves would be used in our Curry Chicken Dish. They tasted a little bitter when I sampled them, but I proceeded with an open mind.
Thai cooking employs a plethora of various peppers, each with varying degree of heat potency. I think somewhere along the trip each of us accidentally bit off more than we could handle and wound up with a sensation that would not stop flaming, or at least it felt like a fire was actually in our mouth.
Thai cooking uses a great deal of coconut milk. I learned that it has an abundant quantity of various essential vitamins, antioxidants and helps fight heart disease. I am all in! I might add that it was cool watching her team make fresh coconut milk. They first ground out the white meat from the husk using a very labor intensive procedure. They take a half of a coconut and rub it on the tool pictured below until the white meat is extracted as shown in the pan.
The white meat is then placed in this wicker basket and heated water is poured over the meat making the milk flow through the basket. Afterwards they take a cloth and push the remaining meat down and the liquid through the basket into the catch pan underneath. The result is fresh coconut milk that can be used immediately for cooking or refrigerated for a brief period.
The process was for Tam to discuss the ingredients, illustrate each dish’s assembly and let us sample what it should be after correct preparation. This took a considerable amount of time and in reality we ate each course after she had finished with discussing the items needed and its mixing, cooking or construction. I had no idea what was in store for us as I was getting full just nibbling on her display dishes.
The first course was the Khao Mun Som Tum or Coconut Rice and Papaya Salad.
You will need Coconut rice which is 1 cup of long grained rice (jasmine rice) washed, 4 teaspoons of sugar, 1 cup of coconut milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 cup pandanus juice (pound 6 pandanus leaves with 1/2 cup of water, squeeze only juice). 1) Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan. Add salt and sugar, stir until dissolved. Add panadanus juice 2) Add rice, cook over a low heat for 30 minutes or until rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed.
Second you need Papaya Salad which is 1 cup of grated green papaya, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons of dried shrimp, 1 fresh dried red chili, 4-5 cherry tomatoes and 1/4 cup of yard long bean cut into 1/4 inch increments.
Third is the dressing which is 1 tablespoon of lime juice, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of palm sugar and 1 tablespoon of tamarind paste.
1) Combine all dressing ingredients together and set aside 2) Pound garlic, red chili, dried shrimp and yard long bean in a mortar 3) Add grated papaya and cherry tomatoes and slightly pound 4) Pour dressing in and toss well 5) Plate the salad. Topping with toasted peanuts coarsely ground and garnish with lettuce. Makes 1 serving.
The second course was Khang Keaw Wan Gai or Green Curry Chicken in Coconut Milk. The items needed are 120 grams of sliced skinless chicken, 1 cup of coconut milk, 1 tablespoon of green curry paste, 1/4 cup pea eggplant, 2 green or red chilies with seeds removed and sliced lengthwise, 3 Kaffir lime leaves torn in half, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of palm sugar, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and 1/2 cup sweet basil leaves for garnish.
To make the green curry paste you need 6-8 fresh green chilies, 2 tablespoons chopped lemon grass, 1 tablespoon chopped coriander root, 1 tablespoon chopped shallots, 1 tablespoon chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon galangal, 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon shrimp paste, 7 white pepper corns.
Toast all the ingredients except the shrimp paste in a wok over low heat. Pound or blend all the ingredients together. Add the shrimp paste and grind to a smooth paste.
1) In a wok heat oil to medium 2) Add green curry paste and stir constantly for 1 minute. Little by little add coconut milk and stir gently. 3) Add chicken, Kaffir lime leaves and stir until cooked. 4) Pour in the rest of the coconut milk and stir constantly until it bubbles. 5) Season with fish sauce and palm sugar. Stir occasionally. Simmer for 5 minutes. 6) Add pea eggplants, chilies and sweet basil leaves. 7) Garnish with sweet basil leaves before serving.
The third course was Satay Gai or Satay Chicken with Spicy Peanut Sauce with which you need 150 grams chicken or other meat product, 1/2 teaspoon roasted coriander seeds, 1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon garlic, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, pinch of salt, 1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon palm sugar, 1/4 cup of coconut milk,1 tablespoon vegetable Oil 8-9 Satay sticks, for brushing 2 tablespoons of coconut milk. Make sure and keep a pinch of ground cumin and coriander back for use later.
1) Use a mortar and pestle, grind coriander and cumin seeds. Then pound together all ingredients until mixed well. 2) Pour mixed ingredients in a bowl with coconut milk 3) Add meat strips and marinate overnight or at least 3 hours. 4) Thread meat strips with Satay sticks. 5) Grill Satay on charcoal stove over low heat. Turn them regularly and brush them with the remaining marinated sauce and coconut milk while turning. 6) When Satay is cooked serve with spicy peanut sauce and cucumber relish.
Spicy Peanut Sauce is 2 tablespoons of roasted (unsalted) peanuts, 1 tablespoon Massa Man curry paste, 6 tablespoons of coconut milk, 2 teaspoons of tamarind paste, 2 teaspoons of palm sugar and a pinch of salt.
1) Grind or crush the peanuts to a fairly fine paste and set aside. 2) Pour coconut milk into a pan over medium heat, add Massa Man curry paste and stir time to time until the sauce becomes smooth. 3) Combine them with the remaining ingredients. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water or coconut milk.
Cucumber Relish is 1 tablespoon white vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, (a pinch of salt, mix well with white vinegar and set aside), 2 tablespoons of sliced cucumbers, 2 shallots sliced and 2 chilies thinly sliced. Mix all ingredients together and pour on top of sliced cucumbers, shallots and chilies in a sauce cup. Makes 8-9 sticks.
The dessert course was Khao Niew Ma Muang or Sticky Rice and its recipe is 5-6 ripe mangoes peeled and sliced, 2 cups of glutinous rice, soak overnight or 5 to 8 hours and drain, 1 cup of coconut milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 cup of sugar. Topping is 6-7 tablespoons of coconut milk and a pinch of salt.
1) Boil 6-7 tablespoons of coconut milk and a pinch of salt over low heat. Set aside for topping. 2) Wrap the glutinous rice in a clean towel and place in a double boiler steamer. Steam for 25 to 30 minutes. 3) Dissolve the sugar in the coconut milk over a very low heat. Add salt. Stir well. Remove from the heat. Put the cooked glutinous rice in a bowl. Gradually blend in the coconut milk. Stir with a wooden spoon, cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Tam added several “Butterfly Pea” flowers to the water to make the water blue and it really made the dish come out attractive. Serve with mangoes.
We were assigned a work station and each had an assistant help with the preparation of our own dishes. That way I couldn’t fat finger a portion or overcook a course. It was really a hands on class and one that I learned a great deal from. When we finished we were taken to the veranda and had the chance to eat what we had prepared. It was way too much, but it actually turned out rather good.
The class has a media board off to the side that is filled with Tam’s interviews in print and I was blown away by the amount of major magazines that have visited her establishment. I felt honored to attend and thank the Tourism Authority of Thailand for including this in our program.
I have always loved Thai food as I am drawn to spicy foods and learning new areas of cooking. Attending Tam’s class was a highlight of my trip and one I will never forget. If you find yourself in Bangkok and are looking for a fantastic way to pass a half day, than I cannot recommend any thing more satisfying or tasty than the Amita Thai Cooking Class!
*** My trip to Thailand and Malaysia was sponsored by Thai Airways, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Tourism Malaysia USA. All opinions are solely mine and as always generated without any influence.