“Escape from the bustling city for a day;” the brochure boasted and while I can’t say that the laid back city of Chiang Mai was getting to me a day out of any city sounded like heaven. The Thai Farm Cooking School is located only 17 km out of Chiang Mai, Thailand but the cool country breeze and fresh scents were a very welcome break from hot traffic and smelly exhaust. The morning began with a trip to the local market with a guide to explain the ingredients that go into a typical Thai dish. I had my notebook ready to take notes and plenty of questions from my previous market visits. I was happy to find the guide spoke excellent English and was happy to answer my myriad of questions. Once we had picked up all the necessary ingredients for the six dishes we would be preparing we headed out to the farm.
Upon arrival on the seven acre organic farm we entered the magical world of 1,000 trees as the residents refer to it. We were given a detailed tour of all the herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables that are grown organically at the farm and had the opportunity to taste each fresh ingredient. I found that I really enjoy long beans and that Thai coriander is basically a strong cilantro. With all of the items from the market and then the fresh picked veggies and herbs from the farm we were ready to cook.
The setting for our prep work was a picturesque gazebo over a lily pad pond offering a vista of the whole farm. If I could do all my kitchen prep in this type of setting I wouldn’t even mind how much I cry when chopping onions. We each had a mortar and pestle along with a cutting board and knife for making fresh green, red or yellow curry paste. I chose to make green curry as that’s my favorite, but once you learn the technique the only difference is the ingredients. The technique we were told takes lots of muscle and should be loud. We each took this advice to heart as the cacophony of mortar against pestle filled the air.
With the curry paste made the majority of our prep work was done, so we preceded to the spacious well-equipped kitchen. We each had our own cooking station with plenty of elbow room. ” Cook” our appropriately named Thai teacher began to demonstrate our first dish of curry with chicken, a delicious curry soup with coconut milk. The soup came together effortlessly and quickly by simply chopping up some pumpkin, chicken and onions then bringing it all to a boil with coconut milk. With the soup done we started on Tom Yam with shrimps where we really perfected the art of blending sweet, spicy and bitter flavors. If it’s too spicy add more sugar, if it’s too sweet add more salt and if it tastes bitter add more chili, sugar and salt. We had just one more dish before lunch and that was chicken with cashew nuts.
Once our first three dishes were complete we sat down to a feast, each trying each others dishes and giving our compliments to the chef. Then in true Thai style we took an hour to relax before resuming class. There were shady hammocks for naps and trails for strolling around the pond on the farm. Once we were all refreshed we returned to the kitchen to make stir-fried big noodles and then mango with sticky rice for dessert. It was a wonderful day of Thai flavors, new friends and delicious recipes in a relaxed atmosphere.
If you want to try your hand at a traditional Thai dish, let me recommend Tom Yam Soup. Just follow the recipe below and adjust the flavors to your liking.
TOM YAM SOUP
1-5 crushed hot chillies (know how much spice you like)
1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms (oyster mushrooms are best)
1 stalk of lemongrass (slice into 1/2 inch pieces)
1/4 cup of sliced galangal (if you can’t find this substitute ginger)
1/4 cup of sliced onion
1/4 cup of sliced tomatoes
3 kaffir lime leaves (if you can’t find these the lime juice should be enough)
2 tsp of lime juice
2 tbsp. of fish sauce (if you don’t like fish sauce, substitute soy sauce)
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/2 tbsp. of shrimp chili paste (if you are vegetarian or don’t like shrimp use vegetarian tamarind paste)
2 cups of water
5 shrimps or any type of meat you would like- although chicken works best, you can always substitute tofu as well
1 tbsp. of chopped green onion
1 stem of coriander plant (cilantro)
1/4 tsp. of salt
2 leaves of parsley
Put water in a pot, heat until boiling. Add lemongrass, galangal (or ginger), shrimp (or meat, tofu, your choice), chili paste (or vegetarian tamarind paste) and onion. Cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes and mushrooms. When done flavor with fish sauce (or soy sauce), salt and sugar. Stir thoroughly and finally add lime juice and green onions, parsley, coriander (cilantro) and lime leaves. If not spicy enough add hot chillies. Serve with rice and enjoy.
IF YOU GO:
I would highly recommend the Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School, they are well organized, fabulous hosts and informative, patient teachers. You can check them out for yourself at their website. You can also visit their office in Chiang Mai at 2/2 Ratchadamnern Road, Soi 5, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200. The cost is only 900 baht (roughly 29 dollars at 30.5 baht to the dollar), which is a fraction of the price of a similar class back at home.