Yesterday we traveled up to Austin to attend a Greenling local box cooking class at Thai Fresh. The premise was simple: we would learn how to use the ingredients in our local box to prepare a few recipes. I had never cooked Thai food before (scratch that — I made a terrible Pad Krapao Mu a few months ago), so I was excited for the opportunity to learn a few new techniques and meet some great people!
Ever the good host, Mason started off by offering us a choice of the Parducci Zinfandel or Pinot Grigio. Parducci is located in Mendocino, California and is the first carbon-neutral winery in the US.
Cory and I both particularly enjoyed the Zinfandel. It wasn’t as tannic as other Zins I’ve had, which really let the fruitiness come through.
Mason then showed us what was in this week’s local box. Can’t wait for those beautiful portobellos!
Here’s a fun fact: whereas typical grocery stores waste 30% of their produce, Greenling only wastes 3%! And that just ends up in the compost pile.
Next — onto the cooking!
You can tell how excited Jam, one of the owners and chef at Thai Fresh, is to be cooking and eating locally. She shared lots of great tips about traditional Thai ingredients and substitutions, and about cooking in general.
We started with her recipe for Som Tum, or shredded papaya salad. Instead of papaya, however, Jam used the peaches, blueberries and figs that came in this week’s Local Box. It’s basically a fruit salad that’s dressed in a spicy savory vinaigrette. This was a really versatile recipe that can be used with any firm, not-too-juicy fruit or vegetable. Jam suggested spaghetti squash, and she’s also made it with carrots and rhubarb. I really liked the juxtaposition of the oh-so-sweet figs with the spicy chilies. Jam uses dried shrimp and fish sauce in the recipe, which I questioned at first, but it really makes the salad much more complex. Jam said during the lesson, “If you think something’s missing, it’s probably fish sauce!” It just adds a certain something. Jam also uses palm sugar in this recipe. It apparently has a lower glycemic index than agave nectar.
Did I mention that this was a hands-on cooking class? She put us to work!
Next we started the yellow curry. Much like Indian yellow curry, Thai yellow curry is traditionally made with onions and potatoes, but instead of the dry spices used in Indian curries, Thai curries always use fresh herbs and spices. Instead of the dried tumeric and curry powder used in traditional Indian curry, Jam used a container of paste that was made up of different herbs and spices. She brought out her huge mortar and pestle and regaled us of stories of making curry paste by hand when she was little.
The curry starts by frying the curry paste in the coconut milk:
Then the chicken is simmered in the liquid for about 30 minutes, and midway through the cooking time, the potatoes and onions are also added. We used bone-in chicken last night, but boneless chicken would be much quicker.
While the chicken was cooking, we whipped up a double-batch of tofu pad thai. Anyone who knows me know that tofu and I don’t get along well, but Jam told us of a place in Austin (next to the MT supermarket, for locals) that makes fresh tofu. It’s apparently much better than the packaged stuff and it’s all she uses at Thai Fresh now. And let me tell you, it wasn’t too bad!
I always thought that pad thai was one of those dishes that is insanely hard to make, so much so that you should only order it from a truck (those from Carnegie Mellon know what I’m talking about!) or from a restaurant. I was *so* wrong. It’s so quick and easy!
Jam had already soaked the noodles for us, so we started by sauteeing some shallot and scrambling 4 eggs with it:
Tell me that’s not the biggest pot you’ve ever seen!
Then gradually added the fried tofu and some chili flakes, then the noodles, and douse them in the pad thai sauce. When the noodles are coated, add the bean sprouts and baby leeks and you’re done! Good thing too, because the curry was just about ready also.
Time to eat!
We left with full bellies and new appreciation for both Thai cuisine and our weekly Local Box. If you’re in Austin and get a chance, I highly recommend you check out Thai Fresh!