March 04, 2011

Thai cooking class | Award

My husband and I just attended a vegetarian Thai cooking class at our local food co-op, PCC Natural Markets. (PCC stands for Puget Consumers Co-op. Started in 1953 as a food-buying club of 15 families, today it is the largest consumer-owned natural food cooperative in the US, with about 40,000 members.) The class started at 11 a.m., and I didn't eat anything before I went, which turned out to be a good thing, as there was much fabulous food to consume.

The class was taught by Pranee Halvorsen, who first learned to cook in her mother's kitchen in Phuket, Thailand. She started with Tom Kha Ja, or Coconut-Ginger Vegetable Soup, and she gave me permission to print her recipe. The soup, according to Pranee, was about two stars in the heat category — it was a little spicy, but perfect for me.

The next dish was Gaeng Pa, or Jungle Curry with Mixed Vegetables. This dish was rated about four or five stars on the heat scale because Pranee was trying to give us an example of what traditional Thai food would taste like, and also demonstrating the cleansing properties of red chili flakes and black pepper. After one bite, I started to sweat (I mean cleanse) and by the time I was finished, it seemed like my inner ears were burning a little. There were some members of the class who needed a shot of coconut milk added to their food so they could finish it, but not me. I admit it may have been a tad too spicy, but not so hot that I didn't enjoy it. Looking around the room, though, my classmates looked like they had just gone for a run, or eaten a small plate of fire — flushed faces, damp hairlines, steam rising from collars.

While I can't pass along the recipe for the curry, I did find a recipe for Gaeng Pa Curry Paste on Pranee's blog, if you want to try your hand at creating a curry dish. The blog isn't vegetarian, but the recipes can be adapted. For example, the curry paste on the blog uses shrimp paste, but in class she used white miso. She also added oil to create the paste rather than water, and said the oil preserves the paste and makes it easily freezable, if you want to make a large quantity. She used a spice mill to grind the peppercorns before adding to the curry paste.

The last dish from our class was Phad Thai. We learned the correct way to prepare rice noodles so they would be al dente in the final dish, and we learned how to make a phad Thai sauce with western ingredients that closely approximates the flavor of a traditional Thai sauce.

Pranee has quite a few Youtube cooking-related videos and I've chosen two to present here. The first is a tutorial on how to prepare lemongrass for use in recipes. First she shows how to prepare it for recipes where it will be ground into a paste, then how to cut it for use in stir-fries, and finally how to prepare it to use in making soup, where it will be removed when the soup is finished. She used the last method when she made Tom Ka Ja in class.

The second video shows how coconut palm sugar is made. In my last two posts I highlighted jaggery, which can be made from various sources of raw sweet nectar. Here you can see where coconut palm sugar comes from and exactly how it's made in Thailand. This is the sugar that would be used in traditional Thai cooking, though you can substitute evaporated cane juice or another type of palm sugar.

Tom Kha Ja, (Coconut-Ginger Vegetable Soup) reprinted with permission from Pranee Halvorsen
Servings: 6 dinner-size portions, 12 sides
  • 5 tablespoons canola oil (or other high-heat oil)
  • 8 ounces tofu, 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 carrot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 small red onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 8 button mushrooms, diced
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 Thai or serrano chile peppers, smashed*
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and smashed* (see video)
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into 8 pieces and smashed*
  • 8 kaffir lime leaves, or peel of 1 lime (in class she used both as part of the demo)
  • 4 shallots, trimmed, peeled and smashed*
  • 1 small zucchini, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, peeled and diced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or to taste)*
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk (or as much as you like)
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves*
  • 2 tablespoons coconut cream for garnish
  1. Heat a wok and add 3 tablespoons of oil. Fry tofu until all sides have a golden crust. Remove tofu and set aside.
  2. In the same wok with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, sauté carrot, onion and mushrooms for 3 to 5 minutes until translucent and fragrant. Add all the vegetables and tofu to a large pot with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.
  3. When boiling, stir in chile peppers, lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves or peel, and shallots. Let boil for 5 minutes, then add zucchini, corn and jalapeño, and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in salt (to taste), coconut milk and lime juice. Remove the lemongrass with tongs.
  5. To serve the soup, place tofu equally into 6 soup bowls, then garnish with cilantro and coconut cream.
*In class, when Pranee smashed herbs and vegetables to release their oils, she did it with the bottom of a small metal pot. She also passed along some of her secrets for authentic Thai cooking, like adding herbs and salt at the end of cooking, and always adding herbs to very hot food to better extract their oils.


A few weeks ago I was kindly awarded a blog honor by Raw Girl, writer of the beautiful blog Rawk Me! Raw Girl is a writer and food blogger living in Mumbai, India, and if you're not already familiar with her tempting food and great photos, pay her a visit. I'm supposed to link back to the award-giver, share seven things about myself, and pass the award on to 15 newly discovered bloggers.

I've had a lot on my mind lately, and have been kind of slacking in the blog-writing, blog-reading area of my life, and I think I'm going to take a pass on writing more about me at the moment. I've got responses to other awards posted on the about me page of this blog, and I'm not feeling quite up to adding anything new right now. Please forgive me if I sound cranky. As for passing the award on, I'm selecting eight blogs I've relatively recently discovered. Check them out, and I think you'll agree they deserve to be awarded!

In no particular order:
1. It's a Great Vegan Life
2. Cadry's Kitchen
3. Veganville
4. The Vegan Manifesto
5. Mehitable Days
6. Welcome to Flavoropolis
7. Lima's vegan Kitchen
8. Lovinlivinvegan


  1. that first bowl of soup looked so good! thats really neat that you got so many insider tips.aaaand that you shared them here:) i will try adding my herbs later than normal. but maybe you meant only adding fresh herbs later? because i had always thought that my dried herbs needed time to release their flavors.

  2. Mmmmmm, that food looks delicious! I would have been one heading straight for the coconut milk, I'm afraid..... some Thai food I had in Hong Kong almost blew me out the door!

  3. Beautiful photos, Andrea! I would've loved to attend that class. I will definitely have to try this recipe. I never know where to get lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves. I'll have to look a bit harder. I LOVE Thai food! Have a nice weekend!

  4. DD,
    I actually had two bowls of soup — both of them great! I probably was referring to fresh herbs, since that's what she was using.

    Most of the food was reasonably hot, but the second dish was pretty intense. Pretty, pretty intense.

    Thank you! You can find lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves in Asian supermarkets. We're lucky that even our food co-op carries them.

  5. The Thai food looks great! I love Tom Kah soup.

  6. Wow, how fun that sounds, to take a Thai cooking class with your husband, and with someone from Thailand for your teacher! The food all looks delicious, and I especially wish I could reach in and grab that plate of food in the 4th picture! (Interactive vegan food blogs, where you can hit "Alt+Command+V" and have a sample of the food pop out of your printer or DVD slot or something, without messing anything up! Wouldn't that be a kick?!) Thank you for getting Pranee's permission to print that recipe. I've had very few opportunities to eat Thai food (maybe three?) but have liked almost all of it and really loved some of it. None of it was very spicy though, maybe I ordered it that way on purpose or the heat had been toned down for the average American palate? But I remember as an adolescent, walking into my friend Patty's kitchen. Her mom was from Korea and would grind dried hot peppers in a mill thingy, and just entering the room would make my eyes start streaming and my throat burn! I had flashbacks to that while reading about the heat in some of your Thai dishes!

    Very interesting about adding the fresh herbs later to food that's already hot! I'm going to start doing that.

    And thank you so much for including me as a recipient of your award! I'm honored, and look forward to visiting some of those blogs ~ I'm not familiar with some of them. Cadry's Kitchen is a relatively recent find for me, too (through Rose's blog), and I love it! Can't wait to check out the blogs and your videos and work on my own award list when I have some time!

    Wishing you a tranquil weekend, Andrea!

  7. Bitt,
    The soup was really delicious. I've also had raw tom ka, and I think I like the cooked version better!

    You know, I've often wished for the exact keyboard command you've described! How I've wanted to just reach in and grab a dish from a blog — even from my own blog at times. You should work on developing an app for that. :D

    You can control the amount of spice in the food according to your taste. Pranee added crushed red chile pepper to one of the dishes (maybe the soup) to up the burn. And we had spicy vinegar to add to the phad thai. You can also adjust the amount of oil (I know you cook oil-free) though it won't taste quite the same. The food was too oily for me, and I would greatly reduce it.

    As for the blog award, you're welcome. Reading your blog has been a real pleasure!

  8. First, thank you so much for the recognition - it is very much appreciated and I am flattered, too! But, I can't help but be even more excited about the Thai food insider tips (I immediately subscribed to her blog)! I adore Thai food and, up until now, "Thailand The Beautiful" has been my guide, even though it is an absolutely meat-centric cookbook. But, once I figured out the fish sauce replacement, Thai food was a lot tastier! I am so making this soup (once my kitchen is unpacked)!

  9. Wow!That food looks amazing. My mouth is watering. I love Thai food so much.. what a great class!

  10. "There were some members of the class who needed a shot of coconut milk added to their food so they could finish it, but not me."...alright Andrea!

    I wonder how I would have faired...I always consider myself able to eat really spicy dishes, but have never been put to the test like that.

    The class sounds great, and thanks to you and Pranee for sharing the Tom Kha recipe. It's great to have some authentic guidelines. I'll definitely check out her blog and her videos too! All the food looks delicious, I'm definitely in the mood for Thai food now!

  11. Christina,
    You're very much welcome — your blog is really fun to read. I don't envy you your move, though it sounds like you're moving from one beautiful place to another. Moving is so much work. We have to be out of our house by July 15 and I dread it.

    My pantry tends to get packed with stuff that is only used occasionally, and every time I see something interesting (like the dried daikon from our cooking class) I want it.

    The spicy food would probably have been just right for you — no sweat!

    I think if I could eat it, you probably could have, too. I prefer my food a little spicy, but I don't want my eyes to steam. I went through quite a few tissues before we were done.

    Pranee is a wonderful cook, and she plans to do more PCC classes in the fall. If she does another veg class, I recommend it.

    My husband is going to try to make the phad Thai tonight — we'll see how it goes.

  12. You take the most interesting cooking classes! I've always wanted to learn how to make authentic Thai foods, especially Pad Thai. And I think I need to make this soup. Thanks for the list of new bloggers--they are almost all new to me. Can't wait to check some of them out.

  13. It all looks fantastic although I suspect too spicy for me. I really enjoyed PCC when I lived in Seattle and obviously if I weren't so against leaving Vashon I could still enjoy it, but I'd love it if PCC got a Vashon branch!! Congrats on your award and glad you included Laloofah's site as that is one of my favorites! I'm not familiar with the others, but I'll sure check them out. Cheers!

  14. Ricki,
    We were a little disappointed by the scarcity of vegan classes this time, and were lucky to find this one. Pranee made phad Thai without eggs for us, but that was the only concession she needed to make. This was the first Thai-cooking class we've taken that was taught by a native Thai cook, and it was a good one.

    The soup and the phad Thai were just a little spicy. The curry, on the other hand, was on fire. My nose starts to run just thinking about it! PCC has so many branches, you'd think they'd have one on Vashon.

    I think we were reading each others blogs at the same time!

  15. "You should work on developing an app for that."

    Oh my, you do amuse me! You're talking to someone who thinks the computer is a Magic Box. The thought of me developing any app, never mind one that sophisticated, is painfully comical! :-) But I do appreciate your confidence! LOL

    Thank you for the tips re: the oil in that recipe, and for saying that reading my blog is a pleasure ~ that gives me the warm fuzzies, because I sure think highly of you and your blog, and very much enjoy my visits!

    And Daphne, thank you, too! More warm fuzzies! That was so sweet of you, and I'm so happy to hear it! :-)

    And funny that you and Andrea were visiting each other's blogs simultaneously, because Andrea and I were reading and commenting on your blog at the same time! (But she was able to say in one paragraph what it took me five to express!) :-)

  16. My favorite line of this post: "After one bite, I started to sweat (I mean cleanse)..." I love your descriptions of your fellow classmates as they tackled the heat in the dishes. Thanks for posting the video on how to use lemongrass. I've seen it in grocery stores and some of my cookbooks, but I haven't tackled it just yet. With things like this, it's helpful to see it done first.

    My second favorite line of the post? When you included my blog in your Lovely Blog award list! Thanks so much! I've been really enjoying your blog, and you have a couple of my other new favorites on your list as well - Mehitable Days and Greyt Vegan Life. It will be fun to check out the other blogs on your list as well. How lucky are we that there are so many entertaining vegan blogs out there?

  17. Love the idea to sub white miso for the shrimp paste (gag)!

  18. Laloofa,
    Not to worry. If such an app could be developed it would have to be magic!

    Fuzzies received and fuzzies returned. I like reading your five paragraphs — much more fun than just one.

    Not just sweat. My nose was running, too. And I think my sinuses cleared out. Whew.

    I agree with you that the blogging community is very impressive.

    Yes, it seems to work well. You could also add some nori or dulse flakes to mimic the sea taste, but I have a feeling you wouldn't want to do that. :) Though I like nori and other seaweed, I don't really want to make my Thai food taste fishy.

  19. Sounds like a fabulous class, Andrea! In the top picture, what is that veggie that looks like a jalapeno cut lenghtwise? That really can't be what that is, is it? Even for my spice tolerant tongue, that would be challenging. I love how you describe the classmates responding to the heat; somehow I feel so superior to those who can't handle heat. Ha ha. Anyways, hope you don't feel crocheting anymore, and just start crocheting another hat or something beautiful! :-) (But, you knit I think)

  20. Blessedmama,
    What you are seeing is a piece of lime peel, which normally would only be added if you couldn't find kaffir lime leaves. Pranee added it in addition to the leaves because she didn't want to waste it after showing us how to cut it.

    I'm still uncalm, and crocheting is something I usually think of doing when I'm already relaxed. But thanks for thinking of me.

  21. Andrea, I am so jealous of your cooking classes--that sounds amazing! And delicious :-)

    You inspired me to look for a crocheting class--I couldn't find one, but I did find a knitting class and I am all signed up and ready to go. Thanks for the inspiration!


  22. That sounds like a great cooking class!

  23. I always want to attend cooking classes, but I never get to. This one sounds like such an impressive one.

    I think it's really hard to come up with new things to say about myself. I don't think you sound crotchety.

  24. Courtney,
    I actually like the look and feel of knitted things more than crocheted, but I'm much faster at crochet, and I need that sense of speed to keep me going. I hope you really enjoy knitting and keep at it. I'm always so impressed by my friends' knitting skills.

    And it was! Not only did I learn a lot, I enjoyed the teacher's enthusiasm and talent.

    Thanks for giving me a pass on my current lack of good humor. :D

  25. I agree with Jenny that you don't sound crochety ~ I figured you just said you sound crotchety because you've been crocheting! ;-)

    (Geez, I'm a total spaz lately with the spelling in my comments!)

  26. Nah. I'm crochety.

    If you think you're having a bad spelling day, check out this link. But don't eat or drink anything while you read it or you may choke. :D

  27. Wow, what an awesome class and so many great tips! I wasn't always able to eat spicy-hot food, but now I kinda can if it's not over the top strong. I just had to build up to it. :-)

  28. Andrea, OMG, those are TOO funny!!! Do you think they're all for real? I love the Welshmen/windchimes and PENNE! ones especially, but they're all hysterical! Thanks for the beverage warning (lol) and for sharing the link on my blog as well as here, I would have hated to miss it! :-)

  29. Chow vegan,
    Spicy food has an addictive quality to it in that we build up a tolerance to the heat and need more and more of it to get the same spicy effect. I don't eat hot food very often but I can tell I can tolerate hotter food than I used to. Still, I can't enjoy my food if it hurts to eat it. :)

    I don't know if they're all for real — might be. Now that I have an iphone and have seen auto correct in action, I think they could be. I've caught (as far as I know, anyway) the auto correct changes to my messages before I sent them. Some were pretty funny in an awful way. I don't send many text messages but some people send a lot, and anything could happen ... Even if they're not all real, they're still hysterical.

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