October 04, 2011

Thai cooking with Pranee Halvorson

My husband and I recently took our second Thai cooking class at PCC Natural Markets with Pranee Halvorson. (A description of the first class, including a recipe for coconut-ginger vegetable soup, appears here.) We love Pranee's classes because not only are her cooking creations delicious, they are easy to make and clearly explained, so we can go home and create fabulous tasting Thai food in our own kitchen. Pranee isn't a vegetarian, but is well versed in vegetarian cooking. She's originally from Phuket, Thailand, which celebrates the annual vegetarian week in Thailand in a big way; she has no problem translating Thai flavors into vegan recipes. Pranee says she experiments over and over again with her vegan recipes to make sure that even though they are plant-based, the results are the same as the non-veg versions. And she frequently passes along preparation and cooking tips that aren't always apparent when reading a recipe on your own.

The first thing she made was Tom Yum Hed, sweet and sour soup with mushrooms, lemongrass and cilantro. This soup had a prep time of 15 minutes and a cooking time of five minutes, and the taste was amazing. Pranee showed us the proper way to prepare lemongrass for soup, and although I've posted this video before, I think it's worth posting again because it makes such a difference in the final product when you extract all the flavor from the lemongrass.

Next she made Gaeng Keow Wan Ja, green curry with bamboo shoots, eggplant and basil. You can make your own green curry paste, or use a brand like Thai Kitchen or Thai and True. (Make sure to read the labels of any jarred curry sauce to be sure it doesn't contain fish products.) This was spicy hot and delicious.

The next dish on the menu was Tow Hue Med Mamueng, stir-fried tofu, cashews, sweet peppers, young corn and onions with spicy-sweet sauce with basil. In this dish, Pranee substituted Judy Fu's black bean sauce for the oyster sauce. (You could also try miso.) Although the sauce is pricy, it's amazing, and a little goes a long way. Judy Fu is a local Seattle chef, and I don't know if her sauce is available everywhere, but black bean sauce is always available in Asian markets.

Dessert was interesting. Pranee made Namtao Buod Chee, kabocha squash in warm, sweet coconut milk. Because kabocha wasn't yet in season here at the time of the class, Pranee subbed a buttercup squash. This was something I would never think to make for dessert, but it was the perfect ending to the dinner — a warm, sweet comforting finale to a great meal. I could hear a chorus of "mmmmmmmms" as each person tasted the dish. The whole meal, for 25 people, was prepared and consumed in about 1-1/2 hours!

OK, so now you may be wondering, did we successfully make any of these dishes at home? Well, as a matter of fact, my husband has made the soup several times with amazing results. His soup may not look as elegant as Pranee's version, but it tasted fabulous, and the one you see here, stuffed with mushrooms and broccoli, made a perfect light supper, and several lunches.

He also tried his hand at a stir-fry, also with stellar results. We're finding the soups and sauces to be very versatile and easy to vary by using different vegetables. Pranee's blog isn't vegetarian by any means, but she includes a number of vegan/adaptable recipes that I'm providing links to. I think you'll be pleased with the results if you try them.

Stir-fried mung bean sprouts and tofu with garlic chives

Phuket red curry paste

Thai mixed vegetable stir-fry (use black bean sauce instead of oyster sauce)

Stir-fried cabbage with garlic and ginger (use tofu instead of turkey. use black bean sauce or veg oyster sauce instead of oyster sauce)

Pranee has a youtube channel with lots of cooking demos and other interesting information.


  1. I would love to take a Thai cooking class someday; the flavors are so complex and unique. Everything here looks delicious!

  2. I love Thai food! It just seems to be a little lacking whether I try to make it at home. I must check out those recipes, all of these dishes look wonderful and it sounds like you're getting that yummy Thai taste at home. :-)

  3. Thai food is definitely my favorite cuisine. I could eat peanut sauce alone for days on end! All of the food looks amazing. You're lucky to be able to take a class!

  4. Amber,
    I hope you get to take classes. One thing I discovered is the dishes are fairly uncomplicated, but there are a few key ingredients that make all the difference in flavor.

    Chow vegan,
    The dishes my husband made were excellent, and that's saying a lot about Pranee's recipes. :)

    I love peanut sauce, too, but I'm particularly attracted to the taste of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.

  5. yum! that all looks really tasty, especially your husband's soup with the broccoli and mushrooms.

    i wish i could give you all of my thai basil. i ended up growing loads of it but never felt adventurous enough to use any. it's unfortunate, in summer when all these wonderful ingredients are available fresh, all i want to cook are simple, easy things. i only get ambitious when it's cold out.

  6. It all looks so good! Thai is my fav cuisine, I think. It's so great to learn how to prepare things the right way for the authentic flavor. Do you tell them in advance when you register that you don't eat animal products, or does she just work the meat-free versions into the class as a matter of course?

  7. Thai flavors are so great. Refreshing but comfort-foody at the same time.
    I was looking today for some vegetarian oyster sauce (odd but apparently it exists somewhere) to no avail. Do you think black bean sauce would work as a sub in most instances? I don't know much about the flavor of either.

  8. Emily,
    I wish you could give me the basil. too. You could make a simple, easy pesto. Thai pesto? I remember when I had so much basil I was giving it away by the armload. Now I buy it in little plastic packets. Sad.

    In the PCC cooking class brochure, they list whether the class is vegetarian, and dairy-and egg-free so you don't have to say anything. If the class says dairy optional, then you tell the teacher at the start of the class. Both classes I've taken with Pranee have been vegan, and she's amazing in how she shows you how to make the same wok of food less spicy for some and more spicy for everyone else, or gluten-free or soy-free.

    Either that or even miso, depending on the dish. Pranee invites and encourages questions on her blog, and you could ask her what to use. (Tell her I sent you there!)

  9. Wow, that looks delicious!

  10. How wonderful to be married to a man with the will and talent to cook. What he cannot do, however, is enrobe bite size ice creams bits with chocolate. And that's why I think he bought you the Almond Bites & ate them on the way home!

  11. Abby,
    HA! I knew there was a logical explanation.

  12. Andrea, Wow. Your blog is amazing: fantastic recipes, interesting articles, sage advice.

    I'm so glad I found you. Thanks to MoFo again for the chance to read everyone in a giant feed :-)

    P.S. White whole wheat flour is my little secret, too. Actually, I tell everyone about how great it is and how it is mostly indistinguishable (or BETTER) than regular "all purpose" flour in every recipe. I can't tolerate regular white flour, it hurts my stomach, but I do fine with the white whole wheat. Thank goodness for it!

    Happy MoFoing!
    Vegan Fazool blog

  13. I made a Thai salad today! That about sums up my cooking Thai experience, but I'd love to do better.

  14. Dawn,
    Thank you so much! Now I've found you, too, and look forward to reading more of your posts.

    I like white whole wheat way better than ww pastry flour.

    I saw your Thai salad and it looked delicious — and so colorful. I love the flavors in Thai food (and Asian food in general) and also the fact that it's so veggie-centric.

  15. So much good looking food here! I love Thai but don't eat it nearly enough.

  16. I subscribed to her blog after you posted about the cooking class. a lot of her recipes are easily converted to veg. And worth the "trouble", too!

  17. Mo,
    The Thai food we learned to make was so fast and easy — delicious food with not much effort. I think we'll be eating more Thai!

    I'll be looking for Thai food to start showing up on your blog!


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