“Never try, never know,” rang out the cheery voice of our Thai farm cooking class teacher Benny. She was waving around fresh herbs and spicy roots from the organic garden attached to the cooking school and encouraging us to bite into galangal roots, lemongrass stalks and strong smelling leaves. Luke and I did so without protest, though not everyone in our cooking class was so adventurous – and with good reason, some of those raw roots packed a real punch.
Before we got to the farm, we’d been picked up in a van along with some other tourists also taking the cooking course. Benny handed us all a slip of paper with 4 different courses and various options for each one to choose from. Everything had a vegetarian version so Luke and I had a quick check of each other’s paper to make sure we’d picked different dishes to learn. That way we’d get to try two things for every course!
But you can’t start cooking without the essentials: ingredients.
Stopping Off at the Market
We took a detour to a local market to learn about all the staple Thai cooking ingredients and where the locals go to buy them. As you’d expect, soy sauce, fish sauce (replaced by mushroom sauce for vegetarians) and chilli sauce all made an appearance, along with coconut milk which we saw being freshly made by coconut crunching machines and buckets full of rice.
The Thai curries which Thailand’s cuisine is renowned for all require fresh curry pastes. There are vendors making green Thai curry paste, yellow Thai curry paste, red Thai curry paste and a whole bunch of other ones from scratch in the market. You can make these from scratch at home as well, but many families buy freshly made batches in bulk from the market to save time.
At this point, Luke decided to pick up a “Thai-style” coffee from one of the market vendors. You can probably imagine that this was the strongest, sweetest ice coffee out there. By the time we got to the farm we were beyond buzzing – and we were already excited to learn to cook some vegetarian Thai food as it was!
Organic Ingredients on the Farm
Unlike other cooking classes in Thailand, the Thai Farm cooking class grow fresh produce for their classes on-site. The farm is 100% organic and doesn’t use any chemicals or pesticides. Traditionally, Thai people have grown different herbs close together to prevent insects from ruining crops, and that’s what they still do today at the Thai Farm cooking school.
As we walked around, we all gathered the herbs and spices that we needed to make our own curry pastes. I’m absolutely crazy for green Thai curry and was happily stuffing kaffir lime leaves into my apron pockets. Luke was gathering plenty of ginger and chillies for his yellow Thai curry paste.
Let’s Get Cooking
We headed into a small wooden building on the farm where we each had our own preparation area and small gas stove. Benny demonstrated from the middle of the room, doing everything with a beaming smile on her face.
Aside from green Thai curry and yellow Thai curry, Luke and I learned to make Tom Yum soup and a vegetarian coconut soup. Both of these were really easy and delicious.
After our curries were complete, there was a stir fry course where we made sweet and sour veggies and a plate of fried cashew nuts with basil leaves. And then we made spring rolls and pad Thai. And there was a spicy papaya salad to try. By now our bellies were so full that we were struggling to manage these plates!
No Thai cooking class would be complete without a traditional and finger-licking delicious mango sticky rice for dessert. Crazily, the mango sticky rice we learned to make was actually dyed blue using a blue flower.
I made a very simple hot banana in coconut milk dessert as well. I chose the simple dessert and let Luke take on the more challenging mango sticky rice so that he’d be able to make it for me at home.
Vegetarian Green Thai Curry Recipe
Ahh, Thai curry! There’s nothing I miss more from my travels than a big bowl of coconuty, limey, spicy, green Thai curry. If you’ve been to Thailand, then I’m sure that you probably feel the same. But, you can make it at home and this is the recipe straight from the Thai Farm Cooking School.
Making Green Thai Curry Paste
2-3 green long chillies
1 tbsp shallots
1 tsp galangal
½ tsp kaffir lime rind
1 tsp garlic
1 tbsp lemongrass
1 tbsp krachai ( or ‘Thai ginseng’ )
¼ tsp roasted cumin seeds
¼ tsp roasted coriander seeds
¼ tsp salt ( or 1/2 tsp. of salt if you would like to keep the paste longer )
We started off by finely chopping all the ingredients and grinding them in mortar and pestle. I’m just thinking back to all those kaffir lime leaves, fresh green chillies, lemongrass leaves and roasted cumin seeds and how absolutely amazing it smelled grinding them up.
Making the Green Thai Curry
Set the paste aside and prep the following ingredients:
1 cup sliced eggplants (or other vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli or potato)
¼ cup smaller pea-like eggplants
⅓ cup sliced onion
Half a block of firm tofu, cubed
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp soya sauce
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 stems sweet basil
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
Grab a pot and put it over a medium heat. Pour in the coconut milk. Add in your green curry paste and stir. Then add all your vegetables, cubed tofu, water, sugar and soy sauce, and turn up the heat. Stir until everything is cooked, then drop in the sweet basil and extra lime leaves. The taste should be a little bit spicy, creamy, sweet and salty. Adjust to your own tastes. Serve up with rice.
Details: Thai Farm Cooking Class in Chiang Mai
If you’re a vegetarian who loves Thai food, then I’d highly recommend joining a class with the Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai.
Times: Full-day classes run most days at the Thai Farm Cooking School. The farm will pick you up from your hotel at around 9:00am and drop you back by 4:30pm.
Cost: Full-day classes cost 1300 baht per person (that’s about £24 or $36). You also get a recipe book to take home with you.