I recently attended a Vietnamese and Thai Cookery Day at The Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath run by Rachel Demuth.
I first met Rachel last year and discovered that we both have a love of teaching and passing on our skills and knowledge to others. Like me Rachel has travelled extensively in India and the Far East and learned about new ingredients and techniques along the way.
I was thrilled when she invited me to come along to her Thai and Vietnamese Cookery Day. I am very comfortable with Thai cooking. I spent time at a cookery school in Chiang Rai to learn the basics and then honed my skills living in a traditional Thai community in the nearby jungle. I never managed to get to Vietnam though so was really looking forward to learning some new recipes!
I arrived to find tutor Helen busily preparing for the class. There was already a wonderful aroma of spices in the room.
Wonderful Thai and Vietnamese ingredients had been laid out ready for the students when they arrived.
First off Rachel talked us through the key spices, vegetables and herbs we would be using. Thai food encompasses five flavours.
We started with bitter which comes from the pea aubergines.
Sour from tamarind. This comes in various forms. We used a pack which looked like brown jelly and is readily available in Asian supermarkets. Rachel suggested avoiding the paste form as it loses the flavour.
Hot from the chillies. We ran through the different varieties and were encouraged to split out into groups of mild, medium and hot. I fluctuated between all three throughout the course of the day.
Sweet from palm sugar which can be substituted with brown sugar if you can’t find any.
And finally salt. Thai food uses fish sauce but as the cookery school is pure vegetarian, we substituted this with Shoyu (soy sauce).
And of course we were also going to use garlic, ginger, fresh turmeric and galangal.
Helen then showed us how to make a Thai curry paste. I have bittersweet memories of making curry paste in Chiang Rai. We used to start early in order to hit the market and pound the ingredients before it got too humid. I’m afraid I didn’t get very far as nausea prevailed so I loved the pragmatic use of a food processor by Helen!
Toasting the spices is a very important part of the process to release all the flavours. I cannot tell you how amazing the aromas were..
The result was stunning. Very hot but a wonderful fresh taste. we would use this later in our Thai Vegetable Curry. The paste actually keeps very well in the fridge because of the oil content. I use and ice cube tray to freeze it in easy to use blocks.
We moved on to Pad Thai and it was time for some hands on action.
It was amazing to taste such different versions from the same ingredients.
Helen made us all a wonderful sweet omelette to go on top.
Next we moved on to knife skills. I think we were all apprehensive but it was great to have a go at ‘cheffy’ style chopping under her instruction.
We chopped all our ingredients for the curry and Vietnamese rice paper or Hue rolls.
And then moved on to make dipping sauces in our groups again.
We ate the Hue rolls as we made them with Satay Sauce, Shoyu Dipping Sauce and Nam Phrik Pao (a chilli and red pepper dipping sauce).
After a shortbreak to digest we moved on to Thai Curry which Helen demonstrated and then we made ourselves. The trick is to fry the paste just enough to release the flavours but not enough to burn it. Here was my groups’. It was the medium spiced version.
Next came my favourite. Thai Spring rolls which are filled with wonderful fresh carrots, noodles made from mung beans and black fungus.
The trick is in the rolling which was easy once Helen showed us how. It needed a bit of concentration to make sure there were no holes or else the roll would pop when frying.
I was getting rather tired now so I was grateful for an opportunity to sit and enjoy a glass of bubbly…..
…..while we were shown how to make Green Papaya Salad with all the chopped ingredients…..
…and Black Rice Pudding with Mango Chilli Syrupy Slices!
I think I speak for the whole group when I say that we were well and truly full on leaving! I met some lovely people from all over the UK – all interested in cooking vegetarian food.
If you’d like to attend a course or know someone who might like to, there are dozens of different ones to try. Or you can get a gift voucher and choose later!
Thank you to Rachel and Helen for a wonderful day full of wonderful food and great tips on cooking!