Don't worry, this won't affect bargain Thai lunches. It's a push toward high-end Thai dining that will incorporate what the Thais are renowned for--brilliant flavors, fresh, aromatic ingredients and artistic presentation that goes beyond a carved carrot or frilly green onion.
Here's an example--the seafood mixture called hor mok, tucked into a deep-fried basket crafted from a sheer rice wrapper and accompanied by a little pot of fresh pineapple and red pepper sauce. The hor mok includes steamed fresh crab meat along with minced prawns and chicken.
Here, an upscale diner's favorite, rare duck breast, has been tossed with cherry tomatoes, Thai chiles, onions and lychees in a sauce that includes orange and tamarind juices and palm sugar. That's a smear of raspberry puree on the plate.
These were a few of the Thai dishes covered in a series of classes arranged last week by the Royal Thai Consulate General in partnership with Le Cordon Bleu Culinary College in Pasadena.
The hands-on sessions drew chefs, restaurant owners, culinary instructors and students--people who will influence what we eat in the future. The classes were open to the public, too. If you missed out, keep posted for next year's series.
The teachers were Nooror Somany-Steppe (at the top), who is founding partner and director of the Blue Elephant restaurants, an international chain headquartered in Bangkok, and her daughter Sandra Steppe.
They brought more than 300 pounds of ingredients and equipment from Thailand, including some of those above, in order to present the food as accurately as possible. "We are here to make Americans feel that Thai food is the best food in the world," said Steppe, who spoke as her mother concentrated on cooking.
If they have any criticism, it is that Thai food in America is too sweet. To make sure flavors were properly balanced, they tasted repeatedly as each dish was prepared, adjusting with pinches of this or that. They showed that Thai cooking is a lively process, not a standardized procedure.
Never substitute gingerroot for galingal, which has a different aroma and flavor (galingal is the knobby tuber at the left in the basket above). Don't use turmeric powder instead of fresh turmeric (at right in the basket). And you won't necessarily get a perfect result if you add the amount of coconut milk specified in a recipe. It could be too strong, and you would then have to dilute it.
If using canned curry paste, work in fresh ingredients such as onion and garlic. And be aware that an ingredient is not always the same. The fresh pineapple that Somany-Steppe used for the hor mok sauce was so sweet it had to be balanced with extra vinegar.
On view at the classes were the Blue Elephant line of sauces and curry pastes made according to Somany-Steppe's standards. They're pricey because she puts in choice ingredients such as Thai-grown garlic, which is finer and stronger than cheaper Chinese garlic, she said. You can check them out online at Amazon.
Students learned how to pound their own green curry paste for dishes such as green curry with prawns (above). At the Blue Elephant, the curry is served with roti. You could also serve it with pasta, Somany-Steppe said, turning it into a Thai noodle dish.
GREEN CURRY WITH PRAWNS
From Chef Nooror Somany Steppe and the Blue Elephant restaurants
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons green curry paste
1/4 teaspoon ground roasted coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
1 cup coconut milk
About 1/3 cup peeled, deveined prawns (shrimp)
2 round Thai eggplants, quartered
10 pea-sized Thai eggplants
1 1/2 teaspoons palm sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 fresh mild red chile, seeded and sliced
1 kaffir lime leaf, torn into small pieces
10 leaves sweet basil
Red chile slices for garnish
Coconut cream for garnish
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the green curry paste, coriander and cumin seeds and stir-fry until aromatic.
Add a spoonful of coconut milk and simmer until the oil is extracted. Add two more scoops of cocomut milk and simmer for a few minutes.
Add the prawns and remaining coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the eggplants and simmer until cooked through. Season with palm sugar and fish sauce. Add the red chile, kaffir lime leaf and basil and stir gently.
Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with a strip of coconut cream across the top and red chile slices.
Makes about 2 servings.