Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Tryst with Thai – Part 1 (plus details on my first Thai cuisine masterclass!)

When I first changed from career woman to stay at home mom I went through a period in which I came to hate cooking. Cooking RDBS (roti-dal-bhat-subzi) became routine, the monthly budget was tighter with a single income that could not stretch to accommodate exotic ingredients.  But I had to cater three meals daily, and I wanted variety! One afternoon frustrated with another dinner waiting to be cooked, I postponed making the Rajma-Chaval I had planned and took my son down to the park, hoping to clear my head.
I arrived to find a furious debate underway amongst other mothers - about Mexican Tacos of all things!  While one insisted the bean stuffing in Tacos was made with baked beans another said it was made with Rajma. Recalling the delicious Tacos my sister in law made, I quickly rang her to clarify. It turned out that the stuffing could be either; Rajma when one had the time or baked beans as a quick alternative. It was a Eureka moment for me! Realizing I had Rajma all ready at home, I asked her the recipe and rushed home via the local grocery store (to pick up taco shells). Dinner that night was a resounding success. Tacos with the works brought a welcome change, did not put me out of pocket (not too much anyway) and most importantly, my son loved it. Watching him down THREE taco shells full of beans and salad was the highlight of the evening.  
The experience turned out to be epiphanic in the long run as well. I realised that thinking out of the box with ingredients I had to hand, made daily cooking more fun. And I found I didn’t need to break the bank catering unusual food. Cuisines around the world, have many ingredients in common, we’ve just never thought of it. And Thai cuisine, unlike what restaurants have us believe, needn’t be made with mushrooms, baby corn and other relatively more expensive ingredients. Thai cuisine is based on using what is fresh and in season and has a lot of ingredients in common with Indian cuisine so getting most things is easy and inexpensive.

I make my version of green curry with whatever vegetables I can find (white gourd, ridge gourd, French beans, turnip, cauliflower, carrots). Most exotic vegetables are greenhouse bred in any case. Local seasonal produce is far more delicious to cook and eat. And the fact that you will also ascribe to traditional food Indian food values that advise eating what is in season to keep the body healthy through the annual weather cycle in addition to getting quality at the best prices is an added bonus.  And Just like my Thai curry, other dishes like Soups, salads, stir fries and side dishes needn’t be composed of expensive lettuce and exotic vegetables - try a coconut milk soup or Grapefruit salad for example.
I feel like cooking from world cuisine is like being somewhere else, cooking something exciting and new, but from the comfort of your own kitchen. I still make my Mexican Tacos but have added a few delicious stuffings to my repertoire. And just after that I went through what my husband fondly calls a Thai High after I discovered Thai curry my friend Priya brought over a few years ago. I cooked Thai for a year, endlessly, researching from books and over the internet, until I had a full Thai spread down pat. And every year since I choose a cuisine and practice it through the year, culminating with a full meal on my birthday for friends and family. I can also now make a mean Italian spread, (because of which my husband refuses to go out to eat Italian), lay a delicious Mezze and am experimenting with Vietnamese now.
The key to cooking a good dish or meal from another cuisine is in truly understanding the elements of that cuisine. Once you have that ingrained, you will be able to cook just about anything. And once I began to think out of the box, I found I did not have to limit myself to my vegetable basket, my options were immediately multiplied by the number of ingredients I had in my spice rack, store cboard and refrigerator as well. I did not always get the exact ingredient I needed for a recipe. Using a substitute did sometimes mean a loss of authentic flavor. But I am not a puritan, I believe we’d still be grilling meat on a fire if we hadn’t used what we had to hand – Cuisine would simply never have evolved! 
Stereotyped as spicy, Thai Cuisine actually strives to achieve harmony between of the four basic flavours of hot, sour, salty and sweet and an occasional fifth, bitter. Evolving through the melding of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Portuguese and Dutch cuisines, contemporary Thai cuisine is a complex, vibrant showcase of an intricate medley of taste, texture and seasoning and is a colourful, aromatic, flavourful whirl of the senses. Thai cuisine is a rare example of fusion cuisine going right!

Thai took over as the new Chinese very early on in the culinary landscape of Mumbai and it is a love affair that is still raging. The latest fine dining restaurant KOH opening its doors to business a few months ago being testament to this fact (although I am still undecided on the restaurant, itself). Mumbai's taste buds have shown their natural affinity for the chilli, coconut, coriander and other ingredients that form the basis of Thai cooking but access to such exotica as Kaffir Lime, Thai brinjals and Pomelo at fine foods stores such as Nature’s Basket is evidence that the aromatic flavours of Thai cuisine have conquered Mumbai's palate and entered the home kitchen as well. And personally I LOVE that lemongrass has finally come into its own and has more interesting uses than simply in tea!

Watch for part 2 and 3 of my tryst with Thai cuisine, in the coming weeks, in which I will share the secrets of how to lay a delectable Thai table. 

I am excited to share that I am conducting a Thai cuisine Master class at Nature’s Basket Lokhandwalla at 3 on Thursday the 30th of Sept. This will comprise a whole meal of signature dishes she I have developed over years of cooking Thai food. On the menu is Pomelo salad and Pickled cucumber crackers, Thai inspired noodle soup, Green Thai green Curry w Lemongrass Fried rice, Thai chilli sauce and Kaffir lime scented coconut milk fruit salad plus oodles of cooking tips and insights on Thai ingredients, delicious samplings and discounts on select Thai products on offer. Be there if you love Thai food because I promise this will be delicious! 

Images courtesy Bharat Bhirangi and Mrigank Sharma.


sona said...

wish i could go to mumbai for your class - can you post a recipe for green curry?

Sunita said...

And I missed it! wish I had seen this earlier, I would've definitely been there :(
RDBS is such a killer-syndrome :P I know exactly what you must've gone through. I hate working in my garden or farm the whole day and then coming in to know lunch / dinner is still lying as mere ingredients in the kitchen!