Every country have its own methods of cooking, its own ingredients. To experience a country’s authentic cuisine, you sometimes have to go there. Edinburgh Foody went to Kerala to discover local Indian cookery. I was not quite to intrepid. I went to Krua Thai Cookery School in Edinburgh, to learn to cook Thai. In the four hours that I spent with Rujira Herd (Ru), Krua Thai’s owner and head chef, I learned a lot about Thai food and cooked some absolutely great dishes. Here are some of the things that I learned.
I spent an afternoon with chef Ru and learned to cook pad Thai, fried rice, chicken red curry and bananas in coconut cream. Each dish was prepared, cooked and then tasted before we moved on to the next. We made enough that I could share: I had a huge box full of goodies, including all the little extras needed to make the dishes just so when I served them to friends that evening. Toasted chili powder, peanuts, sesame seeds and a whole lot of wonderfully fragrant red curry paste. I didn’t know how truly wonderful red curry was until I made it. Now I do and chances are I’ll never eat it in a restaurant again. I can’t imagine it’ll be as good as the one that Ru taight me to make. Really. It was amazing.
Making a red curry was one thing that I learned. Here are some others:
All condiments are not equal
I already knew that different soya sauces had very different character, but after tasting several fish sauces, light, dark, thick and sweet soya sauces, and other condiments, I’ve realised that you need to find brands that work for you and keep a note of them so you can find them again. It might seem like an obvious point, but when you’re inexperienced in a region’s produce, you – like I – might assume that fish sauce is fish sauce, and all coconut cream is the same. As with any ingredients, you have to experiment a little. (And Krua Thai will happily show you what brands you’re cooking with so you can buy the same ones.)
It is possible to get Thai ingredients in Edinburgh
Asian shops are your friends. Krua Thai source their ingredients from lots of different suppliers, some they import directly and some they buy in the many Asian shops in Edinburgh. Kaffir limes and lime leaves, green pepper corns (or fresh pepper), palm sugar, Thai basil: it is all available. Sometimes, you might have to be a little adventurous to find exactly what you need, but it is not impossible to find. (My favourite ‘new’ ingredient were little mini aubergines that went into the red Thai curry. They popped in the mouth and added wonderful texture.)
A kaffir lime is not just any lime
Kaffir limes are knobbly little fellows with a slight gray tint to their skins. They are used red curry paste where they add a limey but also slightly bitter flavour. Kaffir lime skin should be used with caution because of its strong flavour. The leaves of the kaffir lime bush smell and taste wonderful. I’ve had them dry before but the fresh ones have a lot more zing.
Cooking at home rules
There’s a lot of talk about Brits not cooking at home, how we’re forgetting how to cook a simple meal. We’re too lazy, too afraid to ruin ingredients, too comfortable to cook when there are ready meals, cans and tins to warm up. Not to mention fast food.
It’s not just us! The first dish we cooked was Pad Thai, a wonderful noodle stir fry with egg, bean sprouts, firm tofu, dried prawn, peanuts, garlic, Chinese chives, tamarind, fish sauce, soya sauce, palm sugar, chilli powder, dried Chinese mooli, and lemon juice. It’s served with bean sprouts, Chinese chives and lemon to squeeze over to taste. It’s fragrant, light, comforting and has a wonderful depth of flavour. In Thailand, you can buy a bowl of pad Thai for next to nothing, it’s easier than buying all the ingredients. It won’t be quite as good though – the restaurants need to make money too so they do what they can to serve something that’ll pass. I love pad Thai. After my cookery course, I make sure I have what I need to make it whenever I can. With all the ingredients because that way I get the best possible dish. (Saying that, I have made a veggie version which was very good if not a patch on the original.)
Thai cooking is clean yet complex
I first discovered Thai some ten years ago when Lemongrass opened in Bruntsfield. I loved it immediately. The flavours are cleaner than in Chinese food. I’m aware that I’m generalising outrageously. I’ve never been to China so my exposure to Chinese food has, in the main, been what you get in restaurants in Edinburgh. They vary a lot, of course, but there’s a commonality in flavours and textures. Chinese can be very tasty, but Thai won me over with its combination of heat and zing. There’s something fresh and light about the flavours that I really enjoy.
The layering of flavours, from the salty pungency of fish sauce, to the fizzy sparkle or lime and lemon, the heat of chillies and the warming background of egg, fish or chicken, is just wonderful.
Rice noodles don’t have to fall apart
Quick tip: rice noodles become soft but not so soft that they fall apart if you soak them for four hours before you need them and then put them in recently boiled water for 15 seconds. That’s it. They’re cooked to perfection and can now be stir-fried. Remember to keep a gentle wrist and they won’t turn into short pieces of mushy mess. Perfect!
There’s always more to learn
Ru runs half-day cookery courses and offers a very personal service. Most of her courses are one-to-one which means you get to ask all the questions you need and all the attention you want. Krua Thai also do courses for small groups through Groupon and Living Social. Keep an eye out if you want a great deal.
As well as teaching you how to cook a fabulous meal, Ru and her team can teach you to carve fruit and vegetables to make wonderful presentations. The watermelon I came away with was carved into a chrysanthemum which caused quite a stir when I took it to a barbecue.
When not teaching people how to cook and carve, Ru and her team are available for outside catering, or special meals in Krua Thai’s lovely dining room. Ru also works as a consultant to food producers and others, helping them make authentic dishes.
Thank you to Krua Thai for sharing pictures of decorations, chef Ru and me and bananas in coconut cream.