I love Thai food. Chicken pad thai. Veggie-packed curries. Lettuce-wrapped anything. When I go out to Thai restaurants, I’m always impressed with the variety and depth of flavors, as well as the inventive dishes, on their menu.
But cooking Thai food at home? That always seemed completely impossible. (The couple times I’d tried to make curry were epic fails.)
So when I saw a Thai cooking class on the schedule of Mindful Cuisine, a private cooking class and dining experience in Chef Linda’s gorgeous Silver Creek home, I knew I had to take part in it.
Over the course of the evening, Chef Linda gave us tons of tips, tricks and demonstrations that made cooking Thai food at home approachable, even to a novice chef like me.
Below, I share some of what we learned, plus a recipe for an insanely delicious Thai veggie dish with snap peas and oyster mushrooms — perfect for spring.
1. Garlic and sugar are in almost every single Thai recipe.
What makes Thai food taste so good? Garlic. You know what makes it even better? SUGAR. Yep, both of these ingredients are hiding in just about any Thai dish. A lemongrass shrimp with chile and lime that was definitely more savory than sweet actually had some sugar it. And I know we can thank the sugar and (huge amounts of) garlic for making the dipping sauces we made taste so delicious.
We also learned a helpful hack for taking off those annoying garlic peels. Here’s how: Put the garlic cloves in a bowl. Grab another bowl and put it on top of it to form a ball shape. Then shake, shake, shake! After about 20 seconds, the cloves will be peeled — like magic. (Watch this YouTube video for a demo if you have no idea what I’m talking about.)
2. Fresh lemongrass is a very underrated herb.
You probably are familiar with spices like basil, parsley and oregano. But lemongrass is one you probably haven’t heard much about. And it is KEY for Thai cooking.
The root (which looks sort of like green onion) is sliced for cooking, and the smell is lemony and super fragrant, almost like verbena. Chef Linda also told us that she’ll boil some of the root in hot water to make lemongrass tea.
It also has health benefits, like promoting good digestion. I highly recommend picking some up next time you’re at an Asian market or specialty food store.
3. Dipping sauces are essential in Thai food (and easier to make than you think).
This blew my mind. I’d always thought that the flavorful dipping sauces in Asian restaurants would be super complicated to make. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn how simple they really are to make.
We made three different sauces for the Chaing Mai roast chicken: tamarind dipping sauce (water, palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind paste and chili powder); sweet chile dipping sauce, which was actually pretty spicy, despite the name! (water, distilled vinegar, sugar, kosher sauce, Thai chiles and a whopping EIGHT garlic cloves); and a spicy chile-lime sauce (garlic, Thai chiles, kosher salt, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and cilantro).
The best part? All of these sauces can be stored in the fridge for a few days, and they’re not only limited to Thai food! Try a chile-lime sauce with eggs or steak, or the sweet chile with shrimp or a veggie stir-fry. The possibilities are endless.
4. There’s a better, healthier way to cook mushrooms.
As Chef Linda explained, mushrooms are often cooked in so much butter or oil they lose all their health benefits. But as we learned there’s no need for those excess calories. Instead, when you add the mushroom to your sauté pan, add in about 1/4 cup of water. The mushrooms will release their own juices, and the water will look like it’s getting deeper, but then suddenly it’ll all evaporate and you’re left with nicely cooked mushrooms — no oil or butter needed.
Try out this technique in the recipe below!
- 8 ounces oyster mushrooms
- 4 tablespoons neutral oil (we used grapeseed oil)
- 2 large cloves garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
- 2 cups snap peas
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground white pepper, to taste
- In a wok or medium sauté pan, add the mushrooms and about 1/4 cup of water.
- Cook the mushrooms, tossing occasional until the water evaporates.
- Remove from pan and set aside.
- Heat the oil until just smoking.
- Add the garlic, snap peas, oyster sauce, and sugar and sauté, stirring until the green of the peas intensifies but they remain crunchy, 1-3 minutes.
- Toss in the mushroom to rewarm.
- Transfer the peas and mushrooms to a serving plate and sprinkle with white pepper.