A good reason for taking cooking classes is to learn how to cook. But what about those of us that already feel comfortable in the kitchen and don’t require guidance or a recipe to prepare a delicious meal? Experimenting with flavours and ingredients of a regional cuisine, observing an experienced chef, and looking out for new techniques are things that those of us that already know how to cook – whatever that means – can take away from a cooking class.
I recently took a Thai class at George Brown College. Starting with 3 different curry pastes made from scratch, we spent 12 classes exploring different ingredients and flavours of Thailand. It was a wonderful class, but not because I learned how to make pad thai or tom yum soup. In addition to great food, there were many subtle lessons that I brought home after every class. I’d like to share a few.
1. Cilantro roots and stems are not garbage. Leaves are great for garnishing, but stems and roots are even better for adding flavour to curries, pastes, soups, and stews.
2. Recipes are overrated. I knew this before, but observing the chef taste and adjust repeatedly emphasized the point that achieving balance is more important than following a recipe. Ingredients always range in size, juiciness, and flavour profile and intensity. Its up to the cook, not the recipe, to adjust for that. Recipes are great for guidance and inspiration, but they shouldn’t impose a rigid way of cooking.
3. Spice and herb pastes can be made out of almost anything and are not only for curries. Have some left-over herbs? toss them in the food processor with garlic, shallots, oil, and spices. Store refrigerated in a jar, topped with oil. They last a long time and are a great base to start with when cooking soup, stew, stir fry.
4. Rangiri, a traditional Japanese cutting technique makes the perfect vegetable shape for stir fry, stews, and curries. It involves rotating a cylindrical vegetable 90 degrees after every diagonal slice.
5. Shrimp powder is highly addictive! It’s made from small dried shrimp, ground in a food processor. Shrimp powder can be used to garnish a variety of Asian inspired dishes.
This mango salad wasn’t one of the things that I learned. We did make mango salad, but it wasn’t any better than what I’ve been making for years. We did, however, garnish it with shrimp powder. I gladly made that addition to my version of the salad!
- 1 green mango, julienned
- small handful thinly sliced red pepper
- small handful thinly sliced purple onion
- roughly chopped cashews or peanuts
- cilantro leaves or thai basil leaves
- shrimp powder
- sliced hot chillies (optional)
- lime juice, to taste
- palm or brown sugar, to taste
- fish sauce, to taste
- To make the shrimp powder, whiz the dried shrimp in the food processor until finely ground. Depending on the food processor this can take several minutes.
- Toss the mango, peppers, and onions with dressing ingredients. Adjust dressing to taste, depending on the tartness of the mango.
- Garnish with nuts, herbs, shrimp powder, and chillies.