Vegetarian Thai Cooking Class

December 6, 2009

The first thing I did upon arrival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was head to May Kaidee’s Vegetarian Restaurant. It’s on Ratchapakinai Road, next to the Sumit Hotel, about 4 doors up from the Thai Red Cross office, which is easy to spot.

Look for the plants in front of the tiny shop.

I had a bowl full of something luscious, with coconut milk curry and vegetables, and I was immediately happy.

Last time I was in Chiang Mai, I took a cooking class from The Farm, an organic farm about 20 minutes out of the city. It was a well-organized class, the food was delicious, and it was a nice break to get out of the city and spend a relaxing day making mouth-watering food. I highly recommend it.

This time I wanted to take a class that was specifically vegetarian, not just a cooking class that substituted vegetarian ingredients. Since May Kaidee’s had a cooking class available, I had to taste the food before signing up.

No use taking a cooking class from somewhere with tasteless, or worse, awful food.

So I was relieved that the food was delicious and that it was close enough to my guesthouse, which meant I would be coming back often to eat. (I did–I went every day except when I was out of commission due to food poisoning…grr.)

Class started at 9 am with a bowl of fruit and yogurt for breakfast. Then the other three students and I, plus Duan, May’s sister, who runs the Chiang Mai restaurant with her husband, daughter, and brother, set off for the local market.

There Duan pointed out and explained several ingredients crucial to Thai cuisine. She showed us sticky rice, kaffir limes, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, holy and Thai basils.

Choy sum swarming with bees


Most of the produce was already familiar to me, including long beans, choy sum (Chinese greens with yellow flowers that the bees were swarming around), gailaan (sometimes called Chinese broccoli, and what Duan called kale), round and long eggplant, pumpkin (large, flat, and brown, like a more rowdy cousin of the Japanese kabocha).

The Thai papayas are enormous, at least eight inches long, orange and shaped like a cylinder. The papayas in Hawaii are much smaller, shaped like yellow pears on steroids.

We also saw the rice noodles that people ordered by width and watched the vendor chop them with her cleaver before putting them into a tiny plastic bag secured with a rubber band. The thin version, like fetuccini, are what is used to make Pad Thai, the popular fried noodle dish. The uncut sheets are the wrappers for uncooked spring rolls.

After filling our baskets, we walked back to the shop, past a rotund yellow dog that took up half the road. Cars, people and motorcycles inched around it to pass. We couldn’t decide if she was pregnant or just obese.

The Somphet Market Dog--fat or pregnant?


Back at the shop, we chopped some baby corn, greens, and cauliflower before heading upstairs with bottles of drinking water, to get to work.

Each of us had a station with a wok and shared areas with dark and light soy sauce, chili paste and already-chopped garlic and chilies.

For each recipe, Duan walked us through the steps. “Put one spoonful of oil in your wok. Now add chilies, half spoon, and garlic, half spoon.” Spoons were the Asian soup spoons, the long ones with handles bent upwards, that come with bowls of gau gee min and ramen, Asian noodle soups.

“Now, quickly…KHON!

That meant “Stir!” in Thai. We spent many hours that day khon-ing.

“Next put tofu and vegetables….khon faster!”

And so it went. After the first three dishes, I lost track of how much of what went into what. Fortunately, all the recipes had been printed out for us, so we stopped after a few to make notes about substitutions and anything else not already written for us.

Duan prepares rice wrappers to make uncooked spring rolls.


Each of us had a tasting spoon, which we kept in a pocket in the front of our aprons, for sampling the dishes as we finished. This was an interesting part of the course, because we learned how much of a difference in flavor small substitutions could make.

For example, clear Tom Yum, coconut Tom Yum, and Tom Kha soups were identical, save for the amounts of coconut milk we added, but the flavors were more different than you’d imagine.

Four hours later, we had a spread large enough to feed us all for lunch and dinner. Fried noodles, soups, several kinds of curries, and the famous Kao Soi, a northern Thai curried noodle specialty.

The finished uncooked spring rolls: light, fresh, chewy, crunchy, spicy, and refreshing, all at once.


We also made lip-smacking peanut sauce, and May Kaidee’s famous and possibly the most popular dish on the menu: Pumpkin Hummus. Various seeds, spices, chilies, and cooked pumpkin were pounded with a mortar and pestle. The end result was creamy, complex pumpkin magic.

Duan said it was their mother’s special recipe. She used to make it for them growing up, and they ate it with everything, from balls of sticky rice, to spread on bread as sandwiches, or as a dip with vegetables. It was easy to see why this was such a popular dish.

The only non-vegan things were the yogurt in the morning, plus the egg noodles in the Kao Soi. But that was a variation on a curry dish, so you could leave them out.

I gave my leftovers to my Thai massage friends, since I did not have a fridge in the guesthouse and did not want to tempt fate with even more food poisoning.

Thank you, Duan, An, Nain, and Opal, for delicious food every day, and for your help! Khob kun mahk kha!

If you are interested in taking the cooking class, visit the restaurant and talk to one of them. I highly recommend it.

May Kaidee Vegetarian Restaurant, Chiang Mai, Thailand


Vegetarian Halloween Party Food

October 31, 2009

The vegetarian Halloween party was a hit. Despite a few “WHAT are we eating?” comments throughout the evening, all the guests were great sports and tried everything. In fact, despite being so full after the appetizers that they only ate a small portion of the main course, everyone finished all their dessert….

I mentioned some of this in yesterday’s post…The vegan Coagulated Blood Dip and Mummified Skin Flakes (aka beet dip and pita chips) were a hit, as well as the Stuffed Roaches (dates filled with a vegan cream-cheese-like mixture and dipped in fake bacon bits.)

My friends very artfully laid out vegetable slices and strips to create this Skeleton Platter, which I served with my vegan ranch dip, renamed Moldy Brain Dip. Find the recipe here. Lip-smackingly delicious, and cute, too!

halloween party part two 003

Skeleton Platter with Moldy Brain Dip

“Eeyoo,” my friend said, as she ladled out the Pond Scum Soup. I had her pipe soy yogurt on top to create the spider web appearance, and next time I looked, she had consumed all of it. So it obviously tasted just fine.

I had another friend (who loves deviled eggs) work on these Devil’s Eyes. He put an olive in the center of each one and piped ketchup to create blood vessels. Not a great picture, but you get the idea.

devils eyes

Devil's Eyes, aka Deviled Eggs

The main course–Chunky Cat Barf and Steamed Maggots with Spider Web Bread was also eaten, albeit sparingly.

But I think the two standout dishes (if you had to choose two; they were all devoured with equal amounts of gusto) would have to be the Pumpkin Smoothies and the Black Widow Spider Cakes.

Vegan Pumpkin Smoothies
1 cup yogurt or soy yogurt
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup sugar or other sweetener, or to taste–depends on the sweetness of your pumpkin and the tartness of the yogurt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 cup water–you may need to add more
1 tray (=2 cups or 16 ice cubes) ice
Blend in a blender until smooth. Adjust sweetener and water as necessary.

For the Black Widow Spider Cakes, I used a basic vegan cake recipe, and tried to do a vegan molten chocolate lava cake using the method explained by Bryanna Clark Grogan.

Basically, you make a filling, freeze it in ice cubes, then put them into the center of the batter and bake. The cake batter cooks into cake; the filling thaws into ooze.

I made a filling of berries cooked with cornstarch and a small amount of sweetener, water and lemon juice, and froze them in an ice cube tray. I put them into greased custard cups and oven-safe tea cups, then poured the cake batter over them.

After baking, we turned them out onto a plate upside down and used melted semi-sweet chocolate chips to pipe legs. The heads were made by adding a commercial chocolate truffle (on top a tiny mound of melted chocolate, so it would stay in place.) Although the “guts” didn’t ooze like I had hoped, because I made the filling too thick, it did make the middle of the cakes appropriately mushy and the tartness of the berries complemented the cake nicely.

I got the idea for the spider cakes from this website called “Not Martha.”

Vegan Chocolate Cakes
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup water

Mix all ingredients together. Spoon over “guts” (optional) into greased custard cups or muffin tins. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Invert immediately onto a plate. Use melted chocolate to create legs and something (truffle, doughnut hole, cookie, mound of melted chocolate) for the spider head.

black widow spider cake

Vegan Black Widow Spider Cakes--fun to make and eat, and cute, too

Beverage was Body Part Punch, made with cranberry and grape juices. I froze a hand made from soymilk and orange juice, to create a realistic flesh color, in a latex glove. Lychees were stuffed with raisins and frozen for “eyeballs”, and a can of peaches was also dumped in for “flesh.”

Despite my worries, the food wasn’t so gross that it stopped anyone from eating it. Thanks to my friends for letting me have my dream of a Halloween party come true, and thanks to all the creative people and cooks out there who come up with these ideas and share them online.

I hope you can take some of these recipes and ideas and use them for your own spooky, fun, and delicious vegetarian Halloween party. Happy Halloween!


Vegan Halloween Party Food

October 30, 2009

Today I made some food ahead of time in preparation for a Halloween dinner party I’m having tomorrow night. Part of the trick is giving food gory names that match the appearance of the dishes.

Coagulated Blood Dip

Based on the idea I found here, I put together a beet dip and doctored it quite heavily. The result isn’t as bloody in color, but it still maintains a greyish-pink hue, sickly looking enough to gross people out, I hope, especially when accompanied by mummified skin flakes (aka pita chips.)

blood dip

Healthy and gross: Coagulated Blood Dip and Mummified Skin Flakes

Another pupu (that’s the Hawaiian word for “appetizer”) that is almost too disgusting to try is Smashed Cockroaches.

Once again, I borrowed this idea from the internet, which takes dates, cuts them open, fills with cream cheese, and puts them on a platter. I veganized it with a cream-cheese-like mixture into which I mixed some chopped walnuts. Because I have some teeny green scallion tops in the garden, I decided to use those to mimic the antennae.

It’s easier if you put the green onions in first, then add the cream-cheesy mixture. And since it was a tad too sweet for my taste as is, I dipped them in vegetarian bacon bits for even more crunch and a nudge toward a more savory flavor.
stuffed roaches
Whoever thought these up was creative indeed. I love how the shape and color of the dates so perfectly matches those disgusting outdoor cockroaches. (If you live somewhere where you don’t have them, be glad!)

And of course, to make them even grosser, I am calling them “Smashed Cockroaches,” because that’s exactly what they look like after you’ve attempted to kill them with your rubber slippers!

Pond Scum Soup
At one point I was growing a plant called “cholesterol spinach,” and I couldn’t even give it away. It had the nasty habit of creating slime when cooked, which is probably what made it so healthy to consume.

One day I made spinach soup with it, but the resulting slimy goo was too disgusting for me to eat. Remembering that, I created this Pond Scum Soup with my most recent “cholesterol spinach” plant, which does not create slime.

I sauteed onion, garlic, celery, mushrooms and spinach, then cooked it with some water and one potato. I blended it and added a lot of lemon juice for a tart, mossy greenish glop.
pond scum soup

The spider-web-like topping is soy yogurt, piped in a spiral. Then I used a chopstick stuck in the middle and dragged to the edge, repeatedly. Wipe off the chopstick after each stroke.

Steamed Maggots and Chunky Cat Barf
Our main course will be rice and curry renamed. I plan to use a couple different varieties and colors of rice, to give it more “what the heck IS that?” appeal.

The curry is the same recipe as in this Malaysian Broccoli And Tofu Curry post. The only difference was I added reconstituted TVP instead of tofu, plus some bell peppers and corn, to give it a more cat-vomit-like look.

chunky cat barf

Pretty gross, huh? heh heh.

I plan to serve it with Roti Jala, Net Bread, just like I did before. But we’ll make it at the party, since it tastes best when fresh, retaining a crispiness along with chew. I’m going to call it “Spider Web Bread,” because the lacy appearance is close enough to spider webs to match the Halloween party theme.

It will be interesting to see if the food tastes less delicious when given such disgusting names. I’ll post again after the party and let you know how it all went.

Stay tuned to see my “Body Part Punch” and “Black Widow Spider Cakes.” Mwah ha ha!


Fermented Flatbread, Indian Dosa

August 9, 2009
Hard at work in my secret laboratory!

Hard at work in my secret laboratory!

I’ve just begun my latest mad science experiment. I’ve been making fermented dough–batter, actually–for dosa and uttapam, which are flatbreads typically eaten in South India for breakfast.

Although the process takes time, it isn’t complicated. Rice and urad dahl are soaked in water for several hours, then drained and blended with water to create a slurry.

The mixture is left to ferment overnight, but even here in Honolulu in summer, it took two days in my kitchen. You end up with a bubbling, stinky mixture that makes me feel like a crazy scientist in a hidden laboratory. Mwah ha ha ha!

The batter is cooked like pancakes in a skillet or on a griddle. It can also be spread paper-thin so they cook into crisp rounds.

I’ve tried them with and without fenugreek seeds, which add a fragrance akin to maple syrup, and I’m going to try them again with chana dahl (garbanzo beans) once I go buy some. Salt is added after the ferment so that it doesn’t slow the fermentation process down.

I have fallen in love with the tangy flavor, reminiscent of a good sourdough bread. While I have yet to get the techniques for cooking down, the result is nevertheless delicious and well worth the advance planning.

Uttapam and Coconut Chutney

Uttapam and Coconut Chutney

Next I need to get good variations on the accompanying dishes they are usually served with. One is coconut sambar or chutney, another is tomato chutney, and a third is sambar, a watery dahl and vegetable curry just perfect for dipping into.

There is a recipe and video here.


Vegan Papaya Curry

July 2, 2009
Papaya Curry

Papaya Curry

While surfing the net for unusual recipes, I came across this recipe for Stir-Fried Green Papaya from an Indian woman named Barathy. Her recipe comes from Kerala in South India, where green papaya as a vegetable is not very commonly used.

I bought green papayas, but by the time I went to make this dish, they were starting to ripen (oh, those tropical fruits!) The result was a complex-tasting, but easy to make curry that included sweetness from the papaya, plus gorgeous color.

Although I labeled this as a side dish, I ate it as a main dish, coupled with some sauteed spinach-like green and Nasi Kunyit, Turmeric Rice, a Malaysian dish I am working on.

I love mistakes like this.


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