“I’m going to make you and Dom a Thai dinner using recipes from your blog while you are in North Carolina for the holidays!” my friend Rochelle told me on the phone.
I began counting down the minutes until we would fly back to NC to see them.
Rochelle is one of those young, hip moms I look up to who savors every second mothering her three beautiful, fun kiddos. She and her husband Tyson became some of our best friends when we moved back to NC from Thailand. Every time we get together, and even when we aren’t together, we wish we lived closer again.
She is also a splendid cook, but had never cooked my Thai recipes before, so I couldn’t wait to go to her house, have her family meet Rocco and taste her Thai creations.
But what we decided would be even better is if I cooked with her, so we could spend as much time together possible drinking coffee, chatting, laughing and hanging out.
Through cooking with her, I was reminded of things that have become second nature to me that don’t come easy to first time Thai cooks. So here are some tips if it’s your first time cooking Thai, and you are freaking out about how to do it.
1. Give yourself enough time to prep.
“It’s not hard to make Thai food! The most complicated part is the prep work.” Rochelle told me after we finished cooking up our Thai feast. Yup, if I’m having people over, I usually chop up all my ingredients the night before, and then I only have to give myself a half-an-hour or so to throw it in the pan and cook it before dinner is ready.
Rochelle wanted to make khaw pad goon (stir-fried rice with shrimp), ginger chicken and a Thai cabbage salad she found a recipe for. Since we were cooking for six people, and wanted leftovers, we gave ourselves around two hours to thinly slice the chicken, mince the garlic, prep the shrimp and cut up the ginger, red pepper, green onion, white onion, mushrooms and cilantro.
Quick tip: Since Rochelle didn’t have day-old rice for the khaw pad goon, she made rice that morning, spread it out on a cookie sheet and left it in the fridge to dry out. It was the perfect consistency for our khaw pad goon.
2. Once you’re prepped, be ready for action.
After you prep everything, the actual cooking stage is very quick, especially if you are making a noodle dish or stir fry. You have to be on your toes to make sure you don’t over cook your meat and veggies.
We put all our ingredients in Rochelle’s tupperware and bowls so we could easily throw each ingredient in when it was time for it to make its appearance. Also, we had the fish sauce, oyster sauce and sugar, lined up next to the stove top so we could grab and pour them on as soon as we needed to.
3. You don’t need teaspoons or tablespoons, just your tongue.
When the time came to add the sauces, I watched Rochelle as she shook the bottle of oyster sauce over the wok and told her when to stop. We stirred, then we tasted, and I asked her what she thought. “More sugar,” she suggested. So we threw in a bit more, stirred and tasted until it was the perfect blend of sweet, spicy, sour and savory that we liked.
Whenever I’m looking up how to make a new Thai dish, I look at the measurements for the sauces and sugar, but what I focus on is not the exact number of teaspoons, but the proportion of sauces. If there is a higher amount of fish sauce to black soy sauce, I focus on the fish sauce more, etc.
When cooking Thai food you really have to trust yourself and your tongue, and know what taste you like. My tip is to add sauces slowly so you don’t overdo it.
4. You might not need to make a trip to the Asian store.
If you have an Asian store nearby, consider yourself blessed and go there often. But if you don’t, I was impressed that Rochelle had found oyster sauce and white pepper powder at the local grocery store, and didn’t have to go out to the faraway Asian store.
Of course the sauce and pepper were in smaller bottles and more expensive than at the Asian store, but it was better than going out of her way when she didn’t have time to. Give your supermarket a chance to see if they have some Asian sauces, and you might be surprised at what you find.
The food turned out amazing, but the whole cooking process is what I loved. While we prepped and cooked, her 7-year-old daughter Emma held Rocco and rocked him like he was her new little baby doll.
Her son 5-year-old Elijah would jump in the kitchen with his doodle pad and show us how he could add 4932+5960 and get the right answer. Her 1.5 year-old son Shiloh would run to Rochelle and grab her legs and look up at her with googly eyes and giggle and flirt. And Ro and I chopped and chatted and laughed and felt crazy blessed.
And she and Tyson gave me one of my favorite Christmas presents: a Thai-Foodie apron! Rochelle sewed it and Tyson drew my logo for it. Aren’t they talented?
Do you have any Thai cooking tips to add? Or any cooking questions? Leave them in the comments and let me know! I’m happy to help.