Step 1: Learning the Essentials
Waking early, my husband and I trekked 30 minutes across Chiang Mai to attend the Morning Glory Vegetarian Cooking Class with the queen of Thai vegetarian and vegan cooking, Diana Chiachong. There’s not much that can get my husband up early, but learning how to make great vegetarian Thai food is one thing he’ll make an exception for. I must admit I came for the peanut sauce. A few days earlier I tasted it when we ate at Diana’s restaurant (The Morning Glory Vegetarian Restaurant) and from that moment on I was determined to learn how to make her magical peanut sauce!
Diana greeted us with a vivacious smile, seating us at a table surrounded with baskets and trays filled with a rainbow of spices, herbs and colorful curry pastes. I immediately noticed the amazing amount of passion and personality contained in her petite frame. With much bravado she explained that all good Thai cooking MUST have four essential elements: spicy, sour, sweet and salty. She then went over each of the key spices used to create great flavor: green chilies, red chilies, kaffir lime leaf, lime, lemon grass, galangal (Thai ginger), garlic, coriander (a.k.a. cilantro), and onion.
Step 2 : Shopping for Ingredients
Once Diana was convinced we had a solid understanding of the four elements of good Thai cooking, we were ready for the next step, shopping! We walked across the street to the local market and what an experience! They had vegetables we’d never seen before! Diana generously bought us banana pudding and deep fried banana chips to munch on as we strolled down the aisles mesmerized by all the colorful unique food. She took her time as she paused to pick up vegetables explaining how to use them and letting us take pictures.
Step 3: Preparing the Spices
Back at the restaurant and armed with fresh ingredients, we were ready to prepare the spices. Apparently there is a unique way to prepare lemon grass, galangal and kaffir lime to get optimum flavor. Galangal is very woody and you don’t actually eat it. You cut larger pieces off and put the pieces directly into the curry to infuse it with flavor. Lemongrass is sliced finely or left in large chunks and kaffir lime is first rolled then cut into thin strips or put in whole.
A base ingredient in Thai curries, green and red curry paste was next on the list. Using a mortar and pestle we took turns crushing the chili peppers and spices. Turns out smashing chilies until they’re pulverized is not only a great way to optimize flavor, but also stress relieving and a great arm workout! I plan on purchasing a clay mortar and pestle once I get back to the US as it’s too heavy to haul around Asia for three months! Here’s an 8″ Thai Clay Mortar with Wooden Pestle I found on Amazon that’s just like the one Diana uses.
Step 4: Prepping the Vegetables
Our arms thoroughly tired, we began prepping all the vegetables we’d need for the day: carrots, wood mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, kale, baby corn, Chinese cabbage, green onions, cauliflower, pumpkin, potatoes, and onions. I assumed that vegetable prep was pretty straightforward, but no! There are correct ways to wash and chop the vegetables and special care is needed when preparing wood mushrooms. And don’t forget that it needs to look pretty too! Using a special knife called a Kom Kom Crinkle Cut Knife, we cut the carrots into attractive strips. However, creative cutting did not end with carrots. Diana also made sure that we chopped each kind of vegetable differently to ensure an appealing variety of textures.
Next we headed for the kitchen to steam the pumpkin and potatoes. Having never seen a Rice Bamboo Steamer, I thought it was someone’s hat hanging on the wall. When I confessed my ignorance Diana laughed and put it on her head posing for a picture. I’ll be honest. I don’t care much for cooking, but I’ve never had so much fun cooking! Diana’s passion and fun personality made it an absolute joy.
While we waited for the potatoes and pumpkin to finish steaming she told us about growing up in a small village in Northern Thailand. As a young girl her mother taught her to cook with three rocks over an open flame. And to this day Diana still creates authentic Thai cuisine the same way her mom taught her, using only an open flame.
Step 5: Cooking
Once the vegetables were ready she gave us a booklet of the recipes we’d make. During the entire process she made sure we understood the directions and had us write down important things to remember. For the next several hours she showed us how to make many delicious dishes using the simple base ingredients we had already prepared. Beyond that, we would start cooking a dish and she’d stop us, telling us to separate the ingredients. We then would make a few variations to each pile and end up with similar yet different dishes, or as she said, “Same same, but different!” Here’s a short movie of our cooking class and some of our yummy creations.
Step 6: Eating
This was my favorite step! Diana was never rushed and once we completed a dish she gave us plenty of time to take pictures, eat, visit, and take notes before starting the next dish. The food we made was so delicious and it proved hard to stop eating even though I was stuffed. And the peanut sauce? Absolutely fantastic and worth the cost of the class alone!
Step 7: Tell Others!
When we arrived we had no idea how long the cooking class would last. After making about four dishes I was sure we were done, but we just kept cooking, laughing, and eating until we had made everything in the booklet! By the time we left we had been there for over five hours. Not only did we learn how to make many authentic vegetarian Thai dishes, but we laughed ourselves silly, were stuffed to the brim, and left with our own booklet of special recipes and notes.
There are many cooking classes in Chiang Mai, but I recommend this one. For a great price you’ll get hours of one-on-one attention with a fun and knowledgeable vegetarian chef. Not to mention you’ll leave knowing how to make a lot of authentic, and tasty vegetarian Thai dishes!
Dishes We Learned to Make:
- Chili Dipping Sauce
- Green Chili Paste
- Red Chili Paste
- Pumkin Hummus
- Pumkin Soup
- Potato Soup
- Peanut Sauce
- Spring Rolls
- Fried Vegetables with Ginger
- Fried Vegetables with Cashew Nuts
- Pad Thai
- Tom Yam Soup
- Tom Kha Soup
- Masaman Curry
- Green Thai Curry
- Green Papaya Salad
- Mango with Sticky Rice
- Deep Fried Sticky Rice Cakes
Cooking Class Details
Cost per person: 1200 Thai Baht or $38.40 US dollars
Class Length: Approximately Five Hours
When: Call ahead and make an appointment. Our class started at 9am.
Where: Morning Glory Vegetarian Restaurant (see address in contact information below)
What to Bring: Hair tie, camera, a sense of humor, and your appetite!
What Diana Provides: All the ingredients, apron, drinking water, and complete recipe booklet.
Cooking Class Contact Information
Who: Diana Chaichong
Telephone: 0877175275, 0863984808
Where: The Morning Glory Vegetarian Restaurant (34 Prapokklao Rd. T. Prasingh Muang Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200)
Authentic Thai Cooking Tools Available on Amazon
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