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Thai Cooking Class at the Inn

This weekend I presented the final scheduled cooking classes of the season: Thai Cuisine. Following is an excerpt on the history of Thai cooking and a recipe for a simple “Coconut Mussel Soup with Curry” that we occasionally serve in the restaurant. The recipe is also available in my first cookbook on page 228 and there is a version with chicken if mussels are not your thing.

Though Thai restaurants have proliferated across the United States in the last two decades, few cooks attempt Thai dishes at home.

Traditional Thai cuisine consisted of seafood, rice, vegetables and herbs. Very little meat was used. The ingredients were generally boiled, steamed or most often grilled, particularly popular because of the abundance of natural wood available for cooking in Thailand. As Chinese immigrants moved to Thailand, they brought their cooking tools, including the wok and bamboo steamer, and their cooking methods, stir frying and deep frying. When the Portuguese introduced chilies and coconut milk to Thailand, the Thai quickly adopted these ingredients as their own. Other influences came from India and the Western cooking methods of France and England. The end result is a cuisine that emphasizes balance and harmony, blending the spicy, the subtle, the sweet and the sour. Characteristic ingredients include the freshest of the following: coconuts, lemongrass, lime leaves, chilies, seafood, tropical fruits, fish sauce, shrimp paste and rice.

Coconut Mussel Soup with Curry serves 6-8
1 stalk lemon grass
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
3 pounds of fresh mussels, cleaned with beards picked

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 Tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cans unsweetened coconut milk (14 ounces each)
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon sambal oelek (hot chili paste)
2 plum tomatoes, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
kosher salt
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
cilantro sprigs for garnish

1. Slice the lemon grass thinly and place in a small saucepan with the white wine. Cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes to infuse the lemon flavor into the wine. Strain the wine, discarding the lemon grass, and place in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add mussels and steam, covered, for about 8 minutes, or until the mussels open. Remove the mussels, cool and pick the meat from the shells, reserving a few whole for garnish. Strain the liquid and reserve.
2. In a large (4- or 5-quart) saucepan, cook the onion, garlic, and ginger in the canola oil over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened.
3. Add the reserved wine/mussel cooking liquid, orange and lime juice, curry powder, thyme, bay leaf, coconut milk, jalapeno pepper and sambal oelek. Simmer uncovered about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced slightly.
4. Add the mussels and diced tomatoes and cook, covered, over high heat for 3 minutes.
5. Season the soup with salt and add the chopped cilantro. Divide the soup between the bowls. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and whole mussels in their shells.