Recently, I took a Thai cooking course from Kasma Loha-unchit, an expert teacher in Thai home cooking. Kasma has been teaching Thai cooking since 1985 and she has written two cookbooks, “It Rains Fishes” (which won the International Association of Culinary Professionals award for Best International Cookbook of 1995) and “Dancing Shrimp”. They are two of my favorite cookbooks because they are beautifully written, they have detailed explanations of the recipes within, and the recipes work well. She offers several classes (beginning, intermediate, and advanced in both night and week-long versions) and guided tours to Thailand. I took her “Beginning-Intermediate Weeklong Thai Cooking” course–I loved it. Kasma, her husband Michael, and all of the wonderful students that attended made the class so much fun and of course the food was fantastic.
Kasma has a great depth of knowledge and experience which she imparts to her students; by the end of the week, I was comfortable with many new Thai techniques and ingredients that were once unfamiliar to me. One of her fundamental lessons is seasoning by taste and balancing flavors (see here and here); she teaches her students how to cook this way by showing how adding hot, salty, sour, sweet, and bitter ingredients can change, enhance, and blend flavors. For example, sauces that contain sugar aren’t necessarily supposed to taste sweet; a small pinch of sugar (not enough to make the sauce taste sweet) can make lime juice taste more sour, enhance the flavor of spices, increase the heat from chilies, and balance flavors. Often when preparing foreign cuisines my tendency is to follow the recipe exactly since I don’t have a taste memory of the dishes; however a recipe really should be used as a guideline, since ingredients can vary in strength. Seeing the effect of the flavors allowed me to understand the purpose of these hot, salty, sour, sweet, and bitter ingredients so I could adjust the recipe.
What I was most impressed by is Kasma’s calmness; when I cook I am usually worried about whether things are going wrong or if I’m doing something incorrectly. Kasma cooks quickly and confidently. She made everything look easy–because of this I left with the understanding that great Thai home cooking is accessible and achievable.
I highly recommend her classes (http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/).