Cooking Class, a Good Investment

By Herb Gardener –

world-food-cafeDo you yearn to learn yoga or master mahjong? If so, a time-honored method for gaining new skills and knowledge is enrolling in a class.

Can you watch a YouTube video for butchering a primal cut of beef – I reckon so. A class, however, promises a convivial gathering of people with similar interests, the opportunity to ask questions and receive personal attention from an adept, and in the case of cooking classes, collateral noshing and imbibing.

My wife Flora developed a taste for Thai curries so she sent me to our local southeast Asian restaurant for a class with Chef Lam. This was a “honey-do” assignment that I accepted with more enthusiasm than those involving a plumber’s wrench or steel wool. The question remained, could I deliver a return on Flora’s investment?

A local TV weatherman, vacationers from Ohio, and a dozen other participants joined me around the table, several of us tasting Laotian beer for the first time. As we chopped carrots, chayote, napa cabbage, and broccoli for take-home portions we heard the chef stress several key points in replicating his recipe at home.

First, use preferred brands of prepared ingredients – Mae Ploy coconut milk and Javin curry powder, for example. Second, cut the vegetables so that they cook uniformly and retain their texture. Third, remove kaffir lime leaves from the sauce after 10 minutes off the heat. Prolonged exposure may turn the sauce bitter.


Chef Lam escorted us into his kitchen to witness the marriage of sauce, veggies, and chicken prepared in a carbon steel wok. The ceremony shocked those unfamiliar with the GE jet engines that power most Asian restaurant stoves. The chef assured us that we could achieve good results without a footlong dart of blue flame.

We all sampled the curry – luxe, balanced, piquant; however, the chef prepared Koor Mee Lao to serve as a main course. Ample cilantro, scallions, bean sprouts and grilled sirloin accompanied a mound of pleasingly toothsome rice noodles. It was a clever incentive to return for a future lesson.

Homemade yellow curry has proven so successful that Flora and I stopped ordering Thai take-out. The dish has entered our weekly dinner rotation and delighted several guests as well. But I’ll be back tugging at Chef Lam’s apron strings when the noodle secrets are revealed.

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In the meantime, I’m reading and cooking from World Food Cafe Vegetarian Bible, a hefty cookbook that is part global recipe survey,  travelogue, and photo essay. Complementary images of exotic landscapes and culture support recipes that evoke the aromas and  flavors of faraway lands. Because England and America are nations separated by a common language expect a few curiosities. The frequent mention of “Chinese leaves” is likely Napa cabbage. The “dessert spoon” measure is equal to two teaspoons. Rewarding as it on multiple levels Cafe will make a splendid gift for anyone interested in the sensual life.


Chutneys, sambols, pickles, and salsas are a personal obsession. I honed in on Cafe’s sundry condiment recipes and found much to savor. In the following preparation the humble papaya earns top billing.


Papaya Chutney

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2 tablespoons sunflower oil

2 teaspoons black mustard seeds

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 small papayas, peeled, deseeded, and cubed

4 spring onions, finely sliced

2 large tomatoes, cubed

1 inch grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons lime juice

Salt to taste


Heat the oil in a frying pan. When hot, add the mustard seeds and when they crackle add the turmeric, black pepper, and papaya. Fry for a few minutes and then turn into a bowl. Add the spring onions, tomatoes, grated ginger, lime juice, and salt to taste. Serve with Paneer Tikka and Spicy Rice Flat Bread.


(World Food Cafe Vegetarian Bible by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott. (Frances Lincoln: London, 2014, $29.95).


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