BEK – What is Thai Cuisine?

“BEK” or “Beginner’s experience in the kitchen” is translated like this: Will you allow yourself to go beyond your comfort zone in the kitchen? Are you brave enough to bring the mindset: “this-is-the-first-time-ever-that-i’m-cooking-this” to a Meetup event? Even if this recipe has foreign ingredients that you’ve never heard of before? I encourage you to test your resolve (I promise it’s not that hard). In fact, Mike and I have had a lot of fun exploring new market places ranging from small mom and pop butchers to spice shops and specialized cultural markets for Asian cuisine. That’s what “Beginner’s experience in the kitchen” is all about! Keep it simple and have fun exploring 😀

This month is about Thai cuisine.

The four main dangers and lessons from this recipe:

  • This can be spicy… How do I avoid a stomach burn? – Substitution!
  • How do I find (and buy) new ingredients? – Have fun exploring your city! Amazon will likely have you exotic ingredient, but it won’t come with the, “By the way, it goes well with…”
  • Should I really use all the ingredients? – Psshhh
  • Should I really follow the recipe? (meaning: can I be lazy and still have a great meal?) – To the best you can, but happy surprises do happen.

Danger #1 – I’m not used to spicy dishes. How am I supposed to know what is “safe” in the list of ingredients? Let’s pick a recipe and use it as an example: Vegetarian Thai Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Curry (Link to the original recipe).

Lesson #1 – Pick a recipe with an ingredient list that encourages substitute ingredients. Alternatively, Mike and I often times google substitutes for ingredients when they are not provided. Cooking is not that rigid, the recipe shouldn’t be either. How else do secret family recipes develop? My friends also picked recipes that encourage a “use either this or that” format: prior to the Thai Recipe MeetUp, only one person in the group had cooked Thai food, and the one whom did explored a new recipe. Even though most of us had no idea what we were doing, all the dishes were fantastic! Seriously amazing! And all with new friends whom dare to stretch their culinary comfort zone with me.

Danger #2 – What’s that thing called “kaffir lime leaves”? Trying the local grocery that seemed oriental proved fruitless. To boot the cashier was as friendly as a jail door when she told me that the item was not carried in the store. She wasn’t sure where I could find it either, but I did discover that kaffir lime leaves are one ingredient in some pre-packaged Thai spice mixes… that actually was helpful. New direction: the West side market, where I found one vendor, sitting on a high chair buried under too many spice and tea boxes to even count. Without any hesitation she brought a bag full of leaves from the fridge behind her. To an American vendor, a request for this item was followed with awkward silence, confusion, or a flat out no we don’t carry that. I was surprised by how quickly she understood what I wanted and was able to quickly grab a bag of it as if it were sugar in a Walmart. My first experience with Kaffir Lime Leaves – they smell wonderful! And the taste is somewhere between lime and bay leave.

Lesson #2 – We had fun discovering new flavors during the MeetUp event and we were surprised by how easy it was to add new ingredients to our “like” list. Even though, in the moment, finding the exotic ingredient seemed difficult, in hindsight, it really wasn’t all that bad.

Danger #3 – The ingredient list calls for either pumpkin or squash. Pumpkin is out of season (buying foods in season keeps the budget down, the quality of the product is at it’s highest, and encourages ethical farming), so squash it is. But… what kind of squash? Well, I found this strange looking squash I’ve never cooked before and decided, “Why not?” Say hello to the Spaghetti Squash. It’s very similar to cutting and cleaning a butternut squash. Same type of seeds and quite fibrous. I didn’t use the pumpkin and I also didn’t use the soy sauce in the curry sauce simply because of a concern for potential allergies in the MeetUp group.

Lesson #3 – Fear not the Spaghetti Squash for it brings with it a wonderful surprise! Friends assumed that the unknown yellow matter in this soup was pineapple! Imagine their surprise when they had discovered it was Spaghetti Squash. I’m not going to be scared to include it in future dishes.

Danger #4 – While cooking, I often times overlook parts of the recipe. The big tea spoon (table spoon) is often times a splash of whatever. Not respecting the recipe to a tee is almost mandatory in my kitchen and that might also be the case in yours. Most of the time, I can get away with it. In this case, I didn’t respect the coconut milk quantity. The recipe called for 3/4 of the can for the curry sauce and the fine 1/4 for a drizzle at the end… so much for showmanship! Instead of 1.5 limes, only one lime was left in the fridge because the other two were used to garnish some Latin American beers… (oups). When my veggies were all in, the liquid was not covering them due to the dimensions of the pot, so I just added enough water to cover them all. No biggie!

Lesson #4 – Yep, you can still get away with changing the recipe a bit!

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