Learning to Cook Thai Food: Green Curry Eggplant

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I love Thai food, but have always been intimidated to cook it.  I was delighted when I won a cooking class with Jam Sanitchat from Thai Fresh, one of my favorite Thai restaurants in town, serving up traditional Thai dishes sourced primarily from local ingredients.

Thai Fresh (located at 909 W. Mary in South Austin) recently expanded to include more tables for in restaurant diners and to accommodate larger groups for cooking classes.  I took the Seasonal Thai Cooking class in which Jam selects what is fresh that week from the market and selects recipes that will highlight the local ingredients.  We made four dishes:  Coconut soup with Beef, Larb, Green Curry and Thai Fried Chicken.

Jam’s friendly style makes you feel comfortable from the moment you step into her kitchen.  Participants stand around the prep table learning the basics of creating simple, but flavorful Thai dishes.

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With each dish, she explains how you can easily substitute protein or vegetables based on the season.  She also demystified some of the key Thai ingredients like galangal (part of the ginger family), palm sugar, coconut milk and curry.

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If you enjoy Thai food, Jam suggests growing your own Thai herbs and spices.  I planted a Keffir lime tree, basil and thai peppers in my patio garden last fall in anticipation of learning Thai cooking.  I also planted lemongrass, but learned quickly that the neighbors cats enjoy eating the lemongrass like catnip, so I gave up on that.  If you don’t have a Thai garden, you can purchase the herbs and spices at most grocery stores or in the market portion of Thai Fresh.

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Jam encourages everyone to be hands on in the class, passing around responsibilities so that everyone gets a chance to add their touch to the communal dishes.  Of course the best part of class is eating the fruits of your labor at the end.

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I recently put my Thai cooking skills to the test and made a green curry eggplant with some of the eggplant that has been taking over my patio garden.

Following Jam’s advice, I chose to use the green curry paste I bought at Thai Fresh rather than try to make my own.  Jam gave us the instructions for creating your own paste, but added that very few people do this because it is a long and tedious process.  She shared that even her mom uses the canned paste after making her own paste for years.

The curry was a great way to use the eggplant and made a terrific weeknight dinner when served with rice and paired with a cucumber and tomato salad.  Fair warning:  if you use an entire can of the green curry paste, as the recipe states, this is a SPICY dish.  I love spicy so I enjoyed it, but if you are sensitive to heat, you might want to cut the curry paste by a quarter to a half.

Green Curry Eggplant
from Jam Sanitchat of Thai Fresh Restaurant

Green Curry Eggplant

1 can (mae sri brand, 4 oz) green curry paste
1 can Mae Ploy coconut milk
1 1/2 cups water
1 pound Asian eggplant, diced (can substitute or add chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp or fish fillets)
2 cups zucchini (can substitute butternut squash, green beans or yellow squash)
fish sauce to taste (or soy sauce)
pinch of sugar
5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
1 cup Thai basil

Heat 1 cup coconut cream (the creamy part, which is the top part of coconut milk in a can version, do not shake the can) over medium heat. Stir in curry paste and turn down the heat.  Simmer until fragrant and coconut cream starts to crack some oil.

Add the eggplant (or meat).  Add the rest of the coconut milk and water and bring it back to boil.  Add zucchini (or other vegetables.)  Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through.  Add fish sauce about one tablespoon at a time and bring it to your own preferred taste.  Add a pinch of sugar and taste.  Add Thai basil and kaffir lime leaves and turn the heat off.  Serve over rice.

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