Elements Of Life: Important Information Update!

My newest book,The Elements of Life comes with a wheel that helps you determine your home element(s). Unfortunately, there are mistakes printed on the back of the wheel. Until the publisher can correct them, these are the right dates:
March 8, 1998
March 17, 2003
March 6, 2004

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Traditional Thai Protective Remedies for Colds

Here's a link to another article I wrote for the Bangkok Post, a widely-read English language daily newspaper in Thailand: http://www.bangkokpost.com/life/family/27727/sipping-and-snacking-the-sneezes-away

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Su-Mei on NBC 7/39 Morning News

I appeared on San Diego's local NBC outlet on the morning of November 17th, chatting with Marianne Kushi about a few recipes from my new book The Elements of Life and showing a few healthful foods served at my restaurant Saffron. Here's a link to that interview:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Su-Mei on Good Morning America

I appeared with my sister-in-law Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America on the ABC television network on Thursday October 22nd, in conjunction with the release of my new book The Elements of Life. Here is a link to the video of the interview, which is preceded by a brief commercial:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bamboo Shoots

Here's a link to another article I wrote for the Bangkok Post, a widely-read English language daily newspaper:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Photo Shoot for Saffron Specials and My New Book

This is a short video of a photo shoot publicizing new specials to be served at my restaurant Saffron in conjunction with the release later in October of my latest book The Elements of Life: A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions for Healthier Living.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

KPBS Interview about The Elements of Life

I was interviewed about my new book on "These Days" on KPBS on Tuesday September 22, 2009. Here is a link to the audio and transcript of the interview with Alan Ray: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2009/sep/21/serving-authentic-thai-cuisine/
Please also note that I will be holding a book signing at Warwick's book store in La Jolla on October 27, 2009 at 7:30PM

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Water Spinach

Here's a link to another article I wrote for the Bangkok Post, an English language daily newspaper widely read throughout Thailand:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Monsoon - In Thailand, and Back in La Jolla

If you are wondering why I haven't posted anything new on my blog this past month, it's because I was in Thailand busily working at the Prem Center Cooking Academy/farm (http://www.premcenter.org). We hired a new director, Kyle Cornforth, who had previously been working at the Edible School Yard in Berkeley with Alice Waters, and I went To Thailand primarily to help her and her family settle in their new home.
Since this was their first time in Thailand, I had warned Kyle and her family to be ready for the monsoon season with heavy rains and possible flooding. As it turned out, most of the days were hot and humid with the normal intermittent rain showers. It was not until the end of August, just as I was preparing to leave the Chiang Mai region, that really heavy rain fell. We were at the Sunday market in Chiang Mai when all of a sudden the sky turned black and then cracked open with ear-splitting thunder and brilliant lightning, drenching us with buckets of water.
While in Thailand, I taught cooking classes, worked with the gardeners of the cooking academy, organized several new programs for adults and family (come and visit us!), while at the same time, helping my friend Tri, the founder of the Prem Center, set up an authentic provincial northern Thai-style restaurant on campus named after a gorgeous Thai bird called Krapoon. Unfortunately, the Thai artist who was asked to make the sign didn’t know English and instead misspelled it as Karpoon! During this rather frenzied time, I managed to get together with my gardener friends to cook and eat.
The monsoon is the season for bamboo shoots, tiny field crabs and countless varieties of wild greens and blossoms. One in particular became my favorite, a white and deep burgundy color blossom, called dok khae haeng khang in Thai, that is shaped like an African blooming tulip. I found a bunch of them for sale in Mae Rim market one day. This was a special treat, according to my friend Lak, because the blooms are collected and cooked by villagers during the rainy and cool seasons in order to nurture their circulatory system. He boiled them and then removed the stamens to lessen the bitter taste. After mincing, he sautéed them in oil with some chili paste. We ate this bitter-spicy-salty and aromatic chili paste with some buttery, sweet and tender young bamboo shoots. It was delicious.
As I arrived back home, La Jolla’s weather uncharacteristically turned out to be much like the humid and hot climate in Thailand I had just came from, except there was no chance of torrential rain to cool me off. I could have used some chili paste made with the bitter dok khae haeng khang. Without those blossoms, I decided to use bitter Belgian endive as a substitute in the making of Lak’s chili paste recipe. Unusual weather called for creative remedies. The reasons behind this belief are in my newest book, The Elements of Life. My hard copy came in the mail while I was away and I must admit I shed a couple of tears when I opened the package and saw the book. It is a beauty.
The book will be on sale in a couple of week. I hope you will buy several, one for yourself and others to give away to those you love. It is a practical and interesting book filled with recipes and home spa treatments. If you follow the philosophy suggested in the book, it will keep you suk sabai or, healthy and content.

Spicy-Bitter Belgian Endive Chili Salsa

Makes about 1 cup
Chili paste
Makes about ¼ cup
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
10 dried chili Japones, soaked briefly in hot water, dried thoroughly and minced
1 tablespoon minced galangal
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon shrimp paste*
1 tablespoon fermented fish*
Pound the salt and garlic together in a mortar with a pestle to puree. Add the remaining ingredients one at the time and only after each has been incorporated into the paste. Set aside

1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, slightly mashed
Chili paste
5 large Belgian endive, boiled, dried thoroughly, and finely minced to make 1 cup
3 tablespoons water
1 to 2 cherry tomatoes, chopped
Heat the skillet over medium high heat for one minute before adding the oil. Add the garlic and continue to stir to prevent from burning. When the cloves are golden, add the paste and stir for 20 to 30 seconds. Add the endive and continue to stir. As the paste thickens, add a tablespoon of water at a time. Continue to stir until everything is blended together and the liquid is completely gone. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Garnish with the tomatoes and serve with fresh cucumber slices, grilled okra, and tender cooked bamboo shoots.

* Shrimp paste is sold in small round 4 oz. plastic jars in Asian supermarkets. Fermented fish is sold in small slender glass bottles in Asian supermarkets.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mint Condition

Here's a link to an article about mint and its uses that I wrote for the Bangkok Post, a widely-read English language newspaper available throughout Thailand. It includes a recipe for Mackerel Salad as well as several suggestions for enhancing foods and drinks with delicious and healthful mint leaves.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Improvising Thai Cucumber Relish

The Thais call a cucumber relish dressed lightly with salt, sugar, vinegar, and fish sauce ajard. It is a refreshing side dish intended to be served as an accompaniment for spicy stew or curry, or with fried foods. Ajard acts as a balancer to offset these dishes’ hearty and buttery flavors.
Although the true recipe for Thai ajard uses one kind of cucumber, I like to make mine by mixing different varieties of cucumber. This adds a surprising texture and taste to this simple recipe. I learned the principle of improvisation from older Thai cooks who make up their version of ajard by adding all sorts of seasonal vegetables including water chestnuts, lotus roots, radishes, shallots, young ginger or young garlic. Some would spice it up with chilies, coriander, fresh turmeric, as well as several kinds of mints and basil. For a truly over-the-top ajard, crushed roasted peanuts, crispy shallots and crispy garlic are added.
Cucumber is at its best now in farmer’s markets. The peel is deep forest green and the inside translucent whitish meat is crispy and slightly sweet. Instead of the big and fat overgrown seeds, the center is filled with delicate, light green tiny immature seeds.
Pickling cucumber and lemon cucumber are just beginning their brief season. Both are very special treats. You don’t have to use pickling cucumbers for making pickles. In fact, these smaller cucumbers remind me of the variety we have back in Thailand. I think the texture of these gherkins is crisper than the regular cucumber and thus they make very good salad additions.
I especially love lemon cucumber for its delicate, crunchy and slightly tangy taste. When I see it in the market, as I did this past Sunday, I hoarded as many as I could pack in my shopping basket. What I can’t use for salads or in making a cool cucumber soup, I’ll give to friends.
Cucumber is one of the best summer vegetables. It is a diuretic, filled with Vitamins C and A, fiber and potassium, keeping you hydrated and your blood pressure down. It is cooling and soothes and refreshes you, especially on a very hot summer days. Peeled skins and seeds can be blended and used to revitalize the skin after a full day in the sun. I don’t even bother with the blending part. As I prepare the cucumbers for relish, I pile the peels and skins in one corner of my sink. After all the prep work it done, I just squish and slather them over my arms, hands, face and neck. I know I look like the devil, but after a nice shower my skin feels like a million dollars!

Cucumber Relish
Makes 2 to 3 servings

¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar or agave syrup
1½ tablespoons distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce (omit for vegetarian)
Mix all ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. Set aside.

2 cups peeled, seeded and thinly sliced on diagonal varieties of cucumber

Mix the cucumber with the dressing and set aside for 10 minutes, serve.

Add at least 3 to 4 of the following ingredients into your cucumber dressing. Taste for balance. Otherwise, make another batch of dressing and add to your version of cucumber relish.

• 2 to 3 Tabasco chilies, coarsely chopped
• 1 to 2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro
• 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped mint
• 1 to 2 radishes, slivered
• 1 to 2 strawberries, thinly sliced (or your choice of tangy fruits)
• 1/3 cup jicama slivers
• 1 tablespoon dry-roasted chopped peanuts or other kinds of nuts
• 1 tablespoon crispy shallot
• 1 tablespoon crispy garlic

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Offerings at Saffron

I am rallying the customers at my restaurant, Saffron, to join me on a crusade of healthful eating, a journey I have been on personally for many years.
Following the practice of Thai philosophy of health that encourages us to eat seasonally and locally grown produce (all in my new book, The Elements of Life, A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions for Healthier Living, published by John Wiley and Sons, due in October, 2009); I have created two new salads that are more fitting for our mild and temperate summer climate here in San Diego. One is an irresistible strawberry, watermelon and chicken salad. Another is a beautiful salad of greens, fresh corn, cherry tomatoes, radishes and steamed salmon marinated in Thai aromatic herbs. Both follow the Thai culinary formula that mixes and matches contrasting tastes, flavors and aromas to create a perfect balanced dish. They are light, delicious and healthful.
In addition, in order to appease customers who are addicted to the hot ginger tea we serve during fall and winter months, we are offering home-made ginger-ale for the summer months. It is equally addictive, refreshing and cooling.
Here are recipes for our summer specials at Saffron.

Strawberry, Watermelon and Chicken Salad
Makes 2 servings
4 to 5 large strawberries, thinly sliced across to make 1 cup
1 cup thinly sliced matchsticks watermelon
1 cup shredded cooked chicken breast
¼ cup Citrus Dressing (see below)
6 to 7 mint leaves, slivered
¼ cup roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Put the strawberries, watermelon and chicken breast in a mixing bowl. Toss gently before adding the dressing. Toss again and add the mint. Toss once more. Transfer to a platter and garnish with pumpkin seeds. Serve.

Salad Greens, Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Radishes and Steamed Salmon Salad
Makes 2 servings
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 fresh lemongrass, outer hard part and green leaves removed, minced
Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ pound salmon filet without skin and bone
Two 12" x 12" fresh banana leaves*
1 to 2 toothpicks
1 ½ cups arugula or other bitter greens**
1 ear of corn, grilled and kernels removed
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 to 3 radishes, thinly sliced
¼ cup Citrus Dressing (see below)
Put the salt and ginger in a mortar and pound to puree with a pestle. Add the lemongrass and pound to puree. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix to combine.
Put the salmon on a bowl and add the marinade. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Put one banana leaf on top of another. Put the salmon in the center and wrap as if you are wrapping a present. Secure with a toothpick or two. Steam over medium high heat for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove to cool.
Place the rest of ingredients except for the dressing in a mixing bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add all but a tablespoon of dressing. Toss again and transfer to a plate. Remove the salmon from the banana leaves and place it on top of the salad greens. Drizzle the remaining dressing over and serve.

* Substitute fresh banana leaf with aluminum foil lined with fresh corn husks
** Arugula with its intense spicy kick is best. However, you can substitute it with varieties of bitter salad greens that are presently in season.

Citrus Dressing
Makes ¼ cup
¼ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 to 2 Thai chili, finely minced
1 teaspoon fish sauce (omit for vegetarian and increase salt for balance)
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons sour orange juice
Combine all the ingredients in a jar or bottle with a tight lid. Secure tightly with a lid and shake well to combine.

Home-made Ginger-ale
There are two ways of making home-made ginger-ale. The first is made from fresh ginger. It has a natural and lighter flavor. The second is from instant granulated ginger/honey intended for making ginger tea. It is quicker and simpler to make with a more robust and intense flavor ginger-ale. I use a brand called Goldwily that can be purchased in Asian supermarkets.

Ginger-ale made with fresh ginger
Makes one 8 oz. serving
3tablespoons finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons hot water
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
2teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup club soda
½ cup ice cubes
1 to 2 mint leaves
Put the ginger and hot water in a blender and blend to puree. Strain the juice through a fine mesh strainer and save the ginger pulp for other use. Add the agave syrup to the ginger juice and mix. Add the lemon juice and stir to mix. Transfer into a glass and add the club soda. Stir and mix well. Add the ice cubes. Stir before adding the mint leaves. Stir once more. Enjoy!

Ginger-ale made with instant granulated ginger/honey
Makes one 8 oz. serving
2 ½ teaspoons granulated ginger/sugar pellets
1 tablespoon hot water
2 teaspoons agave syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup club soda
½ cup ice cubes
1 to 2 mint leaves
Combine the instant granulated ginger/sugar pellets with hot water in a small mixing bowl. Mix to dissolve. Add the agave syrup and mix well. Add the lemon juice. Stir to mix. Transfer to a glass. Add the club soda and stir to mix. Add ice cubes and stir once more. Add the mint leaves. Stir and enjoy.

Here's a link to a video of my appearance on KUSI this morning, July 6th, 2009, making the Salmon Salad and Home-Made Ginger Ale:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stir-Fried Thai Eggplant with Chicken

Here is a link to an article about Thai eggplant that I wrote for the Bangkok Post, a popular English-language newspaper read throughout Thailand:
Here is a link to the recipe for Stir-Fried Eggplant with Chicken:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lemongrass Tea

It is summer and the sales of hot ginger tea at my restaurant have virtually disappeared. This is a good thing. Instead, cool lemongrass tea is selling like hot cakes. My customers cannot get enough of this aromatic herbal tea. It quenches their thirst and calms frayed nerves.
One particular customer who comes regularly for lunch, wearing a fedora hat and carrying a Kindle, always orders lemongrass tea with his meal. He seems like a well-centered, intelligent and quiet man. We speak occasionally and he told me that he loves the tea not only because it tastes good, but also because it somehow makes him feel good as well.
The best lemongrass tea is made with fresh lemongrass. We do this at my restaurant where this aromatic and curative herb grows all year ‘round in our garden. It you live in areas with a temperate climate, as I do in California, lemongrass will grow very well either in the ground or in pots. It is a very low maintenance plant requiring moderate watering and full sun. After the stalk is cut near the base, new shoots will grow again.
A couple of thick and mature lemongrass stalks will make about 4 cups of tea. Once brewed, it will stay fresh in the refrigerator for at least 3 to 4 days.
Thai folk doctors claim that eating lemongrass helps to balance our home elements, keeping us centered and in good health regardless of changeable weather. It is a diuretic, calms the nerves, promotes digestion, and eases nausea and insomnia.
If you wonder what home elements are, simply explained, they are your entire physical self that is made up with earth, water, wind and fire elements. For an in-depth explanation, you can learn more about it in my new book, The Elements of Life, A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions for Healthier Living. It will be available in October, 2009.

Lemongrass Tea
Makes about 4 cups
2 to 3 stalks lemongrass, outer hard parts removed, cut into 3 to 4 inches pieces lengthwise
4 cups drinking water
2 tablespoons or more honey or agave syrup*

Put the lemongrass and water in a saucepan over high heat. When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and let it boil slowly for 30 minutes or until the water turns light brown and the room smells wonderfully of lemongrass. Remove the lemongrass stalks and add your choice of sweetener. Taste before adding more.
Serve lemongrass hot or cool completely before refrigerating. It will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

*It is best to use honey harvested from your area, because it will benefit your immune system. It is sold in local farmers’ markets.
Agave syrup, made from the agave plant, in the cactus family, can be purchased in health food markets. It is naturally processed without additives. A little bit goes a long way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Dirty Fried Rice" Recipe

Here's a link to a recipe of mine that was published in the San Diego Union-Tribune's Food section today:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thai Peppercorn (White Peppercorn)

A friend of mine asked me what my favorite spice is for cooking. I didn’t have to think long. It is Thai peppercorn, or, as we Thais call it, prik Thai. This most wondrous of all spices is known among non-Thai people as white peppercorn. Unlike capsicum or chili, which did not gain favor with Thai cooks until the 18th century and which punches you with its dramatic heat, white peppercorn’s pungent flavor does not jolt your taste buds. Instead, it embraces you with a warming sensation, while teasing your nose and the back of your palate. Once you begin to take notice of both its perfume and effect, it has already eased down your throat and chest, wrapping you in what seems like a warm comforting blanket.
You might ask, what is the difference between black and white peppercorns? The answer is simple. White peppercorn is the inner kernel of the peppercorn from which the outer layer has been stripped. Therefore, it tastes milder than black peppercorn.
In my first cook book, Cracking the Coconut, I wrote about Thai peppercorn and gave a simple recipe for making a seasoning paste I called the Big Four Paste. (pages 86-87) Pounded together with salt, garlic and coriander root with a pestle in a mortar, it is not only the most ancient seasoning used by Thai cooks, but is also a foundation from which other complex seasoning pastes such as curry paste emerged. The Big Four Paste can be made ahead in large quantity and stored in the refrigerator for a variety of uses from seasoning meat balls to stir-fries or marinades. Hamburger meat mixed with the Big Four Paste turns into a gourmet dish. Simply stir-frying vegetables with a bit of this magical paste creates an exotic dish evoking thoughts of a faraway land, and even the cheapest cut of meat or plain piece of chicken meat exude a mouth-watering perfume.
Thai cooks used Thai peppercorn not only for its flavor, but for its medicinal properties. This brings me to my latest cookbook, The Elements of Life, A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions for Healthier Living. It is due to be released by John Wiley and Sons in October of this year. The focus for this book is the belief among Thai people that their food is medicine. Briefly described, natural taste, flavor and aroma in vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices are the keys to identifying their medicinal remedies. In the case of Thai peppercorn, the Thai people believe that it is good for the digestion, enhances appetite, relieves flatulence and re-energizes our body.
Before I share some simple recipes using Thai peppercorn, if you want to use it in place of black peppercorns, I suggest you dry-roast them first. This means you put about ½ cup of peppercorns in a skillet over medium-low heat and keep stirring them until you can smell the perfume. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely before putting them into the grinder. You can also buy fine white peppercorn powder in supermarkets. A shake or two over soup, noodles or scrambled eggs will stir your appetite.

Stir-fry Snap Peas, Tofu, Mushrooms
Makes 2 servings
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white peppercorns, dry-roasted
1 minced and peeled garlic clove, to make 1 teaspoon
1 teaspoon minced coriander roots (substitute with ¼ teaspoon coriander seeds and 1 tablespoon minced coriander stems)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ cup thinly sliced onion
5 to 6 shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced to make ¼ cup
1 cup snap peas
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup cubed tofu
½ teaspoon sesame oil
In a mortar, grind the salt and peppercorn together with a pestle until puréed. Add the garlic and coriander roots. Pound until it becomes a paste. Set aside.
Heat the wok or skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Add the oil, lower the heat to medium and add the seasoning paste. Stir for several seconds, and then add the onion. Stir fry until the onion turn translucent. Add the mushrooms and stir fry until they turn soft. Add the snap peas and continue to stir until the color brightens. Season with soy sauce and add the tofu and sesame oil. Continue to stir until the tofu is warmed through. Transfer to a serving platter and serve hot with organic red rice.

Note: Some of my narration in the following video is unfortunately obscured by the sound of the pounding of my pestle in the mortar.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jungle Cooking

On 4/30/09 the Bangkok Post, an English language daily newspaper, published an article I wrote titled "Jungle Cooking". The article describes activities at the cooking school I co-founded at the Prem Tinsulanonda Center for International Education in Mae Rim, Chiang Mai province, in northern Thailand. For further information about the school and its programs, write me at su.mei@att.net and mention "Cooking School" in the subject line.

Here is a link to the Bangkok Post article: http://www.bangkokpost.com/life/family/15932/jungle-cooking

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

XETV Channel 6 Appearance by Su-Mei Yu

I recently appeared on XETV Channel 6 here in San Diego. Here is a link to that interview (which is preceded by a very brief commercial):

Monday, April 13, 2009

Round Two with Lak and Chad

(See my blog entry for March 26th, 2009 for "Round One")

The combination of 28% alcohol Thai moonshine and our nine course dinner of wild greens, shoots, blooms and grubs definitely had a euphoric effect on my friends, Lak and Chat. As we polished off the rest of the bottle, they insisted on a repeat performance the very next night. Except this time, they wanted to do all the cooking and free me to watch them prep and cook, and to catch their action on my camera.
As our reverie continued late into the night, our conversation also rounded its way back to foods, peppered with far-out experiences and buried longings. A wife of my friend’s estate manager, Aoy suddenly recalled something she tasted over a year ago. She didn’t know the name, but her memory of its heavenly taste was as vivid as if she had just tasted it. From her description, I guessed it to be a Pavlova. She asked if I could make it for her.
Surprisingly, the 28% moonshine left no damaging effect on my person the next day. In fact I felt great as I Googled for the pitfalls of making a Pavlova in a humid climate. Aoy had promised to buy the eggs and all baking equipment including an electric hand-held mixer. I was to shop for the rest of the ingredients.
Late in the afternoon, I showed up at my friend, Khun Mom Tri’s kitchen. Lak , adorned with his colorful apron , was hard at work pounding the marinade for a fish dish. Chat was singing by the stove while stirring sliced pork, fat, innards and other unidentifiable parts once belonging to a pig together with some very powerful spices in a wok. Lak began to hum along with Chat. Both men were very content despite the fact that the fumes from the chilies had permeated the entire kitchen, making it almost impossible to breathe without choking and coughing. I escaped to make the Pavlova in another kitchen next door.
While my beautiful meringue baked in the oven, I returned to watch the men. Lak started to pack a fresh bamboo culm with mustard greens and Chinese celery, sandwiching them with pieces of marinated fish, lemongrass, Thai basil leaves and pandanus leaves. He mixed what remained of the marinade with a couple of ladles of chicken broth, spooned it into the culm and tapped it several times on the table to settle the content inside. He then sealed the top by stuffing in fresh banana leaves and handed the culm to Chat to grill. At dinner, Lak would uncork the banana leaves and empty the perfectly cooked fish into a bowl, perfuming the kitchen with the aroma of crushed, warmed herbs and spices. It was one of the best tasting fish dishes I have ever eaten.

There was a bowl of a very green algae-like substance on the kitchen table. Lak said it was his favorite and he wanted to cook for me as a surprise. He had gotten up early that morning to go into the woods where he harvested the fresh-water meal from the pond. This strange green dense mass from the pond is actually a perennial herb. It is highly nutritious, packed with calcium, prosperous and iron. Lak sautéed it in a wok with some oil, garlic, minced pork and seasonings. The heat muted the brightness of the herb to mossy green. It tasted like cream of wheat, smooth, silken and surprisingly comforting.

Lak also made a soup with chicken and long skinny pods called ma room. After it is cooked, it is eaten the same way as artichoke leaves. First you split open the pod and then slither the inner tender section through your teeth. Oddly, it also tastes a bit like artichoke.
Lak’s wife Fon made the meanest and tastiest som tum. While the boisterous men talked and laughed while cooking, Fon quietly pounded shredded raw papaya and cherry tomatoes in a mortar adding a bit of fermented fish paste, garlic, salt, loads of chilies and lime juice. The other guests (except for me) knew about her som tum and eagerly took spoonfuls of it before helping themselves to any of the other dishes on the table. They would wolf it down followed with a pinch of kneaded sticky rice, making whistling sounds while at the same time taking and expelling several deep breaths to dispel the potent burning taste from the chilies. My friend's estate manager Moo went after a plate of bloody red raw buffalo beef salad. Lak made it just for him after we had all sat down for dinner. While his wife, Aoy, ate half of my “perfect” Pavlova after our dinner, Moo was very happy drinking glass after glass of ice cold Singha beer, munching on the bloody spicy meat, and giggling nonstop to whatever was said by any of us. I think it was the blood that had activated his laughing machine!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dominic's Pad See Ewe

Pad See Ewe
Pad=stir-fry, See Ewe=soy sauce

I was just leaving after shopping at Whole Foods when one of my customers stopped me to shower me and my restaurant, Saffron, with compliments. We got to talking about cooking and the young man, Dominic, told me how he loves Thai food and wanted in the worst way to learn how to make green curry. Somehow I sort of suspected that perhaps he should start learning something a bit simpler.
Dominic’s girlfriend, Nina was with him. One of her favorite noodle dishes is pad see ewe. “Why don’t you learn how to make it?” she said. Dominic responded by saying there is nothing to it, just noodles, soy sauce and egg. We’ll see, I thought to myself, as I invited Dominic to come and cook with me.
A couple of days later, Dominic showed up at my office, where I do have a kitchen. I went through the ingredients of pad see ewe and how to prep them, starting with how to smash garlic clove in order to mince it. I showed him how to separate the fresh noodle strands into ribbons from the neatly cut stacked rows. I taught him how to peel off the hard tough outer layers of both Chinese and regular broccoli and then slice them diagonally into thin pieces. We lined up the ingredients in a tray in the order in which they would be cooked and took them outside to where I have a propane cooker. Dominic thought cooking outdoors was unbelievably cool.
Standing beside him, I told Dominic that once he started, he had to work fast. In about five minutes, he learned how to stir-fry and how to make his first plate of pad see ewe. Afterwards, he ate every bit of his cooking, leaving his plate clean, and proclaimed it to be the best pad see ewe he had ever tasted. When he told me he was going to make it the next day for Nina, I sent him home with the rest of the noodles and Chinese broccoli. He can’t wait for our lesson on green curry.

Makes one serving

1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 cup thinly sliced chicken or pork
1 cup tightly packed fresh wide rice noodles, strands separated
2 to 3 tablespoons water
½ cup thinly sliced in diagonal Chinese broccoli or regular broccoli, put the stems and leaves separately on the plate
Mixture of 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce and1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
1 egg
Several shakes white pepper powder
1 tablespoon crispy shallot*
Chili in vinegar (see below)

Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat. Add ½ tablespoon cooking oil and wait for 20 seconds before adding the garlic. Stir-fry until golden and then add the noodles. Stir to mix and add a bit of water at a time until the noodles have softened and turned somewhat translucent. Keep stirring, and then add the broccoli stems and stir-fry until the color brightens. Add the leaves and stir-fry until they turn limp. Add the soy sauce. Continue to stir-fry. When the broccoli is tender but crunchy, push the noodle mixture to one side of the skillet and add the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil. Crack the egg over the oil and scramble. When the egg is almost cooked, push the noodle mixture over it and stir to mix well. Transfer to a plate, shake some white pepper powder over the noodles and garnish with crispy shallots. Serve immediately with Chili in vinegar.

Chili in Vinegar:
Makes about ½ cup

3 to 4 Serrano chilies, thinly sliced across
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup rice or distilled vinegar

Put all ingredients together in a container with lid. Close tightly and shake to mix. Let sit for about ½ hour before using it, or refrigerate. It will keep for several weeks.

Pad See Ewe is slightly sweetened by dark soy sauce which has molasses. A bit of chili in vinegar balances the flavor.

* Crispy shallots can be purchased in Asian markets, or make your own by checking out my recipe in Cracking the Coconut.

Thai Hot & Sour Fish Soup for El Pescador

El Pescador is the best seafood market in San Diego. It’s where I have been buying fresh fish since it first opened decades ago, long before Sean, the owner, started to make sandwiches and soups for take-out. The tiny shop now has several tables where people can also dine-in.
Sean hired young surfer dudes to clean and dress the fish, cook and take orders from customers. I got to talking with a couple of them one day about adding something new and snazzy to their menu such as Thai hot and sour soup. After all, they have plenty of fish bones for the broth. As for the rest of ingredients for Thai hot and sour fish soup, well, that’s where I came in.
I invaded the shop one day at noon with my herbs and spices. The young men were flabbergasted because they never thought I would actually show up to teach them how to cook it. We retrieved some fish bones and got to work. Once the broth was cooking, I left instructions with them for what to do next. Several hours later, I called to check on the soup. The young man who answered the phone said that is was “absolutely phenomenal!”

Makes about 6 cups

1 tablespoon cooking oil
4 dried red chilies (more if you like it super hot)
1 pound fish bones
6 cups water
7 cloves garlic, peeled
5 to 6 cloves shallots, peeled
12 to 15 slices galangal
4 to 5 stalks lemongrass, sliced on diagonal
12 kaffir lime leaves, hand crushed
5 to 6 fresh Thai chilies, slightly pounded (more if you like it super hot)
1 cup cilantro stems
1 ½ tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup fish sauce
Heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Wait for a minute then add the dried chilies. Stir-fry until the chilies turn black. Add the fish bones and water. When the water comes to a boil, add the rest of the ingredients. When it comes to a boil, lower the heat to low and let the broth cook for at least ½ hour. Taste for spiciness and saltiness. Adjust accordingly. Strain and discard the solids.

Hot and sour soup:
1 serving:
Bring about 1 ½ cups of broth to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and add ¼ cup thinly sliced mushrooms. When the mushrooms soften, add ½ cup sliced fish. Stir to mix. When the fish is cooked, turn off the heat.

Put about 1 tablespoon or more of fresh lime juice in a serving bowl. Add 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves. Ladle and pour the fish and broth into the bowl, mix and serve.

Have extra fish sauce, lime and chilies for guests to doctor up their soup. This should be served with rice.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Making Sticky Rice and Mango

Sweet sticky rice with fresh mango is one of the favorite desserts of the customers at my restaurant, Saffron. As summer approaches and ripe sweet mangos are available once more, we will start making it for sale at Saffron during the middle of April as one of our Thai New Year celebration specials.
Sweet sticky rice is also one of the recipes frequently requested by my friends and customers. Here is a recipe using a Chinese steamer instead of the traditional Thai sticky rice cooker.

Makes 4 servings
1 cup Thai long grain sweet rice*
¾ cup coconut cream (recipe from the previous blog entry)
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 to 2 ripe mangos, peeled and sliced

Put the rice in a mixing bowl and fill it with cool water. Wash the rice by swirling your hand around and around the rice grains. Drain the water over your favorite plants and repeat twice more. Fill the bowl with cool water and let it soak overnight or at least 3 hours. (If you are in a hurry, cover the rice with hot water and when the water is cool, the rice is ready to be cooked.) You can tell if the rice is ready to be steamed by the color and texture. Soaked chalk-white sweet rice turn slightly translucent and when you push your fingernail through the grain, it should break easily.
Fill the steamer pot ¾ full of water and set it to boil over high heat. Drain the water from the rice completely and transfer to a Pyrex glass bowl. Spread and smooth the grains. Put the rice in the steamer tray over hot boiling water; cover, lower the heat to medium and steam for 20 minutes.
While the rice is steaming, put the coconut cream, salt and sugar in a saucepan and heat over low heat. Stir to mix until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Spoon out 2 tablespoons into a small bowl and set aside.
When the rice is cooked the grains should turned opaque and when you bite into them, they are soft and tender. Transfer the rice onto a large plate and use a spatula to mix the rice over and over 3 to 4 times to let the steam escape. Immediately transfer the rice to a mixing bowl and pour the very warm coconut syrup mixture over the cooked rice. Mix vigorously and cover with a plastic wrap. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes to allow the coconut syrup to infuse with the rice.
Scoop the rice onto 4 serving plates, spoon the remaining coconut syrup over it and serve with sliced sweet mango.

* Long grain rice used for making sticky rice is not sweet. It is labeled as such because most Westerners use the rice to make sweet sticky rice. It is actually glutinous or sticky rice. The people from north and northeastern of Thailand prefer it rather than regular long grain rice.

Making Coconut Milk and Cream

While visiting Thailand in February, I watched enthusiastic 9 and 10-
year-old children sitting on mats, grating coconut the traditional Thai way at the organic cooking school I co-founded in Mae Rim, Chiang Mai, Thailand. I thought to myself, if they can do it, why can’t adults?
Making fresh coconut cream and milk is more time consuming than going to the store to buy canned coconut cream and opening it. However, if you are serious about cooking and eating real Thai food, or if you want to eat healthfully of food with no preservatives, or are concerned about the environment, making coconut cream and milk from scratch is the way to go. In case you don’t already know, one 16 oz. canned coconut cream contains pasteurized cream from at least 6 coconuts plus flour as thickener. Over 90% of the calories are from saturated fat. Do you really want to eat those humongous amount of fats in one sitting?
Making fresh coconut cream and milk is not as difficult as you might think. The most challenging part is buying coconuts that are not spoiled. There are instructions on how to pick good coconuts and recipes on how to make coconut cream and milk in my cookbook, Cracking the Coconut. Here is a similar and more up-to-date version.
The reason for my using 4 to 5 coconuts is that the coconuts sold in the markets in America tend to be very old and small coconuts with thinner meat.

Makes about 1 cup coconut cream and 2 cups coconut milk

4 to 5 coconuts
3 cups very warm water

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Use a Phillips screw driver and a hammer to pierce through all 3 indentations ("eyes") on one side of the coconut. Drain out the liquid and use it to water plants. Do not drink this water; it will give you a stomach ache! Put the coconut in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and cool until you can touch them.
Take the coconuts outdoor and break them apart with a hammer. Drape your hand with a dish towel and hold on to a piece of coconut. Use a paring knife to pry it loose from the hard shell. It should come off easily. Repeat with the rest of the coconuts. Peel away the hard brown part of the coconut with a vegetable peeler. Wash and dry the coconut meat well. Slice into small cubes. Put them in a blender and add the water. Blend until the liquid turn milky white.
Drape a piece of cheese cloth over a fine mesh strainer. Put on top of a bowl. Pour the pulverized coconut and liquid into the cheese cloth. Gather and extract as much of liquid as you can. Let the liquid sit in the bowl for 10 minutes. (In the meantime, don’t wash your hands just yet. Instead, massage your hands and cuticles with the remnants of the coconut. Your hands will turn soft and silky.)
Use a spoon to skim off the thick cream on top. You should have one cup of thick heavy cream and the rest is the coconut milk.
You can freeze them by putting the coconut cream and milk in separate zip-lock bags. Lay them flat on a plate or tray and put in the freezer. Thaw when ready to use. Frozen coconut cream and milk will keep for at least a couple of months.

Note: Dry-roast pulverized coconut in a large skillet over medium-low heat until golden. Store in a container with a lid. Use as a garnish for salads or desserts. You can also save a portion of it and mix with 5 to 6 drops of either Mandarin orange essential oil or lavender essential oil and use it to massage your hair and body before showering.
Store the coconut shells and when you grill, use them as starters for your fire. Dry the hard brown peels in the sun and store them with the shells. When adding to hot charcoals, they give off the most wonderful fragrance and will turn ordinary grilled meat, fish or vegetables into heavenly tasting dishes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wild Greens, Blooms and Grubs

Lak is my friend Khun Mom (Sir) Tri’s gardener. He is a man of few words who lives with his equally shy wife Fon on my friend’s property where they manage the organic farm. He knew me as the cook who started a cooking school on the campus of Prem Center for International Education. This is a school my friend founded in Mae Rim, a small town in Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand. Lak was respectable and polite whenever we met to discuss how to better connect the use of the farm with the cooking school. After my four consecutive visits during the past two years, the ever present but unspoken class barrier between us was finally broken. We have become friends because of our shared passion for cooking.
One of the specialties from northern Thailand that I love is a spicy chili jam-like paste called nam prik ta daeng. Because of its intense flavor, vendors in traditional markets usually sell tiny wraps of an ounce or two of this spicy paste, just enough for one person to eat with sticky rice, steamed greens and grilled meat. During my visit to the school last year, my numerous conversations with Lak ended as usual: we talked about food. I lamented to him how I had to stock up frequently with at least a dozen or so of these one-ounce packages. I wondered if it was difficult to make. Lak mentioned casually that he knew how to make it.
Last month, I returned to Thailand to work at the cooking school. I asked Lak if he would teach me how to make nam prik ta daeng. He quietly agreed. What I thought was to be a day of simple cooking lesson turned out instead to be a wondrous cooking and eating adventure.
Lak and Chad, who is Lak’s friend and supervisor, picked me up at nine o’clock sharp one morning. We drove in Chad’s pick-up truck to talad mae malai, a local market near the school. Chad deliberately drove along the back roads so I could enjoy the countryside. We drove past villages and Buddhist temples nestled among rice fields, vegetable gardens and forests. I had brought along a bag of blooms I bought earlier that morning at the Mae Rim market. I was fascinated by a white trumpet shaped bloom tinged with shades of yellow and delicate pink. Chad pointed out some tall trees with tiny newly formed leaves lining the road. Scattered underneath them were the same blooms as in my plastic bag. He called the flowers “mali mai.”
Apparently, both the men and other gardeners and workmen who would join us for dinner that evening had already pegged me as someone who is game to eat anything they would eat, even though they don’t consider me to be a real Thai like themselves. Lak and Chad in particular, were not surprised to see me with my little bag of blooms. During our marketing, we bought up strange looking wild herbs, greens and shoots as well as a banana pouch filled with fat, juicy and oily looking white ant eggs crawling with red ants.
On the way back, we stopped at Lak’s house, an imposing modern pink two-story brick structure, to pick along his and the neighbor’s fences more wild vines, leaves, shoots and a couple of hefty looking immature jack fruit.
When I showed up at the kitchen after a quick lunch break, they had divided everything we bought and picked into piles on fresh banana leaves. Each leaf contained ingredients to be made into the various dishes we would be cooking.
Northern Thai cooking, in general, is simple and healthy. It relies on a basic chili paste for seasoning. Fat and meat are used very sparingly. Instead, river fish, fermented fish and shrimp paste, wild and cultivated seasonal greens, shoots, roots and blooms are used abundantly in soups, salads and stir-fries.
I tried to record the Thai names of these wild and unfamiliar shoots, leaves and blooms as Chad and Lak called them out during our cooking session. After returning back to my home in America, I searched through my collections of books for their English and scientific names. I was partially successful in my effort. The following are the dishes, each with a list of main ingredients used in their making. I hope the accompanying pictures will help you see what some of these exotic ingredients look like. Toward the end, there is a video of Lak explaining in Thai what each of the finished dishes was before we sat down to dinner, followed by my English translation.
1. Soup with immature jack fruit, pork, chili paste made from salt, garlic, shallots, dried chilies, fermented shrimp paste, and fermented fish; betel leaves, paak cha kang: small ovate leaves with bland taste we picked along the fences of Lak’s neighbor, kratin (leucaena leucocephala de wit): young shoots and feathery leaves that look like dill and smell like fresh cut grass, and cherry tomatoes.
2. Soup with three layer pork with saleay (broussonetia kurzii coner): delicate sprigs, each holding a cluster of 3 to 4 tiny pea-size buds that taste slightly bitter, same chili paste used for immature jackfruit soup, fermented shrimp paste, fish sauce, tamarind puree, and cherry tomatoes.
3. Soup with chicken, green gourd from our farm, same chili paste used for immature jackfruit soup plus fresh turmeric added, pulverized Sichuan peppercorns, kaffir lime leaves and chopped cilantro and green onion as garnishes.
4. Haw neoung gai – steamed savory chicken in banana leaf pouches – same chili paste used for immature jackfruit soup plus kaffir lime rind, galangal and Chinese keys added, pulverized Sichuan peppercorns, cloves of crushed garlic, leb krug fuy (polyscias feuticosa harms): small leaves with frilly edges from a bush grown on the lawn of Lak’s house that tastes slightly bitter with musty smell, tum leoung: young vines from scarlet fruited gourd plant with bland taste; bai ta seur (morinda citrifolia linn.): large deep green leaves that look like avocado leaves we picked along the fence of Lak’s neighbor that taste bitter with slightly peppery aftertaste, fish sauce, ground rice powder, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, and green onion.
5. Ant eggs soup with same chili paste used for immature jackfruit soup, paak waan (melientha suavis pierre): delicate small ovate leaves attached to thin stem about 9 inches long that were foraged from bushes in the forest with green grassy smell and bland taste, fish sauce, cherry tomatoes, and mung bean noodles.
6. Soup with paak paang (basella rubra linn.): light green and delicate leaves with sticky and slimy texture and with tiny white blossoms, cooked with sour raw pork sausages, same chili paste used for immature jack fruit soup, fermented shrimp paste, fish sauce, fresh chilies, cherry tomatoes, kaffir lime juice and lime juice.
7. Nam prik ta daeng made with roasted dried red chilies, roasted garlic, roasted shallots, salt, dried river fish, thin wafers of dried soy bean paste, and fermented fish. This is eaten with an array of fresh and steamed vegetables including cabbage from our farm, immature blossoms of tang luang (trevesia palmate vis.): clusters of tiny brown peppercorn-size buds with a slightly bitter taste, mali mai, thua paep (hyacinth dolichos): flat white-light green pod the size of lima bean pod with slightly astringent and bland taste, dok khae (sesbania grandiflora desv.): white flowers of vegetable humming bird tree with bland taste and cooked bamboo shoots.
8. Thinly sliced pork strips marinated with a paste made with salt, garlic, lemongrass, and turmeric, flattened between two pieces of thin bamboo and grilled.
9. Stir-fried fiddle-head ferns (paak good) with nam prik ta daeng and oyster sauce.

I asked Lak to tell me what we cooked. He named the dishes one by one starting with sliced grilled pork strips, haw neong gai, steamed vegetables with nam prik ta daeng, soup with three-layer pork and saleay, soup with chicken and green gourd, soup with immature jack fruit, ant eggs soup, soup with paak paang, and my favorite drink - a bottle of local moonshine. Lak is holding a plate of fiddle-head ferns ready to be stir-fried.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Almond Milk and Almond Paste

Almond Paste as Body Scrub

While the rest of the country is experiencing ice storms and unseasonably cold weather, we in southern California have been having one terrible dry spell after another. So much so that my skin started to look a lot like alligator cracks on the sidewalk. Week after week, I promised myself I would make a batch of almond paste as a scrub to strip away dead dry skin and nurture the smooth sensitive skin underneath. I didn’t take the time until I caught a bad cold about ten days ago and had to stay put for a couple of days.
Almond paste is a discovery I made when I learnt how to make almond milk as a recipe for my latest book, The Elements of Life, A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Healthier Living, due to be released by John Wiley and Sons in October. After squeezing out the almond milk from the fine paste in the cheese cloth, I noticed how my rough hands instantly turned very silky and smooth. I then used a bit of it to massage not only my hands and cuticles, but when I took a shower that night, I rubbed it all over my body and hair. Sure enough, my skin and hair felt so soft and clean. Since that first experiment, I have come up with different ways to incorporate the almond paste with other herbs such as lavender, sage and chamomile as well as essential oils. As shown in the video, I used a mortar and pestle to pound lavender and sage with almond paste. Lavender helps me relax and sage to speed up my recovery from cold.
I keep the batch I made last week in the refrigerator. Each night, I take a couple of tablespoons and put in a sauce bowl. During my shower, I put the almond paste in the wash cloth, squeeze some soap on top of it and use it as a scrub. I no longer have that horrid itch from dry skin. Instead, my skin feels wonderful and smooth despite the fact that the weather has turned from scorching hot to super cold.
In case you are curious to know what I did with the almond milk, I used part of it to make creamy tomato soup. The rest I stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Tomorrow I plan to make a pot of chicken curry. Instead of coconut cream that is rich in saturated fats, I will use the almond milk. It’s for my husband Bob and a friend, Linda, both who must watch what they eat on account of high cholesterol.

Peeling the Pomelo

How to Peel A Pomelo

My husband Bob called eating pomelo a “clean and neat” experience. Unlike juicy orange or grapefruit, if you peel the pomelo the right way, their individual sacs stay firm and intact as shown in my video.
Pomelo, a relative of the grapefruit, originated in Malaysia. It is an ancient fruit that has been discovered by countless foreign travelers who took it to many far corners of the globe. Within the last decade, it was once again discovered and “introduced” to American consumers as the latest exotic fruit from Southeast Asia.
My Papa loved pomelo while I was growing up in Thailand. During the cool season, when pomelo, both white and pink varieties, were at their best, Papa would buy several. Our servant would peel them and arrange it neatly on a plate. She would save the thick aromatic rinds for Mama who hung them on the clothes line on our balcony to dry. She used these to brew tea to ease coughing spells.
Thai people eat pomelo as a snack with a mixture of salt, sugar and chili. They also make a wonderful salad with it. Yum (salad) Som-Oh (pomelo) is made with mounds of individually separated pomelo sacs, grilled pork, grilled shrimp, thin threads of kaffir lime leaf, roasted coconut match sticks and a rich dressing made with roasted chili paste and fresh coconut cream. Check out the recipe in my book, Cracking the Coconut, page 268.
On the other hand, you can create your own version of salad using pomelo. For example, mix chunks of pomelo with chunks of grilled beets, arugula, roasted almond slivers and a light vinaigrette dressing. Or, simply mix it with an ordinary green salad. It’s sweet and slightly tangy taste will turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

About Me

My name is Su-Mei Yu. I was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand. Although I was given a Thai name when I was a child and attended the prestigious Thai boarding school, Wattana Wittaya Academy, I chose to keep my Chinese name because my roots are Chinese.

I have lived in America for over four decades and have had many professions. Through it all, the single passion that remains with me all these years is my love of cooking. I love everything connected with cooking. I love to shop everyday to cook foods that are not only tasty but keep both my husband and me healthy. I love to put on a spread for family and friends. I love to read about food and learn of its links to our history, social, traditional and cultural paths. This is all due to my mother. She was not only a superb cook, but was equally passionate about food in all its aspects.

However, I was not as fortunate as my brother and sister who lived at home until their teenage years and were able to watch our mother cook and listen to her endless tales about food. Instead, I was put in a boarding school at the age of five, a school that cooked and served only Thai foods. Looking back, perhaps I too, was fortunate to be exposed to Thai cooking more than my mother’s northern Chinese Shantung style cooking. From my earliest encounter with Thai food, it has ensnared me with its vibrant and exuberant flavors. Today, my Thai friends honor me with their praises for my interest and knowledge about Thai cooking. They say that in everyway, I am more Thai than they are.

I have started this blog as a way to connect with you who are truly interested in the tradition of Thai cooking. I initially named my blog mae khroa, a Thai word meaning a cook. The words derived from mae=mother and khroa=kitchen. My husband, Bob chided me for picking a name so obscure that he is afraid no one will find the site. He might be right, but I am willing to take a chance. After all, one must admit that until recent years, no one knew what Pad Thai is.

The name mae khroa conveys my commitment to the spirit of Thai tradition. I hope one of these days, mae khroa will be a common expression and that people will connect it to the true spirit of Thai cooking.

Lastly, I like to name just a few of my credentials related to Thai cooking. I have written two cookbooks, “Cracking the Coconut” and “Asian Grilling.” “Cracking the Coconut” won the Julia Child award in 2000. My third book, “Elements of Life” will be published by Wiley and Sons and is to be released in October, 2009. I am in the process of writing a Thai Children’s Cookbook. Aside from these books, I have written numerous articles for food magazines and journals. I have also appeared on national television including the Food Channel, Martha Stewart, the Today Show and Good Morning America. I am a regular guest on our local television news channels. I have taught Thai cooking for 30 years. Last year, I co-founded a cooking school in Mae Rim, Thailand for children. It is called Prem Center Organic Cooking Academy by Su-Mei Yu.
Yes, I also own a restaurant, Saffron, the first Thai restaurant in San Diego, California.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

KUSI Interview with Su-Mei Yu

I recently appeared on KUSI. Here is a link to a video of the interview:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gaeng Khae

Nid, one of the teachers at Prem Organic Cooking Academy I co-founded in Mae Rim, Thailand, often bragged about her Mom’s cooking. Born and raised in Lampoon, a small provincial city near the better-known tourist city, Chiang Mai, Nid’s mother continues to cook as if time has stood still for her. She tends her own vegetable garden, raises her own fowl and buys only locally grown produce and rice.

It was May of last year when I visited the school. It seemed that the rainy season, which for decades has not started until late June, has crept up earlier during the past several years. By May, rain fell every night, painting nature with crisp green color. But for us the older folks, early rain caught us unprepared. We do not like unpredictable weather. This is because we were taught to believe that abrupt changes in nature can be potentially harmful to our health. Attempting to prevent ourselves from catching colds, getting aches and pains, or developing fever, we turn to nature for a cure. We cook with what nature has brought forth: profusions of greens, blooms and shoots.

Since one of my goals for the cooking school was to develop simple recipes that would not only teach cooking skills to children, but also Thai traditions related to foods, Nid suggested we invite her Mom to come and demonstrate her culinary skill for making gaeng khae.

Gaeng khae is a soup originating in the north and northeast of Thailand. It is a medicinal brew believed to prevent and reduce colds and fever. Unlike foods from central and southern Thailand which are rich in coconut cream and sugar, gaeng khae exemplifies the lean and clean approach of northern Thai cooking. The broth is seasoned with a piquant paste packed with pungent spices to nurture the respiratory and circulatory systems. The soup is filled with all kinds of seasonal vegetables and greens. Nid’s Mom made hers with several baskets full of vegetables picked along the fences around her neighborhood. The pot looked like a lush Garden of Eden. A spoonful of it brought forth a mixture of sun and rain graced with a brilliant rainbow.

To create your own gaeng khae, take the time and develop patience to make your own seasoning paste by using a mortar and pestle. Grace the pot with seasonal produce as in my recipe below. Mine is made during the winter months in San Diego where bitter greens, bland tasting vegetables and squashes are available throughout our farmer’s markets. In case of emergency and if you happen to live or visit San Diego, come to my restaurant, Saffron. Between the months of January to March, you can count on us no matter what the weather is like. Our gaeng khae will keep you fit and healthy.

Gaeng Khae
Makes 4 servings
Chile Paste:
½ teaspoon salt
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
15 or more dried de arbol chiles, soaked in hot water to soften, dried and minced
2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer layers removed, tender inner stalks, minced
4 to 5 thin slices galangal (substitute with ginger)
4 to 5 kaffir lime leaves, minced (substitute with zest of 1 lime)
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon red miso

Put the salt and garlic in a mortar and pound with a pestle into a paste. Add the remaining ingredients one at a time, only after the previous one has been incorporated into the paste. If making ahead, store in a jar with tight lid and refrigerate. It will keep for several weeks.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup bite-size chunks chicken
Chile paste
4 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups mixed seasonal vegetables: thinly sliced Thai and/or Japanese eggplants, bamboo shoots, chayote, winter or summer squashes, onion, mushrooms, spinach, beet greens, radish or turnip greens, dandelions, Swiss chard and/or water cress.
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons roasted rice powder
1 cup coarsely chopped arugula
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh Thai basil or peppermint leaves
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh sawtooth herb or Italian parsley

Heat a saucepan over high heat for one minute. Add the oil and wait for 30 seconds before adding the chicken. Stir to cook until the outside turn white. Add the chile paste and stir until it is aromatic. Add the chicken broth and salt. When the liquid boils, add the vegetables and season with fish sauce. When the liquid boils, lower the heat to medium. Stir to mix. Once the vegetables are cooked, add the rice powder. Stir to mix and let the broth comes to a boil once more. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with arugula, basil, and sawtooth herb. Enjoy with hot cooked red organic rice.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ginger Tea

I was just on KUSI this morning. Never thought anyone was watching. But lo and behold, people were walking in to my restaurant Saffron wanting to know how to make ginger tea. Phones were
ringing constantly at the restaurant as well. It seemed everyone wanted to know how to make ginger tea. It's so easy. First, you have to go to the store and buy some fresh ginger root. Make sure it is not all dried up. Then once you get home, wash and slice it into thin pieces. Let's say you want to make a couple of cups. Slice maybe 12 - 15 thin pieces and pound them a bit. Put the whole works in a saucepan and add about 2 cups drinking water. Turn the heat on high. Once it starts to boil, lower the heat to medium-low and it cook until your whole house starts to smell like ginger and you begin to find yourself feeling real mellow. Turn off the heat and put the light yellow liquid through a strainer over a measuring cup. Add 1 tablespoon honey and stir. Take a sip and relax. That's it.