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

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.