Taking Thai Cooking Classes in Chiang Mai and Pai, Thailand (Recipes Included!)

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A student cooks pad thai in a steaming hot wok at Basil Cookery School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Taking a cooking class in the midst of your travels is a wonderful way to ensure the memories of your trip stay fresh long after you’ve returned home.

After all, what’s more evocative than the scent of a favorite dish you had in an out-of-the-way restaurant you stumbled upon, by chance? What souvenir brings you back to that memory more completely than a bite of the dish you had in that moment? Sure, pictures do a pretty good job. But when it comes down to it, nothing jogs a memory better than food.

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These are just a few of the many dishes we made at Basil Cookery School in Chiang Mai. We were so stuffed afterward! Photo by Charish Bazinski.

I’ve taken two separate cooking classes in Thailand; one in Pai, and the other in Chiang Mai, and to this day I crack open the stained pages of the simple cookbooks I took home from the classes. To this day I use them to bring a taste of Thailand to our home. And to this day I use these recipes to entertain friends.

And with a single spoonful, I’m back there.

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Our teacher at Basil Cookery School, Benz, was a wonderful instructor. She took us to the market first to shop for items we would need for our day of cooking. Photos by Charish Badzinski.

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The markets in Thailand feature food we rarely see stateside. That’s half of the fun! Photos by Charish Badzinski.

When I was in Pai, I attended a course at Pai Cookery School. It was my first foray into cooking Thai food, and each student was given their own cooking space in an open-air kitchen. It was so fun to feel like we were cooking outdoors!

Years later when BackpackMr and I journeyed to Chiang Mai, we took a Thai cooking class at Basil Cookery School, which was fully enclosed. The kitchen was so well organized, and the staff so efficient, they made it feel effortless as we cooked 8 dishes between the two of us.

 

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Both courses included a trip to the market to learn about local ingredients and foods. And both courses concluded with the chance to taste the dishes we had created.

 

Even if you haven’t been to Thailand, chances are you’ll enjoy some of my favorite recipes, some of which are adapted from the recipes we learned in classes, and others picked up over time as we wanted to replicate food we’d enjoyed abroad.

Note that some of the ingredients can be challenging to find. Seek out a good Asian supermarket and you’ll have much better luck.

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Laab Namtok, served with fixins. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Laab Namtok 

This is an incredible, easy dish that makes for fun finger food with friends. Trust me, you’ll whip it together in no time, and watch in wonder as it garners oohs and ahhs! 

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Ingredients:

To serve: 

  • Plate a mix of fresh herbs: Thai basil, cilantro, mint
  • Fresh lettuce leaves
  • 3 quartered key limes
  • Sliced shallot
  • Fresh bean sprouts
  • Fish sauce
  • Chilis in white vinegar

Fry the ground pork over medium heat until done, breaking it up as you go. Add 1/2 of seasoning packet and toss just before it’s done. So easy! Seriously, the packet does most of the work for you, and it makes a delicious laab.

Allow diners to take a spoonful of the pork mixture and place it into a lettuce leaf, topping it with the herbs and shallot and lime juice or other items as they wish.

Serve with fish sauce, chopped thai chilies in white vinegar, and fried chill paste on the side (see recipe below), so diners can choose how seasoned they want their laab to be!

Then you can roll it up, or eat it like a taco.


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Thai chilies, frying in olive oil. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Nam Phrik Phao – Fried Chili Paste

We keep this staple on hand. It adds oomph to every Thai dish we make. It will store in the fridge for three months or so. 

  • 1 cup Thai chili peppers, known as bird’s eye chilies
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Stem chili peppers and place in skillet over medium low heat. Fry, stirring regularly, until all peppers have become shrunken and darkened significantly in color. Peppers should be an almost uniform dark brown color, even if you used a mix of red and green chilies. Remove from heat.

When cool, whir in food processor until all chilies form a paste. Save it in a glass jar in the fridge.

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The finished fried chili paste is in the foreground. In the background are diced chilis soaking in white vinegar. Both are great condiments for Thai food. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Warning: these chili pepper recipes are hot! Use with care.


Mango Sticky Rice – Kao Niao Ma Muang

This quintessential Thai dessert is all at once refreshing and deeply satisfying. 

Serves 2.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sticky rice (also called sweet rice)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 mango, peeled and cubed (Go for a golden-colored “champagne” mango if possible, but any ripe mango will do)
  • 1 pandan leaf, tied into a knot (This can be hard to find. Some asian grocery stores may carry it in the frozen section or among the fresh herbs. It is worth seeking out as it lends a pleasant nutty flavor and depth to the dish.)
  • 2 T sugar
  • pinch of salt

Soak the sticky rice in water overnight, or for at least four hours before you prepare the desert.

Drain sticky rice and rinse it four times. Steam sticky rice until cooked, about 1/2 hour. (I do this by wrapping it in a clean, flour sack towel and wrapping it, then suspending it in a metal strainer over a boiling pot of water, then placing a lid on top to keep the heat in for the most part. Do it however it works best for you!) Rice should stick together and may have a slight chew to it.

Mix coconut milk, pandan leaf, sugar and salt in a small pot and boil while stirring for 5 minutes. Add sticky rice to mixture and cook until coconut milk is gone. Stir constantly. Allow rice to cool. Remove the pandan leaf.

Divide sticky rice into two bowls. Top with mango and serve.


Sticky rice is also delicious as a side to any Thai coconut curry. Just serve it in a bowl or bamboo rice server immediately after steaming.

If serving it with green curry, for example, it’s tradition to grab a small ball of sticky rice with your fingers and dip it in the sauce. Yum!


Tom Ka – Coconut Milk Soup

This is so simple, and so deeply satisfying. Don’t let the long list of ingredients fool you. You won’t believe the flavors coaxed from this quick soup!

I was going to make some of this tonight, but Brooklyn Hound apparently learned how to open the fridge while I was getting the mail, and she feasted on the raw chicken. I knew I was in trouble when I entered the house and saw her licking her chops!

Serves 2.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 chicken breast cut into bite-sized chunks (omit and add tofu if making this dish vegan)
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. vegetable stock powder
  • 1 spring onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 6 thin slices of galangal or ginger root
  • 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, lower portion, cut into 1-inch lengths and crushed
  • 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn in half (Tip: these can often be found in the frozen section of asian groceries.)
  • 3 T fish sauce (omit or swap out for vegan fish sauce, if making a vegan dish)
  • 3 T lime juice
  • 1 tsp. fried chili paste (see recipe above)
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves, torn
  • 5 Thai “bird’s eye” chilies, crushed

Fry the chicken or tofu until cooked and browned to your liking. Combine with the coconut milk, water, galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves and bring to a boil. Add mushrooms, onion, tomato, fish sauce, stock powder and fried chili paste.

Remove from the heat. Add lime juice, chilies, cilantro and spring onion. Garnish with cilantro leaves and crushed chili peppers.


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Joke Moo Sub. Top it with a soft poached egg, and you will add a layer of rich, yolky goodness. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Pork Meatball Rice Soup – Joke Moo Sub

Serves 4-5.

Okay, hear me out on this. We Americans have gotten breakfast all wrong! Bacon, eggs, hash browns and the rest just lead to a nap! This soup, typically served for breakfast in Thailand, is filling, hydrating and so delicious. And it won’t weigh you down. Give it a try.

Best of all, it’s a great chance to use up leftover white rice. 

Serves 5-6.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cold, cooked, day-old or more rice
  • 1/4 cup loosely-packed cilantro (stems okay), chopped after measuring
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 oz. ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • Pepper and salt to taste
  • Optional toppings (but highly recommended): poached egg, ginger, green onion, quartered limes, fish sauce, fried chili paste, and chilis in vinegar

Place the cooked rice in a 5 or 6 quart pot, and fill the pot 3/4 full of water. Bring to a soft boil on the stove.

Combine the pork, cilantro, garlic and egg to form a wet, loose mixture.

Take a pinch of the pork mixture and, rolling it into very small meatballs, drop the balls into the boiling liquid. Allow the soup to simmer for an hour or so, which will give the broth a rich flavor. Salt and pepper to taste.

You can thin this soup out as much as you like, just add salt as needed. I find this particularly helpful when reheating the leftovers.

To serve: 

Ladle the soup into large bowls. If using, add 1 freshly-poached egg to the top of each bowl. Allow the diners to dress up their soup with any or all of the following:

  • A squeeze of lime
  • Fresh ginger, peeled and cut into small matchsticks
  • Fresh chopped green onion
  • Fried chili paste
  • Fish sauce
  • Thai chilis in vinegar

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Charish Badzinski is an explorer, and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations. 
 
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb

 

 


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