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Thai Me A River

November 18, 2009

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

My current mantra is that I'm not a bad blogger because I haven't written a post in three weeks, but rather that I'm a good blogger for reading everyone else's posts and writing down notes on a list of future blog entries so I can have writing fodder during the cold Winter Term month when I'm procrastinating on my senior project. Life got busy quickly.

I just read Eli's delightful anthropological study of the co-op and CDS experiences and couldn't stop grinning at the shoutout at the bottom of the post. Why not? I haven't written a blog post in ages. Let's make your stomachs growl at my Thai special meal blog post.

I worked in a Thai cafe a few summers ago when I was home on another Oberlin-lacking, family-fulfilling break. The work atmosphere wasn't the most pleasant, I did learn a bunch about Thai flavors and picked up a few recipes along the way (see below for tasty tasty chai recipe). Since then, I've collaborated with a group of amazing Harkies twice for Thai special meals, and this weekend was the third, and everyone knows that's always the charm.

November was having unseasonably warm weather for the past week (sadly, the warm stint has ended and I have to wear a coat again) and Saturday was no exception. Friday, too, was gorgeous, and I was already loathing the fact that I would be inside all of the following day cooking. Food is worth it, but I do love sunshine.

Friday evening, while rocking out to 90s pop Youtube videos, Now 4 (I have no idea why Daniel has this in his iTunes), and Regina Spektor for four hours, the fabulous first-year Dan, Daniel, and I had plowed through pounds of onions, carrots, cucumbers and cabbage as well as processing five pounds of tamarind and baking tofu in preparation for our cooking on Saturday afternoon. Friday ends at about 3am for us, always a good start to a weekend special meal.

Around 2pm the next day, as crew is finishing polishing up the kitchen, we begin. Cooking team roll call!

ø Ma'ayan "Tamarind Wrangler" Plaut
ø Daniel "Must Be Summer Cause We're On A Roll" Dudley
ø Dan "This Ain't No 'Wok' In The Park" Redwood
ø Sophie "Four Hands and Using Them All" Kern
ø Harris "Coco For Coconut" Lapiroff
ø Mary "Summer Rockin' and Rollin' " Slattery

(special guest appearances and special thanks go to Paia Dalke, Jamie Albrecht and Jamie Flynn for aiding in some last minute prep)

This was a most rocking special meal team. I love all of you.

Since this is a blog, you can't stop me from telling you guys the menu. Hold onto your stomachs, I'm nowhere near done.

The menu:

¥ Pad Thai (vegan and non-vegan, as well as a soy-free/gluten-free tamarind noodle stirfry)

Pad Thai is a personal favorite in my family, and there's always an argument over who gets to order it when we go out to eat Thai food. Since my family prides itself on not being boring, we very rarely repeat dishes at restaurants, and I know the obvious solution to this... learn how to make it at home. After years of experimentation, my mom had gotten to the point of a passable recipe (or maybe it was just my brother and dad telling her "it was close but not perfect" just to have her make it more often). Over the summer, I started researching the foods I love to eat but don't necessarily have available to me in Ohio, and pad Thai was the first on my list. I did perfect it this summer, and encourage you to try this recipe yourself.

For Harkness, however, a vegetarian alternative to fish sauce was needed (Bragg's Liquid Aminos is surprisingly similar in taste and viscosity, even if it lacks that little animal kick), and the amount of tamarind needed for the recipe was ridiculous. I wrestled five pounds of tamarind for an hour, shrouded in rubber gloves and an apron, shoving this food equivalent to krazy glue through a fryer basket sieve, and finally managed to get several fabulous pounds of ready-to-use tamarind. The only other change in the recipe was the dire lack of rice stick (we managed to get a very thin rice noodle for the summer rolls and the soy-free/gluten-free stirfry, but they were too thin for a good pad Thai), and we substituted in buckwheat soba noodles. Less authentic, but it was a decent alternative.

¥ Thai Fried Rice (vegan and non-vegan)

Dan's piece de resistance was two steaming woks full of Thai fried rice, studded with green beans, roasted garlic, eggs for the non-vegan option, cilantro, green onions, bean sprouts, and lime. This was no ordinary fried rice, it was incredibly refreshing and not heavy at all. Smear a little bit of chili sauce on it and it was irresistible.

¥ Summer Rolls (with special cilantro-free, cucumber-free, and soy-free/gluten-free options)

Over the summer, Daniel, too, began experimenting and learning more about food, and became a master at summer rolls (read about his Thai adventures here). It was only natural for him to churn out an epic amount of summer rolls for this meal, filled with rice noodles, baked tofu, cilantro, basil, carrots, and cucumbers.

¥ Khanom Krok/Coconut-Rice Pancakes

Harris and I have very similar taste in desserts: not too sweet, small so you can eat a lot, awesome texture, and a hint of something savory. These coconut pancakes hit all those things, and with some experimentation in substituting a muffin tin over a specialized dimpled cast-iron pan, a bike ride to IGA to buy rice flour, and this recipe, Harris whipped out about a hundred little cakes topped with chopped green onions.

¥ Peanut Sauce

Absolutely necessary for summer rolls. I love peanut butter, I love peanut sauce. This meal begs for it. Moving on.

¥ Sweet Chili Sauce

This sauce is an absolute staple for me, at home in Hawaii, at my Oberlin home, at Decafe, and on pretty much every thing I eat. It's my ketchup. Every year I've made a chili sauce for the Thai meal, using different ingredients, but always ending up pretty much the same: sweet, hella spicy, and with wayyyyy too much cornstarch (I know how cornstarch works, but it goes from thin to pudding so quickly. I blame it on multitasking). Think chili pudding rather than sauce, and you have a good idea of what this looked like. This is not to say it wasn't delicious, and complementary to everything in our meal.

¥ Thai Chai (topped with your choice of milk, soy milk, or coconut milk)

This is the crowning recipe from my summer in Thainaturalfoodcafeland. Commercial Thai tea is black tea with some chemically spices and then topped with cream. The cafe had an alternative, and a far tastier one at that. Their tea was lemongrass, ginger, whole cloves, and whole cinnamon, boiled for several hours then mixed with palm sugar. The Harkness version contained brown sugar instead, and an obscene amount of it. The result is a thick and delicious chai that is good served warm or cold, with various dairy-like add-ins or straight.

What a delightful meal, both in the kitchen and in the dining room. Each major dish (excluding the sauces and chai, which I made) had a head chef of sorts, and whenever that person needed help, Mary and Sophie would come to the rescue with additional hands. Serving was still Harkness's trademark mob, but with enough food, people are calmer. We also brought out the food in stages, announcing ingredients and alternatives that would be available.

Sadly, there are no pictures of the Thai extravaganza. Cooking was a full-time job on Saturday, and sitting down to eat was a pleasure... until I realized I was too tired and full to get up again. This kind of stomach pain is good.

We cooked LOADS, far exceeding the amount of people present for the meal (Harkness dining ran out of chairs), which is something I love doing when cooking. I love leftovers, especially if it's leftover Thai food. The coconut cakes and chili sauce disappeared, but I luckily got a cup of chai the next morning to accompany the second tasty meal in 24 hours, the crepe special meal. It was a painfully delicious weekend, and I ate far too much. But it was so worth it. Nomnomnom.

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