Today’s recipe share is a tribute to my grandparents for Black History Month. In memoriam we’ll be getting into the kitchen to make a dish called creamed corn. This staple side in southern cuisine is something you might find on the dining room table at family gatherings, or as a side at a favorite bbq joint. Today’s version though, brings Thai flavors to this dish and has been written to make it easily repeatable at home.
There’s so much Black History to share this month and always. And yes it’s important to know the most famous events and people, but learning the history of people you know can help make the month more meaningful. So I’m honored to share a little about my grandparents, whose shoulders I stand on today.
In particular, my maternal grandfather, whose cast iron pan never moved far from the stovetop. His name was Harold Dunson, but people knew him as ‘The Vegetable Man’. After working for US Steel in Birmingham, Alabama for 35 years, he retired but never quit working. Instead, he started a small business delivering vegetables on the west side of Birmingham for decades.
Some of my most vivid memories of my grandfather were of him waking early, likely 4 or 5am, to get a jump on the bunches of collard and turnip greens he would slice and prep for his customers. He powered through with hot coffee and the help of his favorite prep knife, that had been repeatedly wrapped in worn masking tape to make it easier to handle.
When daybreak came, he’d already have breakfast on the stove by the time my sister and I woke up. The long day’s work required hearty morning staples like biscuits, grits, bacon, and fried fish. After all, he was delivering to Black neighborhoods long underserved by grocery stores. He provided senior citizens with limited mobility to have access to fresh vegetables and fruit by bringing them to their doorstep and allowing those with limited finances to buy ‘a dolla‘ of this and that from the back of his truck. All of this happened long before we invented the term food desert, in swaths of Birmingham with more liquor stores and fast food than anything else.
Now Mr. Dunson may not appear in your history books, but I can’t help but summon him in my work today. Even though I live half a world away from where he spent most of his life, his compassion for people and his quiet perseverance to serve them into his early eighties still inspires me.
In remembrance of this hero, I’d like to share a dish from his cast iron pan called creamed corn. This isn’t the dairy and bacon grease laden recipe you will find on websites dedicated to southern and soul food. That’s no discredit to soul food, but having the traditional version too often can be unhealthy. Instead, I’m making a Thai style creamed corn with fresh aromatics, grilled or roasted corn, creamy coconut milk, and a bit of spice. The resulting dish should be smoky and creamy, sweet from your corn and coconut milk, and pack a mild spice kick.
I hope you’ll join me in sharing this recipe, and reflecting on where Black History has brought us today as a society, and in our individual lives.
The recipe is below, happy cooking and special thanks to the US Embassy in Bangkok for helping highlight this story and recipe with a video and Thai language recipe cards.
Thai Style Creamed Corn
This recipe serves 1 person or can be shared as a side dish. The recipe can be made oil free, gluten free, and vegan if desired.
Optional utensils include mortar and pestle, and non stick frying pan or wok.
200g Corn (about 1 cup, optionally grill and cut off the cob for extra flavor)
100ml Coconut milk
Oil for cooking (optional, since the coconut milk is rich in healthy fats/oil)
Here’s a quick update to everyone who has been supporting Courageous Kitchen, especially if you’ve been interested in attending one of our virtual classes. The live zoom classes we offer are booked through Airbnb and we’ve made some important changes to our prices. Most significantly, we now offer a discount on our group bookings and have a special price for kids!
In addition to helping you find a place to stay when traveling, Airbnb offers travel related activities too. Through the Airbnb Experiences program, when booking travel to Thailand, you may also see a recommendation for a Thai cooking class like ours. Well, with much of international travel on pause we’re fortunate to share that these classes are still happening virtually.
From the safety of home you can still experience a bit of Thai culture with the help of video technology and your taste buds. Our experience offers guests the chance to join on us zoom to make pad see ew noodles, green curry, or tom kha soup. However for larger private groups we offer discounts and the chance to customize the menu to your Thai favorites.
Zoom Cooking Class Perks:
Live HD Instruction with Two Cameras
Supplementary Course Materials to Help with Substitutions and Shopping for Ingredients
Discounts for Groups
Access to 10 of Thailand’s Top Recipes
Special Pricing for Kids (Kids Recipes Coming Soon)
Thai Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes Also Available
Recently Airbnb has also introduced pricing for children. This means you can get the whole family in the kitchen working on Thai food together. In the past, the per person pricing has led to a lot of confusion about how to work with families with children under 13. Hopefully, the new cheaper pricing takes some pressure off of parents and is a chance to get your young cooks enthused about diverse types of food and cultures.
Finally, don’t forget all bookings include access to one of our virtual courses. Currently, we offer either Thailand’s Top Recipes and Thailand’s Top Vegetarian Recipes to all students. Both of the courses are supplementary to our live zoom classes and leave participants with some extra recipes to try on their own. There are currently about 10 recipes featured, including favorites such as pad see ew noodles, green curry, and tom yum soup. However, we’re adding a recipe for our kid’s version of pad thai and will have other easy recipes for young chefs in the future.
Thank you for your continued support. We’re fortunate to able to continue connecting with people and fundraising for those in need virtually. Airbnb has also recognized this virtual experience as an official Social Impact activity, so all proceeds from course will go back to Courageous Kitchen. We hope that’s more than enough reasons to join us in cooking class session soon!
Here’s a few scenes from a big weekend in Bangkok for the Courageous Kitchen team. For the first time, we’re popping up to serve a menu all of our own creation in a local restaurant. The menu is a testament to healthy eating, sustainability, and rustic Thai food. We couldn’t be more proud to have our student leaders participating and to share this event with you.
The Courageous Kitchen leadership program gives students opportunities to grow as cooks and as well balanced young people. Although the coronavirus has limited our activities this year, this month has been busy. With the Thai vegetarian festival happening, we took our young leaders into the combonation restaurant of Bolan and Err, to serve our own plant based menu.
During the pandemic we have been taking our healthy cooking to the next level, even launching a delivery service for plant based vegan food. So were please to be able to collaborate with the rustic cooking of the team behind Bolan and Err. The invitation from Chef Bo and Dylan gives our students a unique opportunity to see behinds the scenes, in not one, but two restaurants. In addition to having a hand in making dishes from Err, which specializes in elevated Thai drinking food, our students all get their first peek at fine dining dishes from Bolan.
The collab features two plant based set menus, one from Central Thailand and the other from Southern Thailand. Both sets feature our homemade soybean products, tempeh and tofu.
“The guests really loved your fried tempeh dish, now I want to taste!” remarked one of the waiters from Err. The dish they’re referring to is a special Phuket style fried curry paste and crispies piled on top of battered tempeh. The dish is called ‘tempeh tod kreung’ and the crunchy tempeh is a good match for the spicy and sweet paste.
The most popular dish from the Central Thailand set is the red curry or ‘gaeng daeng tempeh’. While you can experience a Thai red curry at any Thai restaurant, this dish is special because of the curry paste is handmade, and the ingredients in the curry are representative of Thai biodiversity.
“When we talk about plant based food, many enthusiasts do make a point to eat locally and in season. This is similar to many of the teachings we hear from Chef Bo, whether in the restaurant or on her television show, she always uses her food to highlight the diversity of ingredients in Thai cuisine.”
In addition to the tempeh in the curry, there’s a trio of pea aubergines, winter melon and snake gourd. The latter two especially are often overlooked by restaurants, even though people at home in the provinces still grow and use these ingredients commonly in their cooking. Each of these ingredients are abundant during the rainy season, and because they all have a different texture, keep your tongue guessing with each bite of the curry.
We’re relishing the experience to serve our supporters in Bangkok this weekend and learn from great chefs. We hope to take what we’ve learned into future endeavors, whether in our cooking classes or other training aspects of our leadership program. Never before has the overlap between food and health been so important, and we hope to shepherd our communities here and online towards better wellness as we grow.
Special thanks to the the Bolan and Err chefs and staff, and we look forward to collaborating on special events with them again in the future.
Ever heard of Thailand’s vegetarian festival? The event happens annually, and each year Thais all over the country give up meat for around two weeks. We’re celebrating this year by providing info on the occasion and popping up at a few fun events this month from the 17th of October until the 25th.
The dates of Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival may vary each year, but there’s always a few constant themes from the celebration:
Health & Mysticism – Many of the legends about the Vegetarian Festival point to the tale of malaria stricken Chinese opera singers who began paying homage to the gods with a vegetarian festival. The desperate faith of these Chinese immigrants to Phuket, combined with rituals brought from China resulted in a miraculous healing for those involved. As a result, the festival became embedded in the culture, being held year after year with increasing fanfare. Unlike secular medicine in the West, health in Asia during this time would have been strongly tied to religious beliefs. Pointing to the mystical healing aspect of the origin story may help explain the resulting traditions to festival newcomers.
Yellow Flags – When October rolls around the yellow flags come out abruptly and they’re everywhere, starting a few weeks before the festival. The flags are the most visible signs of the celebration and are used to demark where vegan or ‘jae‘ food is available. The Thai symbols on each flag look like the number 17 written in red text. You find them lining some popular street food territories, to products in your local grocery and convenience stores. Knowing the flag and the term can help vegan and vegetarian travelers identify food vendors during other times of the year as well.
Merging Culture – Southern Thailand because of trading routes on both sides of the peninsula, was an area with lots of merging cultural influences. During the last quarter of the calendar year, there are many other festivals, mostly with origins in the harvest season. The Vegetarian Festival is no different, but the unique blending of Thai, Indian, and Chinese culture is so fluid and unquestioned you may have a hard time distinguishing these traditions from each other. Chinese dragon dancers may appear in a parade juxtaposed with men carrying the likeness of a Hindu deity, and it may be one of the only times where locals visit modern Buddhist temples, traditional Chinese Buddhist temples, and Hindu temples in the same period.
Self-Deprivation – The period is a time of reflection, merit-making, fasting, asking forgiveness, and other tasks associated with purity. This is especially done by forsaking the most common desires. The way participants observe the festival varies by the beliefs of the practitioners with people abstaining from everything from sex to indulgent foods. The most iconic evidence of these practices is the event’s parades of people in trance-like states with a variety of objects impaling their faces.
Eating Vegan in Thailand
Fortunately for most of us, you can participate in the festival without walking on hot coals or driving sharp objects through your face. If there’s a form of austerity most common, it is observing the rules around food. You’ll find people around Thailand participating in this practice, even if they have no connection with the tradition. Most commonly in addition to not eating meat, there’s an added restriction of not eating pungent aromatics like onions and garlic. Since so many people do participate, the corresponding flags tell people where they can safely eat without worry of breaking the rules.
As a result of how widely celebrated the festival has become, everyone understands the concept of veganism. This is true, even if they don’t know the word vegan itself. This can be to your advantage if you’re vegan or vegetarian and need to request your food be cooked without animal products. Simply attaching the term ‘jae’ (pronounced jay) to the name of the dish will make it clearer to people, than anything you can enter into your translator.
If you’re a fan of Thai food, especially street food, a break from meat and spice heavy Thai dishes either feels like a welcome reprieve or cruel and unusual punishment. While many street food vendors may close their shops to enjoy a break, many will also begin offering quick-fire dishes minus the meat elements. When you’re exploring during this period, it’s important to double-check whether or not the vendors you’re visiting will be open as normal.
We recommend you’re informed, so you’re prepared to enjoy the festival. Vegetarian and vegan cooking in Thailand is having a revival. So this period is the best time to seek out special dishes that may not be otherwise offered, visit veg-friendly restaurants, or check out the best restaurants around the city to see if they’re accommodating observers in any special way.
Special Menu at Bolan Err
We’re teaming up with the duo from the restaurants Bolan and Err to showcase a special menu this month. This effort piggybacks on momentum from a recent plant-based cooking workshop we offered at the restaurant. The menu includes familiar dishes like a spicy red curry with local gourd (pictured below). In this special version, where you might normally find pork or chicken, we’ve used our homemade organic tempeh instead. The curry covered tempeh is not only filling but nutrient-rich and promotes healthy digestion as well. For a lesser-known dish order ‘Lon‘, a coconut-based dipping paste that is served with fresh vegetables.
The aim of the menu is to introduce more people to plant based Thai food. All too often, much of the information surrounding plant based eating is limited to western perspectives and recipes. However, it would be a shame if people thought plant based food was only salads and pasta. The truth is that the abundance of nutritious Thai ingredients allows a large majority of Thai food to pretty seamlessly adapt to a variety of healthier diets.
Encouraging Thais to eat healthier and more plant-based may be as simple as having them reflect on how people ate during their grandparent’s generation. Much of this mission is in line with the ethos at Bolan, whose namesake calls diners to harken their palates back to the golden age of Thai cooking. This means carefully crafted food, organic ingredients, and no processed enhancers like msg, white sugar, or condensed milk.
During the vegetarian festival, pop into Bolan (located in Sukhumvit 53) and choose from two special plant-based menu sets. Each of the sets are taken from dishes our Courageous Kitchen team loves to cook. We hope you’ll enjoy, and while doing so you’ll be helping us fundraise as well.
Plant Based Kick Off Festival
Any festival observers or plant based foodies won’t want to miss the upcoming Root the Future Festival at Sansiri Backyard. The large, 2-day event will bring together a variety of vendors with all sorts of products. You can think of it as a sequel to the previous Plant Based Market, but with an even greater array of products to choose from. The weekend also coincides with the beginning of the Vegetarian Festival, so it will be a fun, first of it’s kind way to kick off this yearly tradition.
Find our booth at the event and grab fresh tofu and tempeh. But that’s not all! We’ll be teaching tofu making in two sessions each day, at 3:40pm and again at 5pm. This will be great for tofu lovers and families interested in working together to create this unique and delicious ingredient. There will be lots happening, but please come say hello while enjoying the festivities!
This month we’re launching a new delivery menu for plant based food for our customers in Bangkok. The menu combines Thai dishes we love to make in our cooking classes with our favorite homemade meals. The menu is geared towards busy families who want to save time in the kitchen without compromising their diets.
The new menu is an opportunity to extend interest in healthy cooking to people who haven’t had a chance to join our cooking classes. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm about plant based eating in the Thai community right now,” says Panisha Chanwilai, our vegan cooking teacher.
“But when people look for plant based recipes online, they might assume it’s all salads and pasta. I want Thais to be proud of our own cuisine, which can easily be made into healthy meals.”
For instance, this month one of the featured dishes is tom kha soup. Thai food fans may recognize this dish as the calmer little sister of spicy tom yum soup. The dish is a soup is composed of coconut milk, made fragrant with classic Thai aromatics like kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, and galangal.
Besides the ingredients that make the dish tom kha, there’s a lot of flexibility to decide what else we would like to include. These variations are common to see from one Thai household to the next. One family may choose to include banana blossom, another prefers the soup with a variety of local mushroom, while still another adds extra chili jam to add heat and color.
Our version is made without any meat products, nor fish sauce. We also no longer use white sugar, and try to exclude oil in our recipes whenever possible. This addresses many of the common criticisms of trends in Thai food the last few decades, which can be oily, overly sweet, and scant on vegetables. However, when you have homemade Thai food, this isn’t always the case.
Ready to try food from Courageous Kitchen? In addition to the meals, customers can order our homemade tofu, tempeh, and other food products. Orders are placed by Thursday each week, and the food is delivered to people’s homes every Sunday in a refrigerated truck. As always, proceeds from the sales will help us continue our mission to feed and educate during these uncertain times.