Refugee Kids’ Art, Cooking, and Courage Featured in Thai Magazine

Refugee Kids’ Art, Cooking, and Courage Featured in Thai Magazine

Exciting news! We’ve been featured in a local online magazine called The Cloud. The publication is in Thai, and includes some great photography, but we wanted to share more about the phenomenal weekend they visited, for supporters who may not read Thai. If you do, you can read the full article about Courageous Kitchen on The Cloud’s website, and help us by sharing with more Thai friends.

Typically when we have an opportunity to work with refugee kids from the communities we serve, it’s only for a few hours at a time. However, during the children’s school break, there’s more flexibility for us to host longer activities, such as our cooking camps. The camps give us a chance to work more closely with each of the students, and teach a wider range of subjects to the kids.

The day the team from The Cloud visited was the last day of our May cooking camp. In this cooking camp we worked with students who had much weaker English skills than the students who participated in the previous camp. If you remember the last cooking camp, in addition to fun Thai dishes, we also had everyone excited about the burgers and pizza we made too. However in the May camp, instead of fully focusing on cooking, our students were doing everything from fancy hat making, to an impossible human knot challenge, and learning to edit their own videos.

One young student begins an assignment to illustrate her community, starting to fill her empty canvas with green first.
The students were tasked with creating a hat that represents their personality.
The youngest participants had a little extra help from our volunteer teachers, so their hats came out extra colorful and playful.

The subjects we choose for each camp depend on the ability of the students, and the interest of the participating volunteers. To be better suited for students with weaker English, our last batch of volunteer teachers helped run art therapy exercises, team building sessions, and challenged the students to use the English they’ve learned to make their own recipe videos.

The finale day saw the students putting the finishing touches on each group’s recipe video. While some students filmed and helped behind the scenes, others were challenged to stand in front of the camera and explain the recipes they were making in English. To keep the video editing from being too complicated, the students were assigned to simply explain how to make an herbal tea drink recipe. They made drinks from popular Thai ingredients like butterfly pea, chrysanthemum, and bael fruit, while managing to narrate and film at the same time.

CK students focused on creating their recipe videos, each with duties both on screen and off.
The students learned to use ipads to film, and the software imovie to edit their videos together for the final presentation.

Of course we had to take a break and cook lunch as well. The finale meal was a celebratory plate of banh xeo, a sort of Vietnamese crepe. For this cooking feat, we made an assembly line of students cooking pork belly and spring onion to use as filling for their crepes. Once everything was hot and smelling nice, they moved further along the station with their filling to make their crepe. The action of swirling the thin batter of turmeric tinted rice flour in the light weight, non-stick pans was exciting for everyone.

The challenge, however, was to get the crepe out of the pan without the fragile exterior fracturing into many pieces. While it was easier for some of the smaller students to fold the crepe in the pan, lifting it on to their plates, there’s a better way. The best technique to finish with a beautiful plate of banh xeo, is to dump the entire crepe out on your plate, folding it together as it falls, with a quick motion of the pan. Sound tricky? This is definitely a move inspired by the quick hands of the street food vendors we frequent!

A closeup of the banh xeo cooking in a pan, after the pork belly filling has been added.
The banh xeo is plated by dumping the entire crepe onto a plate and folding with a quick motion of the pan.

After lunch, we gathered all the students to celebrate their accomplishments and watch their final videos. The students giggled with glee (and some horror) seeing their faces on the big screen. We discussed being brave in front of the camera, and being more conscious of lighting and sound when video making. Finally, everyone shared their biggest challenges and successes from the cooking camp before we said goodbye. 

Our entire team had a great time this cooking camp and want to thank everyone who helped donate to sponsor this activity. Getting the students to be proud of their art, video production, and especially their culinary creations can be especially challenging with students overcoming trauma and fear they’ve accumulated over the years. However, this mission wasn’t in vain, and the wonderful article in The Cloud, and all the fun photos from the camp are a testament of what can be accomplished when we really believe courage is contagious.

Wherever you are reading from, and whatever you’re going through — be courageous!

In Record Heat, Thai Shaved Ice Brings Welcome Relief

In Record Heat, Thai Shaved Ice Brings Welcome Relief

Anyone who’s set foot in South East Asia the past few weeks has learned the hard way, just how hot this part of the world gets this time of year. Whether ducking into well air conditioned mega malls, or seeking refuge in one of Bangkok’s innumerable 7-Eleven shops, everyone has a strategy or two for heat relief. In today’s shared plate we want to make sure you’re on the lookout for one dessert that has been helping keep both chili scorched tongues, and sweat soaked bodies cool, long before the arrival of ice cream.

A Courageous Kitchen student excited for his chance to cook a traditional Thai dessert.

As a planet we’re experiencing unusually hot temperatures this year. Fortunately Thais have been coming up with inventive ways to deal with intense heat for ages. Long before refrigeration was democratized and ice cream was everywhere, shaved ice ruled hearts and minds in the Kingdom of Thailand with few challengers. When the air gets heavy and the heat seems unbearable, this is the dessert Thais seek out in Bangkok’s food filled streets.

Among street markets in Bangkok, a vendor serving shaved ice may feature anywhere from ten to thirty ingredients for guests to choose from. The variety of ingredients on display is your first clue that shaved ice desserts (called nam kaeng sai in Thai or น้ำแข็งใส) isn’t a singular dessert, but an entire experience. When you arrive at such a shop, you typically choose a few ingredients, and whether you’d prefer to have them served in pandan syrup or sweetened coconut milk. The ingredients usually include fresh fruit, candied fruit, jellies, rice noodles, and an odd selection of beans, peas, sweet corn, and millet. You can throw a mix of them all into your custom made bowl, or you can have a pre-set mix using ingredients popular enough to stand alone.

Students quickly prepping their water chestnuts and tossing them around like pros.
All of the ‘rubies’ are colored naturally with beetroot for red, butterfly pea flower for blue, and pandan leaf to give you a natural green glow.

Tup tim grob (ทับทิมกรอบ), translated directly as red rubies, is one of those ingredients popular enough to stand on its own. In street side stalls, this bright pink colored water chestnut is often one of the first sell out. The snack is made by taking water chestnuts, covering them in flour (most commonly tapioca or arrowroot starch) and boiling them. Their bright pink color is borrowed typically from an artificially colored red syrup, and the boiled flour layer gives the chestnuts a soft, shiny sheen resembling a hand full of jewels.

The most recent guest to be won over by tup tim krob was the EU Ambassador to Thailand, Pirkka Tapiola. On a very hot day Ambassador Tapiola arrived with his staff and family in tow, for a fun day of visiting the market and cooking with our Courageous Kitchen students.

We also taught the ambassador and friends to make fried spring rolls, pad see ew (if you saw our last shared plate post, you know we’re huge fans of these Thai noodles), but the crowd pleaser was hands down the multicolored and multi-textured tup tim krob. We prefer to make the dessert with natural coloring, using beetroot, butterfly pea, and pandan to make several eye catching colors. Then for good measure guests could add fresh cantaloupe, watermelon, and lemon basil seeds. The lemon basil seeds are particularly interesting, because they’re eye catching and when soaked, develop a texture similar to chia.

Ambassador Tapiola empties his wok full of steamy pad see ew noodles.
Ambassador Tapiola and his wife work with students on coating the water chestnuts with flour.

Nowadays there’d no doubt that ice cream shops are the heat stroke prevention centers of choice for many dessert lovers. Still, however, the allure of this simple sweet remains in Thailand, and should be sought out while you’re visiting. With fewer shops remaining in business, you may find it packed with locals clamoring for a bowl nostalgia that the red gems bring.

This bowl of tuptim krob is ready to enjoy on a hot day!

Happy snacking, and don’t forget to share this bowl of gems with someone new!

If you’re interested in more edible relief from the summer heat, leave us some feedback below and stay tuned. For those travelers and foodies passing through, we look forward to making this Thai dessert with you in our cooking class in Bangkok.

Special Thanks to the EU Embassy, and all of their staff for making a special visit to Courageous Kitchen!

Shared Plates: Pad See Ew and a Podcast

Shared Plates: Pad See Ew and a Podcast

Today’s shared plate is fresh out of the wok, and we’re ready to enjoy it with the latest episode of The Bangkok Podcast! Feast your eyes on our beloved pad see ew, and listen to the podcast on spotify or youtube. This drunken noodle dish from Thailand is often featured in our morning market cooking class, but today we wanted to share a version with a slight twist.

This isn’t just any pad see ew, it’s made with a little extra TLC, by taking the time to make our own rice noodles. For those who love pad see ew, you can probably imagine why this is special. Pad see ew is normally a milder Thai dish, but if you prefer the noodles a little spicy, you can dash a bit of our homemade sriracha on top (or alternatively you can make pad kee mow drunken noodles instead). Beyond a spicy sriracha sauce, we’re pairing this special plate of noodles with an episode of The Bangkok Podcast, whose hosts Greg and Ed, decided to feature Courageous Kitchen. We hope you will take the time to listen and share!

After a lot of testing, we’re finally ready to teach you how to make fresh rice noodles.

Homemade ‘Sen Yai’ Rice Noodles

The process has been tricky, but we have been testing recipes to create our own wide rice noodle on our own. One of the factors that makes pad see ew in Thailand, more outstanding than versions you can have in restaurants abroad, is that street vendors in Thailand can usually grab fresh rice noodles from the market. The noodles are factory made in giant batches each day, and delivered to the markets where a local vendor can purchase them, and slice them to the thickness that customers dictate. Best of all, you can buy a kilo of fresh rice noodles for much less than a dollar.

Getting the noodles the proper thickness and texture is a challenge, and sometimes a matter of personal preference.

The local market version is sliced precisely, and dirt cheap, so why would you make your own?

We simply love the nuance of hand cut noodles and the ability to customize them to your preference. If you prefer them melty, bouncy, super long, or some combination of those characteristics, you can adjust the amount of rice flour and a tapioca starch you add into the recipe. In a city that thrives on street food, this is a lost art in most Bangkok homes, but we’re happy to guide you through the process of making your own rice noodles.

As we make our stir fry sauce for pad see ew, we add a little color to our hand cut noodles with a teaspoon of black soy sauce.

You can find the dish made with other types of noodles, but there’s something special about freshly made, wide rice noodles or ‘sen yai’. The texture is extremely soft and pliable, unlike most of the dried, pre-packaged noodles you find in Thailand’s supermarkets. Admittedly though, they can be a pain to cook. The noodles tend to get so gooey in a hot wok, that if you’re not quick enough when stirring, they begin to melt and glue the entire dish to the bottom of the wok.

Many cooks, especially Thailand’s beloved street chefs, solve this problem by cooking the noodles quickly with high heat. When you spot vendors doing this, you’re really peering into the impact of centuries of Chinese migration on Thailand’s food culture. When the pad see ew noodles pour out of those high pressure gas or charcoal heated woks, the entire dish has absorbed the smoke and the stir fry sauce has been charred through the lightning quick process. This is the same wok hei style cooking that gives us dishes like Malaysia’s ‘char kway teeo‘, a sibling dish which Malaysians love as much as Thais adore pad see ew.

A delicious, hot plate of pad see ew with homemade rice noodles.

We’ve just launched a new class to teach you to make these noodles, please check it out! We hope guests will have fun going a little deeper with their pad see ew, and take noodle making knowledge home to places where good rice noodles for pad see ew and other dishes are a rarity. As in the podcast, we also hope to share Courageous Kitchen’s message of how food has the power to transform communities with everyone who visits for this tasty meal.

Happy listening, and thanks for stopping by to snack with us.

Special thanks to The Bangkok Podcast. If you have any trouble listening, you can also find them on youtube. We recommend listening to their latest episodes with a sharing plate nearby!

Is This Healing Green Soup Thailand’s Healthiest Dish?

Is This Healing Green Soup Thailand’s Healthiest Dish?

Today’s shared plate is a piping hot bowl of mushroom soup known by locals as ‘gaeng hed‘. The soup’s popularity pales in comparison to Thai cuisine’s soup juggernauts such as tom yam, and tom kha soups. However, despite not having as strong a reputation, we believe this enchanting green soup too, will leave newcomers craving a second taste.

Dwight leads special guests from the US Embassy to shop for herbs in the local market.

The soup isn’t only great tasting, with a sneakily slow and building brand of spiciness, but gaeng hed is also good for you. Contrary to popular belief, the soup base isn’t tinted green from the mix of herbs and mushrooms added, but is given its color by blending together ‘yanang‘ leaves (ใบย่านาง).

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great name for yanang in English. The scientific name is tiliacora triandra, and it’s popular with older folks in the countryside, especially the area called ‘issan‘ that borders Laos. Wise in their years, they will often drink the grassy tasting herb as a juice, to most quickly benefit from yanang’s anti-inflamatory, anti-cancer, and pain relieving properties.

All of the herbs and vegetables used commonly in gaeng hed curries or soups.
Closeup of the yanang (tilicoria triandra) leaf that gives gaeng hed it’s deep green color and medicinal properties.

When you factor in the benefits from the fresh acacia herb (cha om or ใบชะอม), sweet Thai pumpkin, and a flurry of mushrooms, you’d be hard pressed to find a healthier Thai soup. The health benefits from the acacia alone, a common ingredient in gaeng hed, include antioxidant properties, a source of vitamin A, and helping to regulate body temperature.

These amazing herbal properties and their Lao-issan origin, made the dish our choice to cook for US Embassy guests, including Dr. Joanne Hyppolite, curator of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Both the dish, and the often appropriated Lao-issan cuisine in general share some commonalities, and ingredients with African American soul food. This ranges from the darker skin, socio-economically disadvantaged people of the region, to gaeng hed’s culinary versatility allowing it to be easily supplemented with herbs and vegetables you may have on hand.

A small handful of delicate acacia leaves (ใบชะอม or the scientific name Senegalia pennata or climbing wattle).

Most interestingly is the texture of the soup. Named as a ‘gaeng’ in Thai, which implies a curry or curry-like, thick consistency, however, this is a bit of a misnomer. Instead gaeng hed is eaten as more of a thickened soup, with many recipes calling for the addition of tapioca starch. The starch, used similarly to how many people use corn starch, gives the soup a consistency that is similar in mouthfeel to the natural thickener of African American cooks in generations past, okra.

Dr. Hyppolite gives Courageous Kitchen a gift from NMAAHC, the Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook.

Although not commonly included in this soup, Thais too love their okra. The young soft okra (aka ladyfingers, kra jiap, or กระเจี๊ยบ) fruits are steamed or eaten raw as an accompaniment to traditional Thai chili pastes. Fortunately, Courageous Kitchen has 3 six-foot okra trees which produce fruit every 2-3 days. This made it easy to grab a few from the garden and quickly slice them for our guests from the US Embassy.

Gaeng hed may be a little known dish outside of Thailand, but it certainly brought two seemingly disparate food histories together at Courageous Kitchen recently. We’re all about using food to start discussions, break down barriers between people, and heal ourselves. We hope you’ll be intrigued to find out more about this healing soup and the spice and herbs that make it special. Happy eating, please share this plate with someone!

If you’re curious about Thai food, especially any of the ingredients mentioned in this article, be sure to let us know to include them in your cooking class or street food tour with us in Bangkok.

Photo credit: Alisara Chirapongse

Shared Plates: Grease Popping, Batter Fried Thai Mussels

Shared Plates: Grease Popping, Batter Fried Thai Mussels

Today’s shared plate is a favorite Thai street food snack! Known as ‘hoi tod’ (หอยทอด) in Thai, this concoction of batter fried mussels is hawked most commonly by street food vendors selling pad thai. While the dish may be overshadowed by pad thai’s fame outside of Thailand, in the country in can go head to head with any greasy, super satisfying street food dish you can imagine.

If you’ve never seen this dish cooking before you’re in for a treat, it looks like a savory asian funnel cake is being created before your eyes!

With the cost of all the ingredients for pad thai, most street food hawkers outside the tourist hot spots can’t enjoy much success by selling it solely. So many of the vendors you see in Bangkok, whether you know it or not, may be making this delicious snack as well. The thing to look out for when you’re roaming Bangkok’s street food filled streets, are the carts with oversized iron woks. Great for cooking at a consistent temperature, the pure size of the woks allow the most skillful vendors to be making several plates at a time, often simultaneously cooking hoy tod, pad thai, and interacting with customers.

Making the dish at home without starting a grease fire can be a task. This is because you’ll need to get the batter frying in hot oil, and as it crisps up transfer it to a pan where in can continue to cook, but only shallow frying. This makes it easier to flip and get an even fry on all side, while allowing you to add an egg to spruce it up!

Special thanks to our guest Seth who requested this dish and was so much fun to cook with!

We prefer our hoy tod omelette crispy fried and golden brown. Normally, you will serve it with a chili sauce, and if you like the heat— you’ll love it with our homemade sriracha sauce.

When you visit Bangkok, you can request this dish in our cooking class or street food tour! We’re happy whether teaching you to make it, or encouraging you to hunt down a version to try it on your own. Happy eating, and remember to share this plate!

Courageous Kids Cooking Camp!

Courageous Kids Cooking Camp!

Courageous Kitchen typically provides weekly English and cooking class to students from marginalized communities. This is important work and partially funded by our efforts to host cooking classes and street food tours for tourists visiting Bangkok. However, a few times a year we invite the youth we serve to take part in a multi day cooking camp. We recently hosted the first camp for this year and invite you to watch the following slideshow from the event:

During the camp we have more time to review and drill the English vocabulary the students are usually learning in Saturday classes. Since the kids are usually cooking every meal, they have extra time to develop in the kitchen as well. During the camps we invite teachers from outside the charity to help us expand what we can offer students including specialized cooking, art, drama, and music activities.

We believe all of the classes work well in tandem with our English teaching curricula, by giving the students plenty of opportunity to practice their English in the kitchen, and during other fun activities. The biggest challenge is that the students all come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have participated in our classes since they were very young, with our pre-school teaching being their first organized classroom experience. Others may still be new to our classes, and have only rudimentary knowledge of English. Each camp is special because with more time to spend with the students, we can more easily identify where a student may be excelling, or needing more encouragement and assistance.

Pairing the camp activities with our English curricula, gives the children a chance to use the language skills they have learned.

If you’ve visited us before, you know our specialty is teaching and cooking Thai cuisine. However, in the slideshow from the most recent camp we were able to offer a variety of dishes, thanks to our volunteer chefs, teaching the kids to make Vietnamese cuisine, and western dishes such as hamburgers and pizza. Since the majority of our students don’t usually have an opportunity to eat in restaurants, they cherish the chance to try new dishes and learn about how people in different cultures eat in other parts of the world.

Special thanks to everyone who made our cooking camp in Bangkok a great success.

We are so grateful to everyone involved, especially visiting teachers who braved through Thailand’s summer weather, and all of our sponsors. If you’re interested in to sponsor a future camp, just leave a note when you donate online that the funds are for our cooking camp. As a small organization with no institutional funding, your support is so important to us!

Special thanks:

  • SILC Ladies’ Club
  • Vietnamese & More Restaurant
  • Newsong Church
  • Chef Gary Butler
  • Tere’ ‘Soul Mama’ Howard
  • Daniel Thaiger Food Truck