Authentic Thai cooking is hard to find nowadays in Isaan as food preparation often moves indoors to kitchen stoves and gas fired burners. Therefore we always feel lucky to have granny ‘Yai Thip’ who strives to keep these dying traditions alive. Each and every night, without fail, Granny Yai Thip is found haunched at her coconut husk flamed stove to cook all sorts of authentic Thai recipes from scratch. No short cuts, no tinned ingredients or pre-made sauces, everything created by hand using only fresh ingredients sourced locally from surrounding gardens or the nearest fresh market. Authentic Thai cooking, more than often, starts with the lighting of the stove using dried tinder of sticks, leaves and coconut husks collected from the surrounding gardens. Pieces of charcoal are then hacked and added to the stove to keep the fire alive.
On this occasion we will be cooking curry, or to be specific pumpkin and pork in red curry. These days curries are easily simplified with packaged coconut milks available almost everywhere, but in authentic Thai cooking the coconut milk comes fresh from the coconut. Note, coconut milk is very different to coconut water the sweet juice found in the centre of the coconut. The coconut milk in fact comes from the fleshy pulp on the inside walls of the coconut which is grated, mixed in a small pour of hot water and squeezed by hand. The resulting milk is collected through a simple sieve to stop pieces of pulp mixing into the curry. The first squeeze of coconut milk is known as ‘Hua Kati’ or ‘Head of the Coconut’, it is rich in coconut oil and is always used first in cooking.
On the side a simple curry paste is mixed using pounded red chillies (prik kaeng), palm sugar and fish sauce. While more complex curry pastes are possible we keep it simple for today. The pumpkin is then chopped and the pork sliced with a cleaver. Both are left to the side as the coconut milk heats. When the coconut milk comes to the boil, the curry paste is added, and stirred. Soon after the pork is added and not long again the pumpkin.
After a short time boiling the curry is then topped with more coconut milk again using the same pulp from previous which is squeezed through the sieve. The coconut milk here is now known as ‘Hang Kati’ or the ‘Tail of the Coconut Milk’. Finally the top goes on the pot and the curry is left to simmer. It is later serve with jasmine rice and other local Isaan bites. (Video to come).