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Thai-ing The Red Curry Challenge

9 Oct

Dubai expats are a lazy bunch. We are lucky to have a wide range of restaurants delivering food at any given time of day, from fast food joints like Nando’s and KFC (yes, both deliver), to classier joints like Wagamama’s and Gazebo, meaning that the majority of us rarely use our kitchens. Most outlets offer a delivery service, meaning that your taste buds can have whatever they desire within 45  minutes to an hour (ma’am/sir). With such a variety of cuisines  available at relatively cheap prices, why bother cooking?

I found myself asking this very question on Saturday morning when I was lost in the maze that is Karama, looking for Thai long beans. Yes, my quest to master the art of cooking the perfect red curry took me to some very unfamiliar streets in search of a teeny tiny supermarket that stocks sweet basil and kaffir lime leaves. It definitely would have been easier to just order a take-out from Thai Wok.

Following a google search of ‘Sunflower Supermarket, Dubai,’ all I could find were some very vague directions, which read along the lines of: ‘Street 12D, near Day to Day Supermarket, Karama.’ This would have been all well and good if I actually knew where on earth Day to Day Supermarket was, or street 12D for that matter.

Much like most men that I know, I convinced myself I would be able to find the place without a map, or decent directions. So off to Karama I headed in the mid-morning heat, with a crumpled piece of paper that had the words Day to Day and Street 12D scribbled on it as my only reference point.

Suffice to say, I didn’t find the supermarket easily. After driving around the streets for half an hour looking for the landmarks mentioned on the internet, I gave up and decided to do another thing that does not come easy to us Dubaians; I decided to get out of my car and walk.

This is what the area looked like:

While on foot, I asked two people where I could find the supermarket, and both of them sent me on a wild goose chase in the wrong direction. I have yet to decide whether they thought they were being funny or if they genuinely couldn’t understand what I was asking them.

After walking around the block a few times, I am glad to say that I managed to locate Sunflower, although I have to admit to feeling a slight amount of rage when I realised that the place was very close to where I had originally parked my car. 0/10 for observational skills, it seems.

It was definitely worth the effort, though. Sunflower stocks all the Thai goodies you can’t find in the main supermarkets, including everything that I needed to cook the curry.  I felt like a proper cooking connoisseur, out there sourcing the EXACT ingredients listed in the recipe, as opposed to substituting them for the next best thing like I usually do (a white onion for a shallot, for example. They’re pretty much the same thing, aren’t they?!).

My goodies looked a little like this:

Yes, I went all the way to Karama to buy some leaves.

Once I got home, I couldn’t wait to put my chef’s apron on and start rustling up some Thai magic in my severely underused kitchen. Firstly, I prepared all the ingredients I needed before I started cooking; the distinctive smell of the kaffir lime leaves exploded as I tore them into tiny pieces and I shamelessly found myself also having a good sniff of the sweet basil. It’s during moments like these that I realise how much I love cooking.

As I began to follow the recipe, I realised that some of the instructions were rather vague, so I had to rely on my goldfish memory to try and remember how exactly the chef had done it all a week earlier. Luckily, for once in my life my memory served me well (or perhaps I was guided by my overactive sense of smell – there’s nothing like the whiff of a potential curry to get my memory going)  and less than an hour later I had made a delicious dish that didn’t taste too differently from the chef’s.

I proudly took this photo as proof:

YUM!

So, I have proven to myself that I can recreate at least one of the recipes I acquired from last week’s cooking class. I have to say, it was a refreshing change doing something different on a Saturday morning, even if that meant getting lost and sweaty in Karama. I am also happy to have located the supermarket and look forward to cooking more Thai dishes in the near future. I also hope to host some friends one evening to REALLY prove to everyone that, shock, horror, the girl can cook! And, most importantly, this exercise has reawaken my love of cooking.

I guess I can officially say, challenge one is DONE! Only 29 to go…

Note: I will be posting the recipe in a separate post for anyone who is interested in trying to match the above culinary masterpiece.

Challenge 1 – The Thai Cooking Class

3 Oct

On the morning of Saturday, October 1st, a few small miracles occurred in Downtown Dubai: a) I woke up at 7.30am b) I wasn’t hungover and c) I found myself trading my warm, comfy duvet covers for an apron and a chef’s hat. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I successfully made it to the Thai cooking class!

I am very pleased to inform you all that no one was harmed during the course of the session.  However, that could be down to the fact that I didn’t even get to touch a frigging vegetable, let alone a knife or anything else that can cause considerable damage when handled by juveniles like me.

Unfortunately, the Blue Elephant cooking class at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel involves sitting your ass on a chair, eating croissants and drinking coffee, while a very friendly Thai Executive Chef by the name of Chairat Youngsuk explains to you the difference between lemon basil and sweet basil  in broken English. So there’s very little cooking involved for those attending, a hell of a lot of eating, and they even throw in a glass of wine for your efforts. How very Dubai, don’t you think?

At first I was a little bit disappointed by this arrangement, as when I attended a cooking class a few years ago it was very much a hands-on experience (and was led by a very hot French chef.  I digress…). I was therefore looking forward to making a fool of myself while attempting to chop at supersonic speeds and taking my frustrations out on a pestle and mortar. Despite this minor setback, I decided to make the best of the situation, pay attention, and stuff my face with warm pastries instead.

Fellow Nigella Lawson wannabe, Nico, was with me, looking very chef-like:

And I clearly looked like I belonged at a cooking class, with my Pat Butcher earrings and salon-styled hair:

(For the non-Brits among you who do not know who Pat Butcher is, click here.)

The chef made his way through three classic Thai dishes: Thai Fishcakes (YUM),  Steamed Sea Bass With Lime, (DOUBLE YUM)  and Thai Red Curry (my version of heaven on a plate). He offered loads of insider tips on the art of Thai cooking along the way, and I have to say, his curry was worth exchanging your favourite pair of shoes for.

Despite the fact I didn’t get to cook, I definitely learned a few things, including the fact that there is a supermarket in Karama which sells all the Thai produce you can’t get anywhere else in the city! I have been meaning to buy a Thai cookbook since I arrived back from Bangkok last month, but was put off by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to source the right ingredients.  So, in light of this new information, I have now decided I will be investing in a copy of Thai Street Food by David Thompson.

At the end of the ‘class’, we were served lunch, which consisted of the dishes the chef had shown us how to prepare. Once we had finished eating, we were presented with cooking certificates. Yes, we clearly needed to be rewarded for being exceptional listeners and outstanding gluttons.

Now, seeing as we didn’t get to flex our culinary muscles on Saturday, Nico and I have decided that we are going to attempt to replicate the three dishes at home and invite a few friends around to sample our efforts. Only then can I really say I have completed this challenge. So, over the next week or so, you may be one of the lucky ones  who gets to see me attempt to recreate these Thai masterpieces. Let me know if you would be interested in coming along!

Note: Those of you who have already made jokes about bringing take-away menus “just in case” can consider yourselves unwelcome.

Challenge 1 – Mastering The Art Of Cookery – The When!

28 Sep

After almost a week of searching the internet for ‘cookery classes in Dubai,’ I have finally settled on a Thai cuisine class at the Blue Elephant restaurant, Al Bustan Rotana Hotel. The cooking kicks off at 10am on Saturday, which is usually the time of day that you will find me passed out, hungover and dribbling on the sofa. So it will be a challenge within itself to actually get to this class when I will probably still be drinking at some random after-party a few hours before it starts.

I am delighted that my dear friend and fellow alcoholic Nicolas has just informed me that he will be joining. Now, please consider that when we are together we usually look a little something like this:

And this:

Hmmm:

Hence, you could say that we are more familiar with the words ‘shots,’ ‘one more round mate,’ ‘after-party,’ and ‘smashed’ than ‘simmering,’ ‘chopping,’ ‘dicing,’ and ‘boiling’. Taking us out of our natural habitat (i.e. the bar) and placing us in a new and very unfamiliar territory (i.e. the kitchen) is bound to bring out some very interesting evolutionary behaviour.  Survival of the fittest, Nicolas. You’ve been warned.

I intend to blog as much as I can during the day, so stay tuned on Saturday to see how the wasters turned chefs do!

Challenge 1 – Mastering The Art Of Cookery – The Why

24 Sep

I love food. I am Cypriot, after all. And, funnily enough, I don’t just like scoffing my face: I actually enjoy the process of cooking, too.

I find there’s nothing more enjoyable than spending Saturday afternoons rustling something up in the kitchen, while listening to 1Xtra on the radio. I find it even more enjoyable when I’m actually cooking for others. Although doing so always brings up the uncomfortable realisation that I AM turning into my mother (I don’t know how to cook for anything less than 5,000 people, it seems).

Over the years I’d like to think I’ve picked up some ‘moves’ in the kitchen. For one, I make a mean chili con carne. And when I say mean, I really mean that this baby can blow your head off if you’re not careful. I also know how to make a few of the classic dishes that every ‘Good Greek Girl’ learns when she’s fresh out of nappies. Macaronia tou fournou, calamari and, of course,  koupepia.

In spite of all this, however, I can only make about ten dishes confidently, and most of my evening meals sadly resemble this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, yes, good old Nando’s. Thanks to their delivery service in Dubai, I barely cook. Ever. All I have to do is press the ‘N’ speed dial button on my BlackBerry, tell the lovely person on the other side of the phone my telephone number, and within 45 minutes I am in Peri-Peri heaven. Quite frankly, after an hour and half drive home from work, the last thing I want to be doing is chopping, dicing, frying and the like! So Nando’s comes to the rescue. And I’m happy for that.

I feel it’s about time, however, that I extend my culinary skills from the basics of boiling and grilling to something a little more creative and ambitious. Which is why I decided to add cookery classes to the challenge. I have done some research and come up with a number of options, including a Thai cuisine class. I’ve also decided that I want THIS apron to cook in:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sums it up perfectly.

Will post again with the details of my cookery class this week!