Light Vietnamese Cooking Class at Piedmont Adult School

On a roll from the previous week, on Saturday April 29nd 2006, I attended another cooking class at the Piedmont Adult School, this one titled "Light Vietnamese Cooking" and it was even held in the same room.

I was a bit worried I was running late but I still managed to arrive within two minutes of the official start time. I needn't have worried; I was the second to arrive. Over the next fifteen minutes, three of missing four people in the class appeared.

While waiting for the class to start, I examined the set of the trays the instructor laid out. There were lots of vegetables: basil, lettuce, mushrooms, a coconut, a pineapple, green onions, red thai chiles, carrots, mung beans, shallots, and more. I didn't recognize a few herbs. Happily, at the beginning of class, the instructor allows us to smell and tastes the unusual herbs, including Vietnamese mint, short celeries, and Thai basil. (The Thai basil has a purple stem and an intense flavor that is a combination of mint, basil, anise, and cilantro.)

Before the class began, I was a bit skeptic of the chef because he was wearing an old shabby t-shirt. But by the time it started, he'd put on a nice chef's jacket. And he began by teaching us how to say hello in Vietnamese (chao ong) and thank you (commueng / cam on), another nice touch.

As light cooking, the dishes were mostly vegetable heavy and preparation time dominated the cooking time (if the recipe required any heating/cooking at all).

We made a number of dishes. And while I'd forgotten my camera, another attendee had his camera phone and I convinced him to take pictures and mail them to me. So I have pictures!
* Spring rolls with noodles and an assorted of vegetables and herbs, along with a dipping sauce (nuoc cham). These turned out good but were not exceptional or distinctive. The best thing I learned was how to roll the rice paper and when to put various ingredients in (so the roll is balanced and, if there is meat, make it so the meat is visible through the roll).
* Hot and sour seafood soup. Tasty. Not that much fish, but I didn't mind because the broth was good (which could be because the instructor supplied homemade seafood stock which served as the base of the soup to which we added flavorings). The person cooking this didn't remove the lemongrass, so we'd occasionally be unpleasantly surprised chewing on a lemongrass stalk.
* Green mango and grilled shrimp salad with a nuoc cham dressing (different from the nuoc cham dipping sauce that we made with the spring rolls). This really was the prettiest dish when completed, with all sorts of artistic garnishes, and I'm not just saying that because the dish was my responsibility. Sadly, the pictures don't do it justice. Also sadly, the salad was merely decent. Making it was good prep skills practice because it involved tons of chopping and grating.
* Catfish Clay Pot. Very good. Served over rice. This is definitely something I want to try cooking by myself. Sadly, especially given the instructor's comments, I'm not sure I can do a reasonable clay pot rendition without a flame (e.g., grill or gas stove). One nice feature of the recipe is the ingredient list is simpler and easier to acquire than the items needed for most of the other recipes.
* Slow Cooked Chicken with Lemongrass. Also very good. This preparation was definitely too sweet for my taste (and the instructor's too -- he commented on it) but I could tell I'd love it if I tuned it down. Another item I'd like to cook by myself. And don't get confused by the name: the recipe only cooks for around 30 minutes and doesn't require a slow cooker.

I was definitely pretty happy with what I learned, especially what I learned about thai ingredients, and left the class very stuffed and ended up eating a small late dinner. And if I were smart, I would've brought some tupperware and taken some leftovers.

Incidentally, the instructor, Chat Mingkwan, under his company Unusual Touch, teaches a number of cooking classes at various schools through the bay area, does catering, and organizes guided eating tours to Thailand. He's also written some cookbooks which look tempting.

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