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Nong's Thai Kitchen | Nongkran Daks & Alexandra Greeley

Nong's Thai Kitchen | Nongkran Daks & Alexandra Greeley

Nong’s Thai Kitchen
84 Classic Recipes that Are Quick Healthy And Delicious
By Nongkran Daks & Alexandra Greeley

  Suzy Chase:    Welcome to the Cookery By the Book Podcast. With me, Suzy Chase.

Nongkran Daks:    My name is Nongkran Daks and my newest Thai cookbook is Nong's Thai Kitchen.

Suzy Chase:    Cookbook author. Restaurateur. Teacher. Master chef. You are known as the Rachael Ray of Thai cuisine, and the winner of Food Network's Pad Thai Throwdown, beating Bobby Flay. How did you get interested in cooking while growing up in southern Thailand?

Nongkran Daks:    I came from a very small village in the southern part of Thailand. In my village, you know, we only have primary school. So at night, when I was seven years old, my parents kind of split up and so my father, you know, took me to live with my brother-in-law and I stay with my brother and sister-in-law, who she is, you know, food seller at the marketplace.     So every day, I have to pound a curry paste, you know, four, five different one of them after school, around 3:30 in the afternoon, and at 4:00 next morning, I have to made it into a curry. A seven, eight years old child and have to do those curry in mortar and pestle. You know, I have a lot of tears in those curries.

Suzy Chase:    Yeah, I bet. That's a lot of work.

Nongkran Daks:    Yeah. And I wish that there is, you know, a blender then, you know?

Suzy Chase:    Right.

Nongkran Daks:    It would make it so much easier. But my sister-in-law, you know, kind of mean person, but when I think back now I appreciate that she show me how to make those curry, you know. And she said, "You first pound the pepper and galangal and lemongrass and onion and garlic should go last. Otherwise, the moisture in the onion would go in your eyes." And so that is my first cooking stuff.

Suzy Chase:    What did she sell in the market?

Nongkran Daks:    Oh, all of those curry that I made. I mean, you know, there is like a big pushcart that she put pots and pots of curry on them and together with folding table so when she get there she just open up the shop and people in the south, they eat rice and curry for breakfast. Suzy Chase:    So in 1965, you married an American Peace Corps volunteer, moved all around the US and Asia, and you finally settled in Virginia and opened Thai Basil Restaurant. Tell us about that.

Nongkran Daks:    I had been, you know, wanting to have a restaurant for a long time but the time is not permitted because my husband have to move around every two, three years. We have to move overseas to this country and that country and it, you just can't do it, you know.     So when he retire in 1997, it was, I brought now, hundred different dishes and I was thinking, "God, you know, if you have long menu, like me, I like to read menu. If it long, then it take more time to read. Until I finish. I am not ready to order until I finish reading the menu."     So then I have to, you know, each one, if it's something that I'm not used to, I am curious. I would like to know what is that? And then, you know, it won't work. So I cut down to 67 and then I think that is manageable.

Suzy Chase:    67?

Nongkran Daks:    67. It seems, it still seem to be a lot for you.

Suzy Chase:    Yes. Nongkran Daks:    But for us, you know, that is easy to manage. And also each day I would have special. So now, you know, I have about 70 items.

Suzy Chase:    You're known for using traditional Thai recipes without modifying for Western tastes.

Nongkran Daks:    Thai food is really, many of them derived from Chinese, so the Chinese they, even though when we cook it, we leave out the cornstarch. For example, if you stir-fry, let's say shrimp and asparagus, the Chinese would add some cornstarch with water in it and they end up cooking. But we just stir-fry the shrimp and asparagus and season with salt, a little bit of oyster sauce, or soy sauce.     Harmony in flavors and textures, for example in the southern chicken curry from southern part of Thailand, which, you know, have very few pepper. It have like, the one I made have seven dry chile pepper and it have six pound of chicken. And so when you, you know, and up, when you made it you end up the curry with very mild but it's very subtle and it have enough other flavors.

Suzy Chase:    So let's talk about pad thai, Thailand's national dish.

Nongkran Daks:    Yes.

Suzy Chase:    How was it competing against Bobby Flay? What did you think when he walked through the door?

Nongkran Daks:    You know, I watch his show before and he is very creative but Thai noodle, pad thai noodle is very traditional and not so much of the ingredient you put in there even though the palm sugar and fish sauce have to be there. If you use white sugar, white vinegar, like so many other people do, the color of the pad thai is not right. But I know that he's very creative. He use so many thing in there. Just like the way he does with everything else. Like-

Suzy Chase:    Soy sauce?

Nongkran Daks:    ... like honey. Yeah, honey, and orange juice and soy sauce. And soy sauce is really a no-no, so-

Suzy Chase:    Right.

Nongkran Daks:    You know, while we were making it, you know, he put soy sauce in there and I know for sure that I'm going to win. I said, "Oh, soy sauce." And then they said, "There is something in here that it does not belong to pad thai."

Suzy Chase:    Yeah.

Nongkran Daks:    So he rolled his eyes.

Suzy Chase:    Yeah. Well, Saturday night I made your recipe for pad Thai from page 114. Nongkran Daks:    Oh, wow.

Suzy Chase:    So, it turned out the sweet, sour, and salty flavors-

Nongkran Daks:    Yes.

Suzy Chase:    ... were all there.

Nongkran Daks:    Yes.

Suzy Chase:    And the color was good. But my noodles were kind of soft and dry.

Nongkran Daks:    Oh.

Suzy Chase:    Do you think it's because I soaked them in hot water?

Nongkran Daks:    Warm water, that is really, you know, for noodle soup.

Suzy Chase:    Oh, okay.

Nongkran Daks:    But yeah, matter of fact, Bobby Flay did the same thing. He blanche it in hot water, so it's mushy and it's kind of stick together.

Suzy Chase:    Right.

Nongkran Daks:    So, matter of fact, on the show, I have to lend him my noodles. And so he said, "Let do over! Do over!" So it become mushy and also when you start to do it you just have to kind of prepare the noodle to be ready to absorb the sauce that you already pre-cook. So that is a thing that most people fail because, you know, they soak, they do the noodles, you know, in hot water.

Suzy Chase:    Well, next time I'll know.

Nongkran Daks:    Yeah.

Suzy Chase:    So, I heard that pad thai was invented in the 1940s by a Thai Chinese man who was in a contest to make a Chinese ingredient like noodles more Thai.

Nongkran Daks:    Yes.

Suzy Chase:    And he won by using all Thai seasonings. Is this true?

Nongkran Daks:    Yes. It's true. You know, the Chinese trader came to Thailand in 17th centuries and with them, of course, they brought the knowledge of, you know, making noodles and brought a wok with them. The matter of fact I think is more popular here in America and European countries. My niece live in Australia and she told me that, you know, there is the Thai restaurant every single block. And in each restaurant, of course, there is pad thai.     Where we live, in Virginia, I found pad thai in Vietnamese restaurant, Chinese restaurant. Matter of fact, there is pad thai in Chinese restaurant almost next door to me and, of course, you know, finally they had to take off the menu because my is right there, you know, a few feet away from him.

Suzy Chase:    Where can we find you on the web?

Nongkran Daks:    www.thaibasilchantilly.com.

Suzy Chase:    Well thanks for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.

Nongkran Daks:    Thank you so much, you know. Nice to talk to you. And thank you for inviting me.

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