I hadn’t cooked for a month. Since I’d been working as a journalism trainer for an IMMF course on the Changing Role of Women in Asia, I’d barely stepped foot into my kitchen. I found a few new restaurant gems in surprising places, but truthfully I’m thoroughly sick of eating out for a while.
Yet it was a month of culinary education, which has taken me straight to the source — to the Samutsakorn shrimp market, where Burmese migrants work horrific hours peeling shrimp; to the Hmong village of Nong Hoy Kao, which grows the vegetables I buy at the Royal Project store near our home; to the tiny mountain village of Nor Lae, where I ate a tasty bowl of noodles and waved to the Burmese soldiers across the border (nothing more than a wooden fence, a few military bunkers and a grassy strip of no-man’s land). I’ll be posting more about these trips right here, as well as directing you to the Gourmet blog for more news from me.
The month ended. We held a lovely graduation ceremony and outdoor dinner on Friday night, and the participants have since flown home to Bangkok, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Jerry and I celebrated on Saturday with an hors d’oeuvre dinner of Alaskan smoked salmon, Edam cheese, corn chips (for my wheat-sensitive belly), green olives, Lebanese black sesame hummus and a bottle of Faiveley Bourgogne Aligote, which we had picked up in Phnom Penh last trip.
Sunday we hiked up the mountain to a Hmong village of wooden huts along a dirt road not far at all from the hustle of Chiang Mai. Kids played in the dirt, wearing their traditional embroidered attire — not for tourists; it’s what they really wear. The mountain smelled of trees in bloom, of fresh air. The Hmong live in a distant world, so close to the noise and smog down here.
When we returned home, I cooked. Here’s a Mediterranean take on Chinese smashed cucumbers:
3-4 large cucumbers, peeled
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon rice vinegar or lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh plain yogurt
pinch of salt
In small fry pan or wok, brown the garlic. Add the cumin seeds and heat until toasted, but be careful not to burn. Set aside.
Slice the cucumbers once lengthwise, then chop into chunks. Using a large mortar and pestle or other appropriate device, smash the chunks until slightly broken but not pulverized. (Smashing the cucumber is a popular technique used in Chinese cucumber dishes. It allows the cucumbers to soak up the flavors of the salad exceptionally well.) Add garlic and cumin, then all of the remaining ingredients. Stir well and let sit half an hour. Taste before serving and add a drizzle or pinch of any ingredient that hasn’t balanced nicely with the others. Enjoy!