Students learn authentic Thai cooking techniques at Common Ground

Tuesday, Caswell was teaching her class of cooking students how to create Rad Na in her Thai Cooking Class at Common Ground on the Hill's Traditions Week.

As instructor Pornsuree "Roj" Caswell filled the Union Street Church in Westminster with the smell of frying pork and soy sauce, she told the class of a dozen culinary students about some of the peculiarities of eating in Thailand.

"There, you'll see people cooking food on the side of the street, cooking outside," Caswell said. "It's the same food, and is actually often much better, than what you'll find in the restaurants."


Tuesday, Caswell was teaching about 12 students how to create rad na in her Thai Cooking Class at Common Ground on the Hill's Traditions Week. The dish combines pork, vegetables, mushrooms, soy sauces and other ingredients to create a pork gravy soup. Caswell said the dish is a comfort food for many Thai families.

The students took a hands-on role in creating the meal, chopping vegetables, slicing meat and washing mushrooms and more before Caswell combined everything in a wok on the church kitchen's gas stove. Throughout the class, she gave tips on how to create an authentic dish from selection of imported Thai foods, to the proper chopping and frying methods.

Until she moved to the U.S. two years ago, Caswell lived in northeastern Thailand in the Loei Province. There, she learned to cook from her mother and the owners of a market next door. While hosting the class, she gave pieces of her mother's advice, from adding bamboo shoots to the dish to using an egg in case the dish gets too soft.

For student Katie Thomas, the class was a chance to add to her recipe file. Each student was given a selection of the recipes that would be taught in the class along with tips on how to recreate it at home.

"I'm a newlywed, and I was looking for new recipes that I can make for us," Thomas said. "My husband loves spicy food, and you can't go wrong with Thai."

Not everyone learning how to cook had plans to continue making the dishes after the class. Carol Coley, of Taneytown, said she doesn't cook often, but Thai food is one of her favorite things to eat. She said this is her first time ever taking a cooking class of any type.

"This way I can learn about Thai food so I have a greater appreciation and better understanding of it when I go out to a Thai restaurant," she said.

This is the second time taking a Thai cooking class for Linda Buddemeier, of Howard County. A decade ago, she took another course while visiting her sister in Thailand. She said she likes to try new things, and wanted to experience authentic Thai food again. On Monday, the class learned how to create sticky rice, which was a new experience for her, while the rad na lesson brushed up on skills she learned long ago.

Caswell said she has never taught a formal class before, but has shown friends how to cook Thai dishes before in her home.

She said she was nervous, but the past two days have gone well. To prepare for the week, she had to travel to an Asian food market in Falls Church, Virginia, to gather all of the necessary ingredients. For many students, though, she said these long trips aren't necessary.

"It's getting so that you can find almost anything in your local grocery stores," Caswell said. "That way you can keep making these dishes at home."