Although I’m a fair hand with several Chinese and Japanese dishes, Asian cooking has never been my strongest suite, so I didn’t hesitate before accepting Steffani Adaska’s invitation to sample her A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School for a class on Thai and Vietnamese cooking. As February is Heart Health Month, these low-fat cuisines are especially appropriate.
The classes are taught in the Bernerhof Inn Bed & Breakfast, which fills an elegant Victorian mansion on Route 302 in Bartlett, NH, near North Conway, in the White Mountains.
As we were donning our aprons and washing our hands, Steffani described the ingredients, which she had arranged on the counter. We recognized most of them: Fish sauce, rice sticks and paper sheets and a selection of fresh herbs and vegetables. But a few were not so familiar: palm sugar (similar to brown sugar, but more delicate), tamarind paste, kaffir lime leaves and galangal and Sriracha, a Souteast Asian chili sauce. We tasted these in turn, and learned how to soak and mash the tamarind paste to strain out the seeds. Galangal is a relative of ginger.
Throughout the lesson, Steffani tossed in cooking shortcuts, information on other ingredients and little details: how to identify the most flavorful coconut milk (the heaviest can), never let coconut milk come to a boil, how to freeze ginger root and grate as needed on a microplane, and more tips.
In the course of three hours we made Vietnamese summer rolls, Pad Thai, chicken satay with peanut sauce and a delicate soup based on coconut milk called Tom Ka Gai. As each was finished, we stopped to eat, accompanying the food with a medium Riesling. We had always chosen beer with most Asian dishes, but the Riesling went very nicely.
We enjoyed each dish and the new flavors, but most of all we enjoyed cooking with Steffani and adding several new tricks and ingredients to our repertoire. The kitchen at Bernerhof Inn Bed & Breakfast is spacious and well equipped, a good home for Steffani’s cooking school. And our overnight stay there was as enjoyable as the class.
Our room had a giant whirlpool tub and a sitting area with comfortable wing chairs, as well as a fireplace. And although we thought we would never be hungry again after the Southeast Asian feast we’d prepared with Steffani, when it was time for breakfast the next morning we found plenty of appetite for the Irish Eggs Benedict, made with a lime-based hollandaise.
A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School offers classes in a wide variety of cuisines and themes, including pasta making, vegetarian, cooking with grains, a traditional New England clam bake, sushi, and the cooking of Provence. Along with Steffani’s own classes, guest chefs teach their specialties.
Vietnamese Summer Rolls
Recipe courtesy of Steffani Adaska, A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School
1 tsp peanut oil
3 oz fresh shitake mushroom caps, sliced
2 oz dried thin Chinese rice sticks (maifun)
6 round rice paper sheets (8-9-inch)
½ cup each, fresh mint, cilantro and Thai basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup each, jicama, carrot and seeded cucumber, cut in matchstick-size strips
½ cup shredded lettuce
9 cooked shrimp (about 4 oz), peeled, deveined and cut in half lengthwise
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp fermented fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tsp unseasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp finely minced jalepeno pepper with seeds
Make sauce at least 30 minutes ahead by whisking all ingredients until sugar dissolves. (Can be made a day ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator)
Heat oil over medium-high heat and sauté mushrooms until soft, about 5 minutes. Cool.
Soak rice sticks in a large bowl with hot water to cover, about 30 minutes until soft. Drain.One by one, soak rice paper sheets about 30 seconds until soft and arrange side-by-side on a towel, making sure each one is flat.Divide herbs evenly in lines across the lower third of each sheet, leaving a 1-inch border at each end for folding. Top with softened rice sticks, compacting into a log. Top with remaining vegetables.
Fold bottom of each rice sheet over filling, then tuck in ends and roll as firmly as possible into tight cylinders.
Place each, seam side down, on platter. (These can be made as much as 6 hours ahead, covered with a damp towel and plastic wrap, then chilled.) To serve, cut each in half diagonally, arrange on plate and serve with dipping sauce.