Taste of ThaiSunee McKeague, a native of southern Thailand, finds a connection with her home country through her cookin
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
Sunee McKeague, a native of southern Thailand, finds a connection with her home country through her cooking.
Wanting to share Thai cooking with her neighbors in south Washington County, she made her debut, Feb. 19, teaching her first class in Community Education to an appreciative class eager to learn to cook food they’ve only tasted in restaurants.
McKeague grew up learning to cook native food from her father. Later, as a tour guide, she traveled throughout her country learning cuisine from other areas.
But the path of her life changed after she met an American, Karl McKeague. They married and moved to Cottage Grove six years ago because of his job with 3M Co. They have two children.
Food from northern Thailand is hot and spicy; it’s milder in the south where she grew up. In Minnesota, however, traditional northern and central European food tends to be bland.
Maybe it’s because McKeague is becoming a native of Cold Country, but she told her students that she prefers much milder seasoning than she once did.
As she explained how to make pad Thai, a noodle stir-fry dish served hot, spring rolls and golden bags, she talked about ingredients in Thai food including noodles made from rice flour that are the basis of pad Thai.
Some local grocery stores carry rice noodles, sometimes called “grass noodles,” but they are a staple in Asian markets.
Many traditional Thai ingredients such as garlic, cilantro, fish sauce, Thai soy sauce, tamarind and firm tofu can be bought in local stores. Although any chili pepper can be used in Thai food, Thai chili is slightly milder and has seeds in it, McKeague said.
As students got busy at cooking stations at Cottage Grove Junior High School, the smells of garlic and fish sauce filled the air.
There were sounds of cabbage being chopped while McKeague grated carrots for each team. Both are basic ingredients in spring rolls.
Someone suggested using bags of pre-chopped coleslaw in place of freshly chopped cabbage but student Mary Owens resists the idea. “That would make it American Thai cooking,” she said.
Owens and her husband, Doug Shindeldecker, like to cook together.
Working in separate cooking teams, they teased each other throughout the class about competing as “iron chefs,” in the same manner seen on the Food Network television show.
“I love the flavors of Thai food,” said Susan Littrell. “I don’t eat much meat so it’s ideal.”
Nanette LaChapelle said her stepson’s girlfriend is Thai. “I would like to make her a meal,” she said.
Dave Mercowiz said he took the class because he’s taken all the cooking classes offered in Community Education and has given serious thought to taking formal chef training.
As one of the oldest in a family of 11 children, he learned to cook to help take care of the younger children, he said.
As the class came to a close, the dishes, decorated with lime wedges, came to the tables. Soon, everyone was slurping up pad Thai noodles and dipping spring rolls and golden bags in Thai dipping sauce.
“This is much better than McDonald’s food,” McKeague said.