Whether you’re on the street side in Chiang Mai sipping a bowl of khao soi noodles or enjoying a Michelin-starred Thai meal at an upscale Bangkok restaurant, the memories of these powerful and balanced flavors will stay with you for a long time. after your departure. the country.
Vilailuck “Pepper” Teigen knows this all too well. Mother of model, TV personality and entrepreneur Chrissy Teigen, Pepper immigrated to Utah from Thailand’s northeast Isaan region in the early 1980s.
For years, she says she tried to replicate the flavors of the house, struggling to find ingredients in the small American town where she lived.
“When I had baby Chrissy, I remember going to a little market,” she told CNN in a recent video interview.
“I was the only Asian in this small town – Delta, Utah – where Chrissy was born and I asked ‘Can you bring some bean sprouts and lemongrass please?’ And they did. But other than that I had to walk 100-200 miles just to get gaprao (Thai basil). ”
Today, Pepper lives in Los Angeles with Chrissy, her son-in-law John Legend and their two children, Luna and Miles. She regularly makes cameos on their Instagram feeds, often appearing in the kitchen cooking alongside Chrissy or her grandchildren, or joining them on their travels.
“It’s kind of like having a baby again!” Pepper says of his new book. “The same feeling. I’m so excited and a little nervous.”
The book presents dishes from several regions of Thailand. But Pepper gives some of them their own twist – pad Thai Brussels sprouts, anyone? – while also including other family staples like scalloped potatoes, the first “American dish” she learned to make.
“Our family loves to eat,” says Pepper. “So I have my favorites from Isaan (in the book) because that’s where I’m from. It is my most favorite flavor. And then my family love to explore some dishes from the north and south of Thailand.
“Do not be afraid”
Thai cookbooks can often be intimidating for home chefs, depending on ingredient availability or personal dietary restrictions.
But Pepper knows from experience that adaptations are often inevitable and just wants people to have fun in the kitchen, saying she is regularly asked for advice on how to make Thai recipes healthier or more vegetarian.
Vilailuck “Pepper” Teigen
“Don’t be afraid,” she said enthusiastically. “I worked really hard with the help of the writer (Garrett Snyder) so we figured it out. It’s easy and simple.”
What was not easy, however, was having to document the measurements for each recipe. Pepper says a lot of what she does in the kitchen is based on instinct, so she had to figure out how much of each ingredient she actually used.
“It all comes from my head, so the measurement, the weight… that was the biggest challenge. When I made it on my own, I didn’t need a recipe – when I needed two tablespoons, I made it without measuring. But I tested it myself. It was almost exactly perfect every time. ”
Explore the tastes of Isaan
Pepper grew up in the small town of Nakhon Ratchasima – informally known as Korat – in Isaan, where his grandparents were rice farmers.
This region is renowned for offering some of Thailand’s greatest culinary hits, including larb (a spicy minced meat salad) and som tum (papaya salad). (See Pepper’s Fried Chicken Larb recipe at the end of this function.)
These bold and intense flavors have always been a part of Pepper’s life. The oldest of five, she says she was in third grade when she started helping her mother, who worked in a school canteen.
“I started going to the market with my mom and came back around 5 or 6 in the morning and just started the preparations,” she recalls. “I was my mother’s sous-chef before I could go to school. At lunchtime, I had to come and help him sell, like a food vendor.
Pepper believes Thailand’s reputation for food obsession is deserved, with the question ‘gin kao yung’ – have you ever eaten – a constant in everyday conversations.
“Thais tend to eat all day,” she laughs. “A little here, a little there. The food is everywhere. The aroma of street food hits you as soon as you step out in the morning.”
Even though it’s been decades since she left Isaan, Pepper says she has to eat Thai food once a day – which can get tricky given how often she’s on the road with Chrissy, John and children.
“Every time we travel, I start packing chili peppers, a krok (mortar and pestle for crushing ingredients like chili peppers and garlic), instant noodles, chili powder, fish sauce,” she says. “Traveling for me is very difficult because I have to eat Thai.”
Luckily, she says her Grammy-winning son-in-law is an adventurous eater who isn’t afraid to try new flavors.
“John is so good!” she said when asked if he could handle spicy food. “He can eat all things with me. It’s a really good sport. He tries everything. When we were back in my hometown, he tried all the bugs in the bug cart.”
Pepper acknowledges that it is difficult to travel with her famous daughter and son-in-law given the attention they attract, but feels honored to have received such a warm welcome in her hometown – she even received a key to the town of Korat from a local. officials.
“I’m so glad people recognized me,” Pepper says. “To be a little girl who goes to the market every day, to be a mother … and look at me now.”
Introduce your grandchildren to Thai flavors
During her visit to Thailand, Pepper says she must always have a bowl of boat noodles.
When asked to choose the first thing she eats when getting off the plane in Bangkok, there is no hesitation.
“Ahhh, Chrissy and I have to go get some boat noodles!” she said, referring to kuai tiao ruea – small bowls of beef or pork noodles with a hearty broth accompanied by herbs and vegetables.
The name is derived from the original vendors who once paddled through the canals and rivers of Bangkok and surrounding areas, cooking bowls of steaming noodles right in their boats. Today they are also served in restaurants, but you can still enjoy the classic floating version.
While Chrissy might be a huge fan of Thai food now, Pepper says that wasn’t always the case.
In the intro to her book, she notes how her famous daughter always wanted American dishes like grilled cheese and pizza as a child. But as Chrissy grew older, she started asking for all those Thai dishes that she had grown up cooking and eating with Pepper.
Pepper’s grandchildren, meanwhile, already have their own Thai favorites, which are included in the book.
“They love my food! They always ask for it and I love to do it, I’m so happy. Luna advised me this morning, ‘Tell them I love your joke’,” said Pepper, sharing the advice of her five-year-old granddaughter told her what to discuss during the interview with CNN.
Pepper says his fried chicken is also a hit, and Miles, who is almost three, especially likes his ribs – with lots of garlic.
These days, Pepper doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles for its ingredients. She says she has a garden full of fresh produce, while other items are easy to find in Los Angeles, allowing her to cook all of her favorite Thai dishes at home.
And as the Thai-American embarks on her final journey as a cookbook author, she says Chrissy has been a huge source of support and solace along the way, encouraging her to share her recipes with the world. .
“She’s so proud of me,” Pepper said, bursting into her signature smile.
Recipe: Pepper Fried Chicken Larb
Pepper fried chicken larb.
Jenny Huang / Clarkson Potter
For 2 to 4 people
FOR THE DRESSING
– 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
– 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
– 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar
– 1 tablespoon of grilled rice powder, store-bought or homemade
– 1 teaspoon of roasted chili powder
FOR THE BIG
– 6 fried chicken fillets (about 12 ounces), sliced, or 3 cups ground fried chicken
– 1 medium shallot or ½ red onion, halved and thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
– 4 green onions, thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)
– ¼ cup packed coriander leaves
– ¼ cup torn mint leaves
– Cooked sticky rice or jasmine rice
Prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar, rice powder and chili powder until combined. Put aside.
Make the larb: Preheat the oven to 400 ° F. Spread the chicken out on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the hot chicken, shallot, green onions, cilantro and mint, then slowly pour dressing over top while stirring. Mix gently but carefully. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. The larb should be tangy, salty and a little spicy (like me).
Serve immediately with rice.
Book Photographs Copyright © 2021 by Jenny Huang. Posted by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.