Hello and sawadee ka! I’m Louise, a mixed NZ/Thai actress and improviser, Lecoq-trained theatre maker, and scuba instructor/diving enthusiast. Lulu&lemongrass is my personal collection of recipes, photos and food experiences. I have always loved cooking, and now as an artist it helps me unblock and keeps the energy flowing while working – whether practicing a monologue, preparing for an audition, making bizarre noises during my daily vocal warmups and Shakespeare workouts, or building a mask or puppet. Cooking and photographing food allows me to lose myself in a different act of creating, and I return to work with renewed energy. Revealing my much loved recipes, with resources and family stories thrown in, I hope you enjoy following my blog!
Notes about my cooking, and my family background…
I use fresh ingredients in as natural a form as possible. I do this because I like to get more nutrients per mouthful, (yes, I’m a vain and greedy actress) and nearly two decades of experimenting with wholefoods has left me with no doubt that this is the way to go, for flavour, quality, staying healthy, and caring for the land.
Mum tells me that the younger generation of Thai people are not making desserts like they used to. They’re changing the ingredients to make them cheaper to produce. The older generation didn’t compromise on taste or quality of ingredients, and they didn’t really have artificial substitutes available. In her eyes there is no comparison. Mum believes that these days the only way to get the same quality is to go for natural ingredients. Fresh pandan leaves will give a much better flavour than using an artificial pandan leaf flavouring. So we would rather use a good quality vanilla essence instead if we can’t get hold of fresh leaves. I have no doubt that she’s right, when I see the faces Mum pulls when talking about the delicious Thai sweets from ‘the old days’. She kind of goes a bit sideways and has an almost pained look on her face, and when she describes them, her eyes are alive and full of excitement.
So in my recipes you will find traditional Thai ingredients, considered essential for Thai recipes – soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, coconut palm sugar, lemons, coriander root, eggs, duck eggs, chilli, sticky rice…
…and in terms of sweeteners, I use raw sugar, just because I’d rather use something that still retains much of its mineral and vitamin content. The same goes for salt. In my family’s eyes, there is nothing exclusive or snobbish about using fancy salt, sugar or sourcing organic or natural products. They were a working class Thai family, still living in the suburbs of Bangkok, where as children they continuously moved from one-room rental accommodation, to one and a sliver of a room rental accommodation because that was what my grandparents could afford for their family of four children. My grandmother left the house every morning before dawn to buy fruit at the market, and would then take up a spot on the street to sell it. Anything left over was brought home for the family. Food was somehow sacred, and something that has never been skimped on. We are pretty much addicted to pink Himalayan salt, Celtic sea salt, and black volcanic salt from NZ (it’s not really black, but dark pink) as well as my favourite – flaky Maldon salt. If we don’t use coconut palm sugar, which is traditionally used in Thai cooking to give the best flavour in desserts, we use whole cane sugar, rapadura, jaggery, or other raw sugars, which give a lovely colour and rich flavour. Sugar is not a regular part of my diet, and I don’t mind using it occasionally for traditional recipes. I use ghee or coconut oil to fry because this is stable at high temperatures, and if you can find a deodorised one that hasn’t had the flavour removed using solvents, it won’t taint the flavour of the food. I make my own ghee and eat it straight from the jar by the tablespoon full as it’s so delicious and full of nutrients. And we use raw apple cider vinegar to make nam som, because this has so many health benefits and tastes great. So please don’t be put off by any marketing hype surrounding these products. I can assure you that they are used in the most humble of kitchens by little Thai ladies who are obsessed with the flavour and quality of their ingredients.
In terms of my photography, I don’t own a high quality camera, so I have to make do. I would love one day to photograph many of my recipes again to a professional standard.