Cans of coconut milk, packages of noodles, and curry pastes of all flavors and colors line the shelves. Kanakum Lawson, whose friends call her Kim, sits behind the register, a small, simply-bound book to her right: “My Mom’s Homemade Thai Recipe Book” by Kanakum Lawson.
Lawson, who operates Asian Market in Provo, has a reputation for sharing simple secrets of Thai cooking. What began as quickly-written notes and word-of-mouth explanations evolved into a writing project that continues to grow.
Originally from Bangkok, Thailand, Lawson moved to the United States in 1981 for school. In the US, she found both a husband and a religion. In 1987, she began her life in Utah.
Formerly, she ran a Thai restaurant and a pizza restaurant in Salt Lake City. However, Lawson explained, running a restaurant is very demanding and requires relying on a lot of employees. She wanted to do something herself, something simpler, and started Asian Market in Provo, a small food store focused on providing basics for Asian cooking.
“I like to meet a lot of people and talk to them,” says Lawson.
She likes to find out where people are from and also to talk to them about Thai food. Lawson said she quickly realized that many of her customers had never cooked Thai food before.
She started sharing easy recipes with customers and they would come back for more. They also started sending friends. Lawson recalls writing out recipes for customers in her check-out line. Sometimes customers would lose the recipes and come back asking her to write out the recipes again.
“Cooking Thai food is not difficult at all,” says Lawson.
However, there is one catch to creating Thai recipes. Measuring. Lawson says that Thai people don’t really measure when they cook. “They go by taste,” making things sweeter, saltier, or tangier as needed. In order to develop recipes, Lawson carefully watched her mother cooking and took measurements of ingredients.
Because so many people were interested in her recipes, Lawson decided to create a recipe book in 2009, about three or four months after opening Asian Market. Lawson’s goal in writing the book was to “make it simple.” She didn’t want people to think they needed dozens of exotic recipes to cook good Thai food.
The book costs only $5.79 and contains over a dozen recipes, written out in simple steps. Lawson binds the book herself and sells it in her store. If customers only want a recipe or two, she’ll make a copy of the recipe for free.
“I’m not in the business to sell a book,” says Lawson. “I want [the book] cheap enough that everyone can afford it and cook.”
True to her word, Lawson declined an offer to reprint the book with color photos and other additions that would increase its selling price. Like her recipes, her book remains simple but usable.
When asked what she would consider her motto, Lawson chose, “The best thing in life is to help each other.” Lawson enjoys sharing secrets of Thai food, a cuisine she says is becoming popular because of its great flavors.
To find out some of Lawson’s easy recipes or just to pick up a new bottle of fish sauce, check out Asian Market at 291 East 300 South in Provo. To get you started, here is one of Lawson’s recipes.
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 can coconut milk (mae ploy)
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 ½ Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup roasted peanuts or cashews
2 (optional) carrots (peel, cut into 1” long pieces)
3 Tbsp masaman curry paste
1-1 ½ lbs chicken or beef (cut into stew-size pieces)
2 Tbsp tamarind liquid
2-3 medium size potatoes (cut up into big chunks of 6 pieces)
Tips: Masaman tastes great if you let it sit overnight so that the spices penetrate the meat and potatoes. I find that the tastes don’t come together until the next day.
1. On medium heat, put vegetable oil in a pot, then add masaman curry paste. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.
2. Add 1/3 can of coconut milk, stir-fry for 4-5 minutes until they are bubble red
3. Add chicken or beef, stir-fry for about 5-8 minutes
4. Add the rest of coconut milk and ¾ can of water (using coconut milk can)
5. If using chicken, you can add the potatoes, carrots now
6. If using beef, simmer for 30 minutes or until beef is tender, then add potatoes, carrots
7. Add fish sauce, sugar, tamarind liquid, roasted peanuts or cashews
8. Simmer for 30 minutes. If curry sauce is too thick, add a little water. If it’s too much liquid, simmer longer to thicken it
9. Remove from heat
10. As always, taste it and if you find that the recipe is too mild, add a little fish sauce or sugar or tamarind to suit your personal taste. If it’s too spicy, use a little less curry paste next time. Adjusting this recipe until it’s perfect for you! Enjoy!