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A Thai kitchen in Greencastle

April 02, 2006

Woman prepares only authentic dishes

By KRISTIN WILSON

kristinw@herald-mail.com

Ranjaun Plowman-Render is a purist.

The only food she cooks in her kitchen is authentic Thai food.

But the native Thai woman wouldn't have it any other way.

"I grew up with (Thai) food, so I can't live without it," says Plowman-Render, who lives east of Greencastle, Pa.

As the oldest of five children, Plowman-Render took over cooking duties in her family's kitchen when she was about 10 years old. She remembers with a smile her first cooking job: she was in charge of starting the fire in her family's charcoal stove. The stove was open and she would sometimes get burned, she says.

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Rice is a staple of Thai cuisine and Plowman-Render started by cooking the rice for her family's meals. She eventually graduated to cooking the main dishes.

Today, Plowman-Render delights in sharing her culinary heritage with her American friends, her husband and daughter.

Lisa Frank, who also lives outside of Greencastle, is a fan of Plowman-Render's cooking.

"I think she puts the love that's in her heart into her cooking," Frank says. Phat Thai (pronounced "pot tie"), a main dish that mixes rice noodles, vegetables, eggs, meat and chopped peanuts, is Frank's favorite.

"It's really good and she enjoys doing it," Frank says. "I love nuts, so that's my favorite part of it - it incorporates the peanuts."

Frank, her daughter and her husband also love Plowman-Render's egg rolls.

The made-from-scratch egg rolls are so popular, that Plowman-Render gives them as gifts to neighbors and friends on different occasions, including as Christmas gifts.

Thai food is notoriously spicy, but Plowman-Render prepares many of her dishes with a mild spice, serving hot peppers on the side to add spice as desired. Phat Thai is one of the more mild Thai dishes, she explains. However, hot peppers could be sprinkled on top.

Plowman-Render recently talked about her cooking.

Q: When you have made this phat Thai for your American friends, what did they say about this dish?

A: Oh, they loved it. I've got one friend, she begged me to cook it for her, and to show her how to cook. Most American people like phat Thai.

Q: Do you have a favorite thing to eat? Obviously, you said Thai food is pretty much the only thing you eat.

A: I like just about everything in Thai food. All of them would be my favorite, if you ask me.

Q: And definitely spicy.

A: Right, definitely spicy.

Q: Are you often cooking?

A: All my life! I mean, all the time I'm in the kitchen. I love to be in the kitchen. I usually have parties for no reason. I say, 'Come on over to my house and we'll have dinner.' I like to invite friends, especially American friends. They love it. They have never eaten like this.

Q: Your husband must be very happy.

A: He's happy with his food, yes. I hope he's happy with me, too!

Q: You mentioned that you don't really have recipes, you just know it all in your head.

A: Yes, I know it all in my head. Because I cook so much, it turns out just right.

Phat Thai

Phat Thai is a traditional Thai dish found throughout the southeast Asian country of Thailand, says Ranjaun Plowman-Render. The dish, a mixture of rice noodles, vegetables, chopped peanuts and meat, can be found in many Thai restaurants and is sometimes spelled pad Thai. Phat Thai can be made with different kinds of meat, including pork or beef. It also can be made with shrimp or as a strictly vegetarian dish.

16 ounces rice noodles, medium size

1 heaping tablespoon of tamarind (see note)

1/2 cup canola oil

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 chicken breasts, sliced thin

4 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 eggs

1 medium onion, sliced thin

3 tablespoons seasoning salt

2 tablespoons fish sauce

4 tablespoons black soy sauce

1 cup roasted peanuts, crushed

3 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 pound bean sprouts

1 medium carrot, sliced lengthwise into 3-inch strips

Soak noodles in enough warm water to cover. In a separate bowl, soak the tamarind in 1/4 cup of water. Soak both for at least 30 minutes. Drain noodles. Heat the oil in frying pan over high heat. Add garlic, chicken, sugar and pepper. Stir occasionally until chicken is cooked. Once chicken is done, break the eggs into the frying pan. Stir to break up the eggs.

Reduce heat. Add noodles, onion, seasoning salt, fish sauce and black soy sauce, stirring well. Add the tamarind juice, peanuts, green onions, bean sprouts and carrots. Stir together. Transfer to a serving dish.

Serves six.

Note: Tamarind is the pulp found in tamarind pods native to Africa and found in India and Southeast Asia. The pulp of the tamarind bean pods gives food a sweet and sour flavor. Tamarind pulp is sold as a paste that must be submerged in water. After soaking, press the softened pulp and liquid through a strainer over a bowl to separate the usable diluted pulp from the seeds and fibers. Reserve the soaking water also.

Plowman-Render finds all the ingredients for this dish at the Greencastle Coffee Roasters store, 164 E. Baltimore St., Greencastle, Pa.

- Recipe by Ranjaun Plowman-Render

By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Ranjaun Plowman-Render has been cooking since she was about 10 years old. One of her most popular dishes is phat Thai, a dish that includes noodles, vegetables, eggs, meat and chopped peanuts.

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