“Everyone’s favorite Thai mom” dishes on her new cookbook, pantry essentials and the kitchen tools she can’t live without—plus shares a delicious recipe for coconut pancakes.
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piece Pepper Teigen cooking on a designed background
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If you follow Chrissy Teigen's website, social media accounts and cookbooks, you know what a big influence her mom, Vilailuck—aka Pepper—is on all aspects of her life, especially her cooking. And now Pepper has her own cookbook, The Pepper Thai Cookbook: Family Recipes from Everyone's Favorite Thai Mom, in which she shares favorite recipes and the stories behind them. She told EatingWell.com that Chrissy helped inspire her to put the recipes that she cooks from memory down in writing. 

Family is an important theme throughout the cookbook, which details dishes from Pepper's childhood in Thailand and the meals she made when she first arrived in the United States—including her best attempts to recreate the flavors of home with the ingredients available in American supermarkets—as well as favorite dishes of Chrissy, her husband, John Legend, and their children, Luna and Miles. Pepper says she learned so much from her own mom by cooking with her and being a "helping hand," a practice that she continued with her daughters and now with her grandchildren. 

"She didn't cook American food until she came here but she did her best to learn so she could make meals that her American family would love," Chrissy writes in the forward to the book. "After she fed us, she'd cook a separate Thai meal for herself, from scratch, using whatever Asian-ish ingredients she could find at our local grocery store in Utah, Washington, Idaho, Ohio or wherever we were living at the time. Mom's food looked different and smelled different—honestly, I was a little embarrassed about it when I was young. But, all along, it was this hidden treasure that really ended up inspiring me to be the cook I am today. I can't imagine my life without having experienced the flavors, spices and comforting aromas of Mom's cooking."

In the foreword, Chrissy calls out one of her favorite dishes of her mom's: this recipe for Kanom Krok (Thai Coconut Pancakes), which Pepper is also sharing here with EatingWell.com. "They were the first thing I cooked with Chrissy," Pepper told EatingWell. "Luna loves making them now." She said that when she now makes the pancakes with Luna she is full of memories of making them with her own mother and grandmother. "In our family, kanom krok is a tradition that is passed down from mother to daughter," Pepper says in the recipe's headnote. "My grandma taught my mom, and my mom taught me. Even before we were allowed to use the stove, my sisters and I would play in the dirt and pretend we were making little mud pie versions of kanom krok. When Chrissy and Tina were little, I taught them how to make the pancakes so they were just the right texture. They were really skilled at it, too! It was the perfect food for us to cook and eat together. When I was working on this book, Luna got to make her first kanom krok, ladling the batter in the hot pan and watching the edges bubble. She was a natural, so it must be in our genes." 

In addition to reminiscences about cooking with her family, Pepper shared some insightful tidbits about her own cooking that are well worth incorporating into your own kitchen repertoire:

Cooking & Kitchen Tips from Pepper Teigen

What do you always keep your pantry stocked with? 

"Fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, coconut milk and chile peppers," says Pepper. Her favorite fish sauce brand is Red Boat, she says. She also travels with fish sauce, chiles and MSG, she relates. In addition to these flavor-boosting ingredients, she says that vegetables are the most important element of her cooking.

Buy: Red Boat Hot Sauce ($7.50 from Thrive Market with membership).

What's your favorite quick and easy weeknight meal?"Every Friday, we do a fridge cleanout meal," she says, using whatever odds and ends are in the fridge to make a stir-fry—half an onion, bacon, ham or whatever protein is on hand, leftover rice and so forth. She adds that the great thing is that it's customizable, so she can amp it up with fish sauce, pickled condiments and chiles. (Check out the brilliant "Queen of Leftovers" section of the book for a full Fridge-Cleaning Fried Rice recipe.)

What are the kitchen tools and appliances you can't live without?

"My knife, my wok and my mortar and pestle," Pepper says. She uses her stone mortar and pestle to mash garlic and chiles and to make papaya salad. The flavors and aromas ingredients like garlic and chiles release when mashed with a stone mortar and pestle are incomparable versus, say, using a food processor. "The aroma is so good," she says. "I can't live without it." It's such an important tool in Thai cuisine that Pepper says, "When your daughter gets married it's the first thing you give them as a gift. I brought mine from Thailand." 

Buy: Chef'n Mortar & Pestle with Silicone Base ($40 from Food52)