Multi-hyphenate celeb and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen gets much of her passion for food from her mama–and now her mom, Vilailuck “Pepper” Teigen, is sharing her tips and recipes with the rest of us in her first cookbook. The Pepper Thai Cookbook, co-authored with former Los Angeles food editor Garrett Snyder, showcases Teigen’s fun and flavorful cooking, and runs the gamut from classic Thai dishes to quick-and-easy family dinners that mingle flavors and techniques from across the globe.
Read on for our chat with Pepper Teigen about the inspiration behind her cookbook–and to find her recipe for Miles Tofu Soup, a comforting dish dedicated to one of Teigen’s grandchildren.
Can you tell us a little about your connection to food growing up in Thailand, and what of that tradition you brought with you when you moved to the U.S.?
I’ve been surrounded by food since a really young age. My mother worked as a lunch vendor who sold food every day outside of schools, and starting in third grade I would help her. I would wake up at 2 a.m. to go to the market and would help her prep the food. I still think my mom was one of the best cooks, and I learned so much from her. When I first came to the U.S. it was actually hard to keep my food traditions, because I lived in the U.S. at a time when a lot of Thai ingredients just weren’t that available. I missed Thai food so much! That’s when I started experimenting with trying to use American ingredients for Thai food. When I couldn’t find any papaya, I pounded shredded cabbage and carrots instead.
You write that, when she was young, Chrissy only wanted to eat “American food” but became more interested in Thai dishes as she got older. Can you share a little about that, and how you two connected over food and heritage in that way?
Chrissy has always really loved food, and we would have a lot of fun cooking together even when she was younger. It was important to me to pass down the recipes to my daughters that my mother had taught me. Like most kids, when Chrissy was little, she always wanted American foods like grilled cheese and pizza. But when she was in high school, I moved back to Thailand for a little while, and that’s when Chrissy started to miss Thai food. Before that time, she didn’t ask me how to make things, but then she started asking because she wanted to do it and learn how to make it herself. Now, we are always cooking. We also had so much fun cooking together while she was writing Cravings, and she was the one who actually encouraged me to have my own cookbook for my recipes.
The recipes in the cookbook are certainly rooted in Thai cooking, but they come across as very accessible to a home cook who may be less familiar with that cuisine. Was making the recipes welcoming to a variety of people something you were intentionally striving for?
Yes, very much! I really want to make Thai food accessible to everyone. I think people can be intimidated by cuisines they don’t know about, but with the cookbook, I hope to show that incorporating Thai flavors can actually be really easy. I, of course, have traditional Thai dishes in the book, but I also love to mix Thai flavors with some American dishes like my Nam Prik Moo Sloppy Joes. I hope to show that Thai cooking is very flexible, and people can have fun with these flavors.
Do you have favorite L.A. Thai restaurants or places to shop for your favorite ingredients?
A lot of the time, I love cooking myself, especially if I’m craving Thai food. But when I’m not in the mood to cook, I love Night + Market! I also love going to Bangluck Market and Silom Supermarket in L.A. That’s where I get all my fresh, green papaya.
Miles Tofu Soup
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound ground pork
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 medium carrot, sliced into ½-inch coins
¼ head napa cabbage, cored and roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
8 ounces bok choy, roughly chopped (tough stems trimmed)
2 celery stalks with leaves, chopped
10 ounces medium-firm tofu, drained and cubed
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce or light soy sauce, plus more to taste
Cooked jasmine rice
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves
In a medium bowl, mix together the ground pork, garlic, white pepper, and soy sauce until combined.
In a large pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the carrot. Drop spoonfuls (about 1 tablespoon) of the pork mixture into the broth to make little meatballs. They won’t be perfectly round—that’s okay. Let the meatballs cook for 4 to 5 minutes, skimming away any fat that bubbles to the surface.
Add the cabbage, bok choy, and celery and cook until the bok choy has turned bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tofu and cook for another minute, then remove from the heat.
Season with the salt and fish sauce, tasting and adding more if needed.
Serve the soup with rice, either mixed in or on the side. Garnish with fried garlic and cilantro.
Reprinted from The Pepper Thai Cookbook. Copyright © 2021 by Vilailuck Teigen with Garrett Snyder. Photographs copyright © 2021 by Jenny Huang. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.