Noy Farrell doesn't use pesticides in her garden. The chef/co-owner of Taste of Thailand uses ladybugs and beer instead. The ladybugs eat the insects that try to devour her greens and herbs, and a shallow bowl of beer attracts -- and kills off -- any snails.
Noy's primary garden is located behind the home in northeast Denver that she shares with her husband, Rick. The Farrells also have plants in a few windowboxes outside Taste of Thailand, which is just across the street from the Swedish Medical Center in Englewood.
The tag line on Taste of Thailand's business cards is "from our garden to your plate...," and the cuisine lives up to that promise. Right now, the Farrells are offering a seasonal variation on kow tom soup known as Garden Blossoms that's definitely farm-to-table -- or at least garden-to-table -- and will only be offered (in this form) for two more weeks.
The kitchen starts with fresh herbs (cilantro, garlic scapes and onion) harvested from the Farrells' home garden, and simmers them with a little soy sauce, ginger and oyster sauce. Then more vegetables from the garden -- spinach, radishes and Swiss chard -- are thrown in, along with tofu. Finally, flowers from coriander, chives and cilantro plants, as well as more onion, garlic and cilantro, are added. The result? A soup with big flavor that's substantially local.
Noy grew up in Northern Thailand, where she taught English before coming to the United States in 1985. She worked for a refugee resettlement program just outside Boston, and then moved to Denver in 1989 after marrying Rick, a teacher. She taught Thai cooking classes at Colorado Free University before the couple opened their own restaurant in 1994.
And just as their business has grown, so has their garden, where Rick does most of the work. It's just a "regular lot home site," Noy says. But there's not much grass left on it these days. Much of the garden is devoted to herbs and greens, which will supply the Taste of Thailand kitchen until the first frost. Fresh mint already tops the mango and shrimp salad, while lemongrass is brewed for the iced ginger-lemongrass tea.
The Farrells have also planted many vegetables that won't mature until later this summer, including tomatoes and green beans. Beginning in August, they'll also have chile peppers. Spicy peppers are a staple in Thai cuisine; they're used in such dishes as basil shrimp, pad pik (spicy beef stir-fry), som tum (fresh papaya salad) and Taste of Thailand's larb nua, a diced-meat salad that's one of our 100 Favorite Dishes.
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Noy strives to use every part of her garden plants. With cilantro, for example, the leaves go into soup and stir-frys and serve as garnish. The flowers can also be garnishes, as well as add flavor; the stems are chopped fine for salads. And finally, the roots are smashed and put into meat marinades.
But she's not done with the plants yet. At the end of every night, Noy brings home a crate of food scraps that become compost -- future fodder for more delicious table-to-garden-to-table dishes at Taste of Thailand.