If you ask Pepper Teigen why she decided to write her book, The Pepper Thai Cookbook: Family Recipes from Everyone's Favorite Thai Mom, she doesn't hesitate. "Oh, because Chrissy made me do it," she says with a big laugh. "She loves all of my food but gets so annoyed with me that I can't tell her a recipe. The way I cook is a little bit of this, a dash of that. Chrissy wanted me to write it all down exactly."
Chrissy is, of course, Chrissy Teigen—Pepper's daughter, model turned culinary celeb, and cookbook author. Growing up, Chrissy was Pepper's eager assistant chef, wrapping fresh spring rolls by the hundreds, tossing together sweet and spicy stir-fry dishes, and slow-simmering the garlic- and ginger-laden rice porridge (Jok Moo) that both mom and daughter love for breakfast. "In the kitchen, I taught Chrissy everything she knows," says Pepper, with a sly giggle that suggests she's only half joking.
Pepper, in turn, learned from her mother—"the best cook of all time," in Pepper's estimation—who worked in the school cafeteria in Korat, Thailand, where Pepper was born and raised. "From the time I was very young, I was going with my mom to the market before the sun was up, chopping vegetables, and peeling so many, many papayas," she says. Decades later, after she moved to the United States, Pepper put that early training to good use, working the stove at her then husband's tavern in Snohomish, WA, where she enticed the locals' taste buds with Thai flavors like lemongrass, fish sauce, coconut milk, and, of course, chile peppers. "It was the customers at the bar who gave me the name Pepper," she says. (Her given name is Vilailuck.) "Everything I made for them was so spicy—even the spaghetti."
Pepper still feels most at home in the kitchen, where she finds joy cooking for Luna and Miles, the children of Chrissy and her husband, musician John Legend. She lives with them in L.A., tending her garden full of Thai basil, lemongrass, and chiles, and serving the fried rice, chile chicken wings, and garlic ribs the kids frequently request. They all travel together as well, and no matter where they go, Pepper is ready to dole out grandma love in the form of homey Thai meals. "I pack my sauces and bring everything with me," she says. "Even when we are in another country, the kids like my food. They really love it." And who could blame them?
Serve the same beloved dishes Pepper serves her family with these delicious Thai recipes.
Buy It: The Pepper Thai Cookbook: Family Recipes from Everyone's Favorite Thai Mom ($17, Amazon)
"I learned to make this dish back in Thailand," Pepper says. Her trick is shallow-frying the cashew nuts and chile peppers first."It gives the best crunch and roasted flavor."
Traditionally, this tasty combo is made with Chinese broccoli, but because her family loves the Western tree-shape variety so much, Pepper adapted the recipe. Luna will devour it even if Pepper omits the beef.
Preportioned and portable, these wraps often show up on Pepper's party menus. The sticky part comes courtesy of Vietnamese fish sauce caramel, made by cooking down the umami-packed liquid with brown sugar to form a syrupy glaze.
Pepper prefers to make her own chile powder and sees it as essential for adding both earthy notes and heat to her shrimp wraps. She recommends Thai, árbol, or japones chiles. Toast them until dark reddish brown, then let them cool completely before grinding with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Mixed leafy greens in a sweet-salty-spicy sauce show off Pepper's favorite pan. "In a big, hot wok, it takes less than five minutes for the vegetables to get tender, but they keep a crisp bite," she says.
Buy It: Professional Carbon Steel Wok ($37, Sur La Table)
You've no doubt heard of pad Thai, but in Thailand kids love Mama, which is made with the Mama brand of instant noodles. Pepper doctors hers with fresh veggies, pork, oyster sauce, and soy, seasoning it with the flavor packets at the end.
Buy It: Mama Instant Noodles, Tom Yum Shrimp Spicy Flavor, Pack of 20 ($25, Walmart)