Last fall in Las Vegas, I spent a day in the kitchen at Lotus of Siam with Saipin Chutima. How lucky was I? Her authentic Thai cooking has earned her a legion of fans (such as author Jonathan Gold; see Hot, Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Hot,). I was especially blown away by her nahm prik noom, a fiery, funky northern Thai chile dip served with raw vegetables and fried pork rinds. Saipin's husband, the amiable, professorial Bill Chutima, explained that while ingredients vary from region to region in Thailand, and the stuff itself might be used as either dip or a sauce to be eaten with rice, all such chile-based pastes are called nahm prik; noom is the name for a sweet, mildly hot chile not usually found outside Thailand. (At Lotus of Siam they approximate with banana pepper plus hotter Holland chiles.) The luscious dip came together easily in a mortar; it was mostly a matter of knowing how to handle the ingredients. Charring the chiles mellows them; cilantro stems stand in for cilantro root—also hard to come by in the States—for a sharp herbal kick. "We have no high-end equipment," Bill told me, with evident pride. "We have only the skill of the cook."