Luang Prabang Watercress Salad

imageThis is a delicious salad served all over Laos but particularly in Luang Prabang province. The watercress in LP is crisp and fiery with small round leaves, a special variety unique to the area, and dressing is made with an egg yolk base that has its origins in the French occupation. When I was served this dish it always decorated with sliced hard-boiled egg whites without the centres, no idea why but that’s how it was.

The dressing is cooked in a wok for a few seconds and then poured over the salad so you have to serve it immediately or it will wilt alarmingly.

Ingredients

1 crisp lettuce, such as mini cos

1 large bunch of watercress, the wilder the better

1 handful of mint leaves, stalked removed

1 small handful of coriander leaves

I small handful of dill, chopped roughly

2 spring onions, roughly chopped

4 small fragrant tomatoes, cut into eighths

6 rounds of cucumber cut in half

3 hardboiled eggs, whites only, sliced, (two yolks used in dressing, use the other for something else)

I small handful of chopped roasted peanuts

 

Dressing

3 cloves of garlic finely sliced

2 spring onions, finely chopped

2 tbsp of fish sauce

A little sugar 1/2 teaspoon

The juice of two limes

2 hardboiled eggs, yolk only

Directions

1. Hard boil the eggs in advance, allow them to cool, remove the shells and cut them in half. Remove the yellow centres and then cut the egg whites into slices. Set aside.

2. Assemble the salad ingredients on a plate to your own design.image I usually assemble it in layers so you have to dig in to find the surprise herbs and sprinkle the mint leaves after the dressing as my home grown mint variety turns brown when the hot sauce touches them.

3. Take a small bowl and mix the lime juice, fish sauce and the pinch of sugar (not too much please) and set aside. 

4. Crush the peanuts in a pestle and mortar.image

5. Take the sliced garlic, spring onion and fish sauce and place them in a hot wok. Heat for ten seconds stirring constantly.image

4. Add the cooked egg yolk and meld it into the sauce with the back of a spoon until it disappears into the sauce.image

5. Pour over dressing over the salad and sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

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Toasted Roasted Lao Sticky Rice Powder

imageRoasted Rice Powder is used in laap but also many other Lao recipes. It can be bought in packets in Asian stores but it does not smell the same at all, and tends to be too finely ground for Lao cuisine, so it is better to make it on the day. Here is how to make your own.

1. Place a couple of handfuls of uncooked rice (sticky rice if possible) into a dry wok or skillet on a medium heat.image

2. Roast the rice over a high heat, shaking the wok frequently and stirring with a wooden spoon to cook it evenly.

3. The rice is done when it looks toasted and golden brown (though some Laotians prefer to cook it to a dark brown colour.  This multi-coloured stage below is not quite done and you have to watch it like a hawk as is burns in a flash. When ready transfer the roasted rice to a bowl to cool.image

4. Grind the roasted rice in a coffee grinder or pound in a pestle and mortar to a fine powder. imageStore in a jar with a tight lid for no more than a month.  I also use it as a crunchy coating for fish cakes, fried chicken……..

Lao Barbecued Festival Chicken

dsc_0001_4In Laos these marinated chicken pieces are flattened between split bamboo sticks and barbecued on a wood fire. This tasty salty-lemony-sweet treat is a particular favourite at festivals as the sticks make it easy to devour the smoky chicken on the trot. This is a real winner if you allow it to marinate for long enough and you will eat every morsel from the bones. The wilder the chicken the better, these ‘fatties’ pictured here were hefty free-
range Devon birds which are far less gamey that Lao chicken but still tasty.

6 chicken breasts with bone and skin attached, or better still, 6 poussin, flattened spatchcock style

4 tablespoons of fish sauce (and a teaspoon of paa dek water if possible)

4 teaspoons of sugar

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled

3 stalks of lemon grass, sliced finely

1 birdseye chilli (optional)

4 tablespoons of light soy sauce

  1. Place the chicken pieces on a board and cut three slashes of 1cm deep into each chicken breast with a sharp knife. Place them in a wide bowl. Wash your hands.
  2. Take a small bowl and mix the sugar into the fish sauce by stirring vigorously to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Peel the garlic, slice the lemongrass and (if using, slice the chilli in quarters and wash your hands afterwards or beware the consequences when you touch your mouth or eyes).
  4. Take a pestle and mortar and place the garlic, lemongrass and chilli in the bowl.
  5. Pound the mixture for about five minutes until it makes a rough paste, (add a little more fish sauce/sugar if it is too dry to pound).
  6. Add the fish/sugar liquid and the oil.
  7. Pour the mixture over the chicken and rub all over the pieces, getting into every crevice. Wash your hands and leave to marinate for 24-48 hours in the fridge, so the flavours really soak deep into the meat.  image
  8. Meanwhile put the light soy sauce, into another wide bowl.  When ready to barbeque, place the chicken in the soy sauce and slop it around in the soy.
  9. Barbecue until juices run clear, turning regularly. Check often to avoid burning.  The result is extremely tasty. Serve one poussin/breast per guest with sticky rice, chilli jaew and soup pak greens.

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No BBQ?  use an iron (ridged) griddle, heated over gas.  The sugars in the marinade can burn if the heat is too intense so it is just a question of watching it while you cook.

Mawk Kai – Lao chicken steamed in banana leaf

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This is a fragrant treat for the barbeque on a Summer’s eve. The chicken is pounded with aromatic herbs and wrapped in banana leaf, then barbequed  The chicken steams in the banana leaf and the charcoal adds that faint hint of smokiness that is so frequently found in Lao cuisine. Yum.

Image 1 Ingredients

125g uncooked sticky rice

4 stalks of lemon grass, sliced (or 6 kaffir lime leaves)

8 cloves of garlic

3 shallots, peeled and sliced

2 spring onions (green part only)

10 basil leaves, sliced

500g chicken cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon fish sauce or a tsp salt

2 eggs

Banana leaves

Method

1. Soak the rice in warm water for half an hour or so, rinse three times and drain off the water.

2. Using either a food processor or more traditionally, a pestle and mortar blend or pound the soaked sticky rice, lemongrass, garlic, shallots and spring onions.

3. When the mixture becomes a rough paste, add the chicken and basil and pound/blend again to create a mousse-like texture. Then add the fish sauce and eggs and mix them in with a spoon.

Image 24. Take you banana leaves and wash them. Blanche the banana leaves in boiling water from the kettle. This cleans the leaves and also softens the fibres which helps prevent splitting when you wrap the chicken mixture.

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5. Place a leaf on a chopping board and cut a square about 12cm (6”) wide. Cut away the hard stem, this will help when wrapping.  Add a couple of heaped tablespoons of the chicken in the centre of the leaf. Fold the leaf into a packet and tie with kitchen twine.Image 46. Grill on a BBQ for 5 minutes or so turning half way through. Open one to check it is cooked through and replace on the BBQ for a few minutes more if needed.  Image 9

Serve with sticky rice, greens and jaew, and allow your guests to unwrap their own parcel on their plate like a gift.Image 10

Lao Mushroom Chilli Jaew (mushroom chilli sauce – Jaew Hed)

Image 3I’ve had mushrooms in my veg box for the fifth week running which put me in mind of a recipe taught to me by Seng Sone Darasavath, at the Darasavath guesthouse in the Northern Lao town of Luang Nam Tha.  Seng Sone was an extrovert, thirty-year-old single mother who ran her own business in Laos with canny charm. She spoke English and Chinese and crocheted hats at great speed in between capably multi-tasking the business and looking after her excitable toddler, Micky.

The evening I arrived, she took the time to sit down and introduce herself to me, whilst coping with twenty raucous communist party officials on a drunken night out, and offered to teach me to cook the meal I ate on my first night there – chicken and potato curry, served with a plate of steamed vegetables and two super hot jaew, one made with fermented shrimp paste and another with mushrooms.

Jaew is pounded sauce or rough paste, the main ingredient of which is chilli.  The varieties are endless, and you may wish to try my tomato jaew recipe on my blog link here.  Seng Sone’s jaew was extremely hot; she used twenty bird’s eye chillies for one small bowl, though today I used four, as I didn’t want to my guests to detonate during our barbeque.

Seng Sone had big plans to build another guesthouse and restaurant in the hills ten kilometres away near her family’s poppy fields, and I’m sure a woman of such determination is now the head of a mini-empire in the region. I still have a delicate crocheted hat she presented to me when I left the area and, of course, her recipes to share.

Ingredients

3-4 large flat field mushroomsImage

4 -20 birds eye chillies, seared, stalks removed

1 head of garlic, seared black and then peeled

2 shallots, seared black and then peeled

a little peanut or sunflower oil

½ tsp coarse sea salt

1 tblsp of paa dek or alternatively, Thai fish sauce. (see paa dek notes at the end of the recipe)

10 Basil leaves

Method.

Baste the mushrooms with a little oil and grill until juicy. Set aside.

Spear the chillies, garlic, and shallots on a skewer. Then sear them over an open flame (gas ring or even a candle if desperate) until well they begin to blacken.

Rub off the worst of the soot and discard the onion and garlic skins. Roughly chop up the onion and garlic, leaving the chilli to one side.

Transfer the vegetables to a wok with a little oil and stir fry for 2 minutes stirring constantly.Image 1

Transfer everything to a pestle and mortar in the order below and pound until they turn to rough paste.

First pound the chillies and salt pound to a paste then add the garlic and paa dek (or fish sauce) and keep pounding.

Image 2 Next add the shallots and when they have reached paste form add the sliced grilled mushrooms and pound some more.  You may need a spoon to scrape the mixture around as you pound it.  I prefer the mushrooms to stay in larger lumps so I only pound for about ½ a minute.

Add the basil leaves and pound some more.  Serve with sticky rice.

Image 4Notes on Paa Dek

The famous Paa-Dek of LaosImage 9

Paa-dek is a condiment of fish chunks mixed with brine, rice dust and rice husks. These ingredients are fermented in large pottery jars for up to a year to produce a salty fishy sauce with a pungent aroma.  This may sound a little off putting (remember, we eat fermented mouldy milk) but the taste is very similar to preserved anchovy fillets.  The mixture may be used straight; or the fish chunks are washed of their rice husks and used alone; or the liquid is used without the fish chunks.  I often saw people pour a ladle into a wok with another ladle of water, then hard boil it for a minute, sieve the result and use the flavoured water. Image 5

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You can buy Thai and Philippino versions of paa-dek in jars which will give you the closest similar flavour .

Anchovy sauce

I have also found a good alternative in a thick muddy brown bottled anchovy sauce available in most Asian supermarkets, which you can just splash in to give a near-as- damn-it authentic flavour with the added bonus that it is easier to handle.  Or use English bottled versions made with anchovies and salt (NOT vinegar).

With neither available you can make your own, like many British Laotians do in an emergency.

Home made English Paa Dek water

Place 400ml of fish stock (or half a stock cube with 1/2 litre of water) in a small saucepan with ten tinned anchovy fillets (in oil).  Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes until the anchovies have almost dissolved.  Sieve out the lumps and boil vigorously for another few minutes to produce a salty, muddy brown liquid. Yum.

Lao Green Papaya Salad – Som Tam – dtam mak huhng – tam maak hoong

Image 8Papaya salad in Laos and is always made with paa-dek. It is also a dish of huge popularity in Thailand, particularly in the Northeast, where it has many incarnations, according to the preference of the chef. It can be made with fish sauce instead of paa-dek or shrimp paste and sometimes with added ingredients such as dried prawns, crab, tamarind, chopped green beans and often, sugar. In Laos, I found it tended to be made simply, with unripe green papaya, lime, paa-dek (see directions at the end of the recipe) and no sugar, but it is a recipe that is constantly evolving. In Vientiane, a sour fruit, Mak Kaw (hog plum, a small orange fruit sometimes available in Asian stores) was a popular addition. The dish should be juicy and taste hot, sour, salty, sweet and garlicy with a hint of the piscine. It is very refreshing with a Lao Beer.

Living in the middle of the Dartmoor wilderness, green papayas are hard to find, these were a little on the pink side but hard and sour enough for this dish. Hog fruit? Impossible to find sadly.

Green Papaya Salad

2-6 birdseye chillies

2-4 small cloves of garlic, peeled

a pinch of salt

1 green papaya, skinned and shredded into matchstick thin strips

8 small cherry tomatoes cut into quarters

1 mak kaw fruit (Hog fruit, small round pips orangy flesh) very optional

3 tablespoons of paa-dek water or 1-3 tablespoosn tbspn or so of fish sauce

1 lime – juice of

10 salted peanuts, crushed (optional)

1/2 lime, cut into 8ths, leave the rind on.

Image 6Take a green unripe papaya and peel it with a vegetable peeler. To do this, place a dishcloth in one hand so the fruit does not slip and place the papaya on top of it in your palm. With the other hand use a cleaver or heavy chopping knife to chop at the flesh leaving many roughly parallel cuts.

Image 7 Then cut under the slices from the chopped surface and you will end up with fine shreds. Alternatively, you can use a mandoline or buy a special shredding tool at oriental stores, as I have here.

Now take a pestle and mortar. Add the chilli, garlic and a pinch of salt and pound roughly (about 20 pounds) so the chilli is still in quite large pieces, not a paste.

Then add the papaya and pound gently using a spoon to turn the ingredients in on themselves.

Image 14Add the lime juice and paa-dek (instructions below) or fish sauce. Pound gently, a little more and then add the tomato and the Mak Kaw fruit. The tomato should just be bruised. Pound again and serve with lime wedges. You can add more lime or fish sauce to taste. I like to add a topping of salted peanuts too.

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Look up the English turnip version I was shown by my friend Soun in London in my book – Ant Egg Soup The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos – now out of print but available from me if you wish to buy a signed copy.

The famous Paa-Dek of Laos

Paa-dek is a condiment of fish chunks mixed with brine, rice dust and rice husks. These ingredients are fermented in large pottery jars for up to a year to produce a salty fishy sauce with a pungent aroma. This may sound a little off putting (remember, Westerners eat fermented mouldy milk in the form of cheese!) but the taste is very similar to preserved anchovy fillets. The mixture may be used straight; or the fish chunks are washed of their rice husks and used alone; or the liquid is used without the fish chunks. I often observed people pouring a ladle into a wok with another ladle of water, then watched them hard boil it for a minute, sieve the result and use the flavoured water. Here I have done the same, using a mini frying pan.

Heat the pan until it is hot.

Image 9Add the Paa-Dek lumps, heat for 20 seconds

Image 5Add ½ cup water, it will boil immediately, cook for about a minute (add a little more water if it looks too dry).

Image 13Seive into a bowl. Here I used a tea strainer and the result made about 2 tablespoons of Paa-dek water for my salad.Image 11

Mmm, yummy paa-dek!

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