Watercress salads are synonymous with Luang Prabang. There are many variations. Some are very oily; some are very sweet. The dressing here uses a reduced amount of oil. It has an excellent balance between sweet, sour and salty effects and is redolent of cooked garlic. The mashed, cooked egg yolk enriches and thickens the dressing which contrasts brilliantly with the cress’ bitterness. This recipe is heavily influenced by Luang Prabang’s French colonial period. It is not traditional fare, but it is occasionally served at weddings and on other celebratory occasions in Luang Namtha.
1 large bunch watercress (or 1 cup Chinese or regular celery leaves or 1 cup rocket)
4 eggs, hard-boiled, whites only; reserve the yolks for the dressing
2 C mesclun using whatever greens are available
½ C coriander leaves
½ C mint leaves
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
10 cherry tomatoes or 2 medium tomatoes
⅓ C light oil
4 T garlic, chopped
4 egg yolks, chopped
3 T sugar
2 T fish sauce
2 T soy sauce
4 T lime juice
¼ C dry-fried peanuts, chopped
- Heat a wok or pan and dry fry the peanuts. Set the nuts aside to cool. When cool, chop.
- Heat the oil on a medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and fry until golden brown, stirring frequently so it does not burn (about 2 minutes).
- While the garlic is frying, mix together the chopped egg yolks, sugar, fish sauce and soy sauce in a deep bowl or screw-top jar. When the garlic is ready, remove it from the heat and cool. Add the garlic and its cooking oil to the mixture. Whisk or shake to blend well.
- Add the lime juice and mix. Taste and adjust the sugar and lime juice.
- Wash the watercress thoroughly in clean water; drain and discard any thick stems. Cut cherry tomatoes in halves. If using larger tomatoes, cut into wedges about 1 cm (½ in) thick at the widest part.
- Assemble the salad on a large, flat plate or in a bowl by forming a bed of watercress which is topped with the other herbs and leaves, tomatoes and sliced egg whites in a nice pattern. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the whole. Serve the salad immediately, as it will quickly wilt.
- For a sweeter version, reduce the lime juice; for a sourer version, increase the lime juice. Do not reduce the sugar amount. Equal or other sugar substitute may be used as a replacement sweetener.
- The number of eggs can be reduced to 2 or 3. The dressing will be thinner.
- Save any remaining dressing in a screw-top jar and refrigerate for later use.