More about the book

The Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant
The Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant

The delectable food of northern Laos is given its full due by the people of The Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant who have distilled Luang Namtha Province’s culinary highlights into a menu that presents the rich flavours and aromas of local food.

The recipes from this ecolodge’s kitchen have been shared by Patsanee (Joy) Khantisouk, Nouanchan (Chan) Khantisouk, Kulamany (Tuey) Kulavady and their colleagues with culinary researcher and dedicated foodie, Dorothy Culloty, who presents them in Food from Northern Laos: The Boat Landing Cookbook.

Packed with regional culinary detail and photographs taken in local kitchens, the cookbook records the restaurant’s salute to the special cuisines of a number of the area’s ethnic groups as well as recipes from local villages. These little-known recipes make the most of natural resources from Luang Namtha province’s mountain forests and lush riverine valleys.

Luang Namtha is one of the most Northern provinces of Laos, bordering on Yunnan province of China and Burma. It is home to the largest variety of ethnic groups in Laos. Preciously fairly isolated and difficult to get to, recently the province was made more accessible to tourists and traders by the opening of a new road from the Thai border and a new airport.

Nestled on the bank of the Namtha River, the ecolodge is the pride of the Khantisouk family who are of Tai Yuan ethnicity. The cookbook, which tells their story, shines though Kees Sprengers’ vivid photographic portrait of the province and its ethnic groups. Although food holds pride of place in this volume, it is also a loving and learned record of northern Lao who preserve their culture through their kitchens.

Eighty-eight recipes form the core of the book. Included are special dishes from Kmhmu’, Tai Dam, Tai Yuan, Tai Lue and Akha cuisine. Each recipe documents how it is prepared locally. Clear and simple directions will let readers replicate the dishes in non-Asian kitchens. The stunning food photography throughout, taken as recipes were being prepared in a village or at The Boat Landing, show the dishes in their indigenous setting.

Aspiring cooks and armchair travellers will find further assistance with

  • An illustrated glossary of ingredients and substitutions (28 pages)
  • A directory of Lao preparation and cooking techniques (10 pages)
  • An explanation of traditional cooking equipment (3 pages)
  • A bibliography, including web links (2 pages)
  • A comprehensive index in English, Lao transcription and Lao script (18 pages)

Background

The Boat Landing staff
The Boat Landing staff

The Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant is a Tai Yuan ecolodge on the banks of the Nam Tha River, in Luang Namtha province, Lao PDR. It was set up, owned and run by a young local family, Sompawn (Pawn) and Joy Khantisouk, with lots of involvement from their extended families and Bill Tuffin, a visionary American development worker, who has a long-term friendship and mentoring role with the young couple. The Boat Landing has a warm family atmosphere, green and keep-everything-local values, along with a proud desire to expose outsiders to the region’s cultures and natural wonders (www.theboatlanding.com). To help guests who are limited by time and lack of familiarity, The Boat Landing’s restaurant has distilled Luang Namtha Province’s culinary highlights into a menu that presents the rich flavors and aromas of local food in a way that is easily understood and palatable. This is one of the over-arching goals of The Boat Landing Guest House: to present local culture in a way that is accessible. The local villagers initially laughed at the ‘peasant’ dishes that The Boat Landing offered. Naturally, they wouldn’t go to a restaurant to eat their own ordinary food; they would want something more exotic like Thai or Chinese food. But sophisticated and worldly foreigners do indeed appreciate northern Lao ‘peasant food’. The food looks and tastes delectable!

The cookbook arose from Bill Tuffin’s vision and Joy’s desire to make Luang Namtha’s cuisine more widely known and valued for its rich cultural diversity and to disabuse people of the notion that Lao food is but a poor stepchild of Thai cuisine. Laos has a culinary tradition that is vibrant, distinct and unique. It can easily stand on its own and deserves recognition.

Since 2002, Kees and I have worked to help make this dream happen. In that year, we (Kees Sprengers and Dorothy Culloty) arrived on the local scene and were soon welcomed into the embracing arms of The Boat Landing. Our initial visit resulted in deep involvement with regional friendships, photography and cuisine which now exceeds seven years. Since then, Kees has photo-documented the everyday life and rituals of the local ethnic groups and much of the rapid, on-going social change in the province, gifting many printed photographs to the villagers. I have worked with Joy, her restaurant staff and local villagers to record the food of Luang Namtha. For half of these last seven years, I also worked as an advisor with the Rural Research and Development Training Center, Vientiane, Lao PDR. For Kees and I, it was important to document the local ingredients, preparation and cooking techniques, and recipes as they are prepared locally, and to make this cultural knowledge available to people interested in South East Asian food. This has meant documenting local produce and suggesting substitutes where ingredients are not available, without compromising flavour. I also wanted to use Lao script, Lao transcription and indexing as well as English so that Lao and English readers could use the book as a communication tool – this information is not readily available in Laos. The book is intended as a tool for Lao and Lao expats as well as for the international market. All recipes have been tested in my Western kitchen and the measurements, ingredients and methods translated into clear instructions for this book. Both US and international measurements and terminology are used.

Since the tragic kidnapping of Sompawn in 2007, from which he still hasn’t returned, a shadow has fallen over The Boat Landing. Heart-sore and deeply concerned for his friends’ wellbeing, Bill made the reluctant decision to leave the country that had been his home for seventeen years. Joy and the family in the meantime continue to run the guest house and restaurant.

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Chilli wood, pepper wood Piper ribesioides Wall., Piper interruptum Opiz. ໄມ້ ສະຄານ mai sakahn, sakhan, sakharn, sakhahn, mai sakhaan

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Sakharn, peeper wood, used in aw lahm

A very spicy (peppery and chilli tones), woody vine with a lingering aftertaste used in Northern Lao food. It is slightly numbing to the tongue. Used in Luang Prabang and Luang Namtha provinces in aw lahm, it enhances a dish’s flavour. It is  also added to some river weed and taro (bon) dishes. It is  an appetite stimulant. It is sold in lengths of very thick vine trunk. Smaller sections – 3 cm x 1 cm (1½ in x ¼ in) – are chopped from the whole with a cleaver immediately before adding the bits to an aw lahm. If not used immediately, it will either dry or go black very quickly. Choose mai sakahn that is not dried out and which is insect-free. Mai sakahn can be kept in the freezer.

The closest substitute for a 3 cm (1½ in) mai sakahn piece is a combination of 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, 5 Sichuan pepper berries (or the local version, mak ken), plus 1 dried red chilli and 1 bitter leaf, such as celery, placed together in a tea infuser and submerged in the stew. Remove the infuser and its contents before serving.

aw lahm with buffalo skin
aw lahm with buffalo skin

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Snake gourd ໝາກນອຍຍາວ mak noi nyaow

Snake gourd ໝາກນອຍຍາວ mak noi nyaow
Snake gourd ໝາກນອຍຍາວ mak noi nyaow

Serve steamed as an accompaniment with jeow. Steam, cut and stir fry with pork. Add to soup/gaeng. Substitute any gourd, scallopini (patty pan squash) or zucchini (courgettes).

Coriander, cilantro ຜັກຫອມປ້ອມ pak hom pom

Coriander, cilantro ຜັກຫອມປ້ອມ pak hom pom from Lao seed
Coriander, cilantro ຜັກຫອມປ້ອມ pak hom pom from Lao seed

This herb is widely used in Lao recipes. The small-leafed, short plant is the Lao version; the variety with larger stems and leaves grows from Chinese seed. It is a standard  raw accompaniment for lahp and sa. Use the plant, root removed, as a salad vegetable. The leaves are added to soups just before serving. Use in young chilli pepper jeow. Lao do not cook with the seed.

Gourds

A common  ingredient in Lao recipes, a wide variety of gourds are grown in Laos. The gourd, leaves, flowers and tendrils are all eaten.

Angled gourd, silk melon ໝາກໜອຍ mak noi

Angled gourd, silk melon ໝາກໜອຍ mak noi
Angled gourd, silk melon ໝາກໜອຍ mak noi

Use in soups and fry with pork. Sometimes it is used in bamboo soup. It is steamed in northern provinces and eaten during the rice harvest ceremony.

Gadawm gourd ໝາກກະດອ່ມ mak gadawm

Gadawm gourd ໝາກກະດອ່ມ mak gadawm
Gadawm gourd ໝາກກະດອ່ມ mak gadawm

A small, rainy season gourd, it is used for soup or eaten steamed with jeow. Substitute any small biter gourd.

Sponge gourd ໝາກບວບ mak buab

Sponge gourd ໝາກບວບ mak buab
Sponge gourd ໝາກບວບ mak buab

This gourd is very similar in appearance to zucchini (courgette). Its skin is dull, not shiny. Steam and eat with jeow. Zucchini is a suitable substitute. The leaves, ຍອດໜາກບວບ nyot mak buab, can be stir fried in the same manner as morning glory. Steam the leaves and eat with tomato jeow. Add to soup.

Water gourd, bottle gourd ໝາກນ້ຳ mak nam

Water gourd, bottle gourd ໝາກນ້ຳ mak nam
Water gourd, bottle gourd ໝາກນ້ຳ mak nam

Fully grown water gourds are dried and used as water-carrying vessels. Small, 10 cm (4 in) long, immature gourds are eaten steamed with their skin on with a jeow or added as a vegetable to a soup or stew. They are quite bland. Substitute scallopini (patty pan squash).

Pumpkin ໜາກອຶ mak eu

Pumpkin ໜາກອຶ mak eu
Pumpkin ໜາກອຶ mak eu

Pumpkin is prepared and eaten in many different ways in Laos. Chunks are used in soup recipes, especially when the whole is small and immature, or pieces may be fried or steamed. Custard is steamed in small, whole buttercup pumpkins, and cooled slices are served as a sweet. This is a classic sold by street vendors specializing in sweets. The dessert is also popular throughout Thailand.

Mature pumpkin
Mature pumpkin

Pumpkin tendrils, young Pumpkin tendrils, young ຍອດໜາກອຶ nyot mak eu

Young pumpkin leaves and flowers
Young pumpkin leaves and flowers

Add to bamboo shoot soup just before serving. Boil or steam young leaves and tendrils and eat with jeow. Use cut young leaves to fry with eggs or pork. Steam and use in soop pak along with other vegetables. The flowers can be stuffed with a minced pork mixture, dipped in either beaten egg or tempura batter and deep-fried.

Sour pumpkin soup with mushrooms ແກງ ໜາກອຶໃສ່ສົ້ມແລະ ເຫັດເຟືອງ gaeng mak eu leh het feuang sai som

Here’s a Lao recipe for a refreshing soup that goes well when a deep-fried dish is part of the meal. Soups (gaeng or keng) are eaten as the same time as other dishes, not served first.

Sour pumpkin soup with mushrooms
Sour pumpkin soup with mushrooms

Ingredients

½ small chicken, chopped into soup pieces (or thigh and wing piece)
1 l (5 C/ 2 pt)  water
2 C green pumpkin, cut into bite-size chunks (substitute any firm squash)
1 C straw mushrooms (or torn oyster mushrooms, button mushrooms)
4 chillies
3 cloves garlic
1 t salt
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 10 cm (4 in) lengths and roughly bruised to release flavour
2 – 3 slices galangal
5 small kaffir lime leaves
3 limes, juiced
2 – 3 T fish sauce (or to taste)

To finish

3 small spring onions, washed and trimmed of old leaves
3 small coriander plants, washed and trimmed of old leaves

Method

  1. In a medium pot, bring the water to the boil. Add the chicken pieces and return to the boil. Skim scum. Lower the heat and simmer the chicken for 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, lemongrass, galangal and the kaffir lime leaves. Continue to simmer gently.
  2. In a mortar, pound together the chillies and the garlic. Stir into the soup. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms. Continue to simmer until the chicken is tender and the pumpkin is cooked. Add the lime juice and fish sauce. Taste and adjust flavourings, adding possibly more salt or lime juice. The predominant taste should be sour with a contrast of sweetness from the pumpkin and nuttiness from the mushrooms.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat. Chop the spring onions and coriander together and stir them into the soup. Transfer the soup to a bowl and serve.

Steamed green beans with sawtooth herb and either ginger or sesame seeds ຊຸບໝາກຖົ່ວຍາວ soop mak tua nyaow

Here’s an ethnic variation on the common Lao food, soop pak. Muang Sing villagers operating the community-based ecotourism trekking business Akha Experience taught The Boat Landing staff this recipe when they trained at the guest house in July 2005. Traditionally, this Akha salad is made with either ginger or sesame seed, but never both. Each version is delicious and great served warm or cold.

Steamed green beans with sawtooth herb
Steamed green beans with sawtooth herb

Serves two to four depending on the number of accompanying dishes.

Ingredients

250 g (½ lb) green beans, topped and tailed; use long, string or French beans
12 cloves garlic, roasted and peeled; cook the entire head before peeling the required cloves
1 piece ginger, thumb-size, roasted and peeled (if not using sesame seeds)
2 – 3 T sesame seeds (if not using ginger)
2 – 3 T light soy sauce
1 t salt
2 t fish sauce
2 T mint leaves, chopped
2 T sawtooth herb, chopped (or substitute coriander, see below)
2 T spring onion, white stalk and greens, finely chopped
1 T Vietnamese mint leaves, chopped
2 T small coriander plants, stalk and leaves, chopped (use only if Vietnamese mint is not available; use a larger amount if sawtooth herb isn’t available)

Method

  1. Slice the beans diagonally or halve them. Steam the vegetable for a few minutes until lightly cooked. Remove to a mixing bowl.
  2. Dry roast the sesame seeds until golden. Remove them before completely browned. Set aside to cool.
  3. Put the peeled, roasted garlic cloves and salt in a mortar. Slice the roasted ginger if using. Add to the mortar. Pound the ingredients together until well-integrated. Tip this mixture over the beans.
  4. Add the soy and fish sauce and gently mix into the salad by hand. Add the chopped mint, sawtooth herb and coriander.
  5. Add the dry roasted sesame seeds if using and gently mix in by hand.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a serving dish.

Variation

  • Be a non-traditional hedonist and use both sesame seeds and ginger. The taste is great!
  • Complete your Akha experience by serving the beans with Akha pork balls, ginger chicken soup, sawtooth herb jeow and sticky rice (all in the book, Food from Northern Laos).

How to prepare sticky rice ເຂົ້າໜຽວ kao niao

Sticky rice is Laos’ staple food, accounting for two-thirds of its rice consumption. There are many varieties, both old, traditional seeds and new, higher yielding varieties developed to improve food security in subsistence economy villages. Some sticky rice is grown dry on steep upland slash and burn fields. Other varieties are grown in wet paddy fields. Non-mechanized rice production is very labour intensive, making every grain of rice precious. When Pawn was going on a three-month study trip to America, his chief concern was whether sticky rice was available and, if it were not, how he would survive without it. His concern mirrors that of many Lao travelling outside of their country.

Preparing sticky rice is very easy and fail safe if it is soaked long enough and if the steamer insert does not touch the boiling water below it. A most important step in preparation is to free the steam from the finished, cooked rice by prodding and flattening it with a paddle or spatula.

How to prepare sticky rice

Step 1: washing and soaking

Place the raw sticky rice in a bowl. Allow ½ – 1 cup of uncooked rice per person. Count on Asian diners eating more rice than Westerners. Briefly wash the rice to rinse away any husks or impurities. Do not over wash. Cover the rice with at least 2 cm (1 in) of water. Let it soak 6 hours.
The long soaking is essential, especially if the rice is old. Don’t try to shortcut it, or the rice will be starchy and lumpy, no matter how long it is steamed. If time is limited, the rice may be soaked in hot water for 2 hours. With any less time, however, it is impossible to cook sticky rice; substitute long grain, non-glutinous rice for the meal. To test whether the rice has been sufficiently soaked, try squashing a grain with your fingers. If it gives easily, it is ready for steaming.

Step 2: transferring the rice to a steamer

Drain off the rice water. (Try using this water later as a hair rinse. It is especially good for bringing out the gloss in long hair.)
Put water one-third up the side of the traditional, aluminium steamer pot (maw nung). A Western pot with steamer insert may be used in place of the traditional equipment. Place the pot on the heat and bring the water to the boil.

Meanwhile, tip the drained sticky rice into the traditional conical bamboo steamer (houad). Smooth the top of the rice, and then place the houad in the maw nung. If using a Western steamer pot and insert, lay a loose weave cloth in the base of the steamer insert so the rice does not fall through. Make certain that the houad’s bottom or steamer insert is not touching the water, or the rice will be soggy.

Step 3: steaming the rice

Cover the rice container with a bamboo lid or clean tea towel. Let the rice steam for 20 – 30 minutes. Ensure the water does not boil away. The cooking time depends on the rice’s age. Fresh rice takes less time. If cooking a large amount of sticky rice, half way through the steaming, flip the contents over as they lie in the steamer. Alternatively, cook the rice longer – up to 40 minutes if old rice.

Step 4: presenting and storing the rice

When the grains are soft with no ‘bone’ and when they have released a sweet, nutty taste, take the houad or steamer insert off the pot. Tip its contents onto a clean surface, cloth or banana leaf. Using a wooden paddle or spatula, flatten and spread the rice to release the steam. Let the rice rest a moment, and then turn the edges of the rice inwards to create a flattish ball. Divide the whole into smaller balls to fit inside individual sticky rice baskets if they are being used. Alternatively, serve the rice family-style, putting the entire mass on one plate for the table.

Step 5: using leftover sticky rice

  • To keep the rice warm and supple if it is to be eaten later in the day, store it in cheese cloth in a sticky rice basket. It may also be wrapped in a cloth and placed in an insulated cool bucket of similar size, a practice often used in Lao restaurants and large families.
  • Leftover sticky rice is best stored un-refrigerated but may be stored in a plastic bag in the fridge and re-steamed later, briefly. A quick blat in the microwave also works.
  • Cooked rice can also be shaped into thin wafers and sun dried. These pieces may then be grilled and added to stews as a thickening agent. Larger dried rice cakes, prepared the same way, may be deep-fried and used as a base for savoury or sweet toppings.

Chicken lahp with vegetables and variations ລາບໄກ່ ຜັກກັບ lahp gai pak gap

Ingredients for a Lao raw or cooked meat lahp are extremely variable reflecting a cuisine which is prepared with whatever is readily available from the forest, stream or garden. Consider this recipe an outline of fundamentals. Once you get the feel for lahp, experiment with abandon! Serves three to six depending on the number of accompanying dishes.

Lahp, Luang Namtha style
Lahp, Luang Namtha style

Ingredients

2 C chicken, boned, including the heart and liver, if desired, cleaned and sliced (or use pre-minced meat if pushed for time)
3 T water
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 brown or red shallots, finely sliced
3 small red chillies (or 1 t chilli flakes)
1 stalk lemongrass; use only if very fresh and tender (optional)
1 T fish sauce or padek, liquid only
1 – 2 limes, juiced (not used in Luang Namtha lahp, but used elsewhere in Laos)
2 T ground, roasted rice powder
½ C mint leaves, small, rinsed and patted dry
1 C banana flower, finely sliced (optional); soak in acidulated or salted water until ready to use

Other ingredients such as finely shredded kaffir lime leaves, coriander, lemongrass, chopped galangal or bitter small eggplants  may be included as desired.

To finish

3 small red chillies
Mint sprigs (optional)

Accompaniments

1 cucumber, thickly sliced; peel only if the skin is tough and bitter
Choose at least three of the following:

one large-leafed green such as lettuce, cabbage or pepper (betel) leaves,

one bitter or crisp vegetable such as apple eggplants or long beans, cut into 5 cm (2 in) lengths,

one or more herbs such as sweet basil (pak boualapha), coriander, sawtooth herb, dill, mint or whole chillies

Method

  1. Prepare the ground, roasted rice powder.
  2. Finely mince the meat to an airy paste using a cleaver or heavy knife. This will take about 10 minutes. The goal is to aerate the meat fully by repeatedly turning the mixture onto itself and mincing until a paste is created. Cover and set aside. Chop the garlic and finely slice the shallots, three chillies and the lemongrass. Set aside.
  3. Remove the mint leaves, tearing them into small pieces if they are larger than a pinkie fingernail.
  4. Prepare all the other ingredients to be mixed with the cooked meat.
  5. Heat a wok or frying pan. Add the minced meat and sliced organs to the dry pan. Do not use any oil.
  6. Move the meat about in the pan, breaking up any lumps. Add a few tablespoons of water to prevent sticking if the meat is very lean. Keep moving the mince until the colour goes out of it. Take care not to overcook, as that will both dry the meat and diminish its flavour.
  7. Transfer the mince to a bowl to cool.
  8. Fry the garlic in 1 teaspoon of oil until slightly golden. Add to the mince.
  9. Add the padek or fish sauce and the optional lime juice. Mix together with your hands, squeezing the ingredients lightly while tumbling. Sprinkle in the sliced lemongrass, shallots and chillies and mix. Add the optional banana flower and any other ingredients being used. Combine. Add the ground, roasted rice powder. Mix, allowing the flavours to integrated juicily.
  10. Taste and adjust the lime juice, fish sauce and/or rice powder. When all is well mixed, toss in the mint, combining lightly. Transfer the lahp to a serving plate and garnish with mint sprigs. Complete by tucking three small red chillies stems or bottoms upright into the surface of the salad.
  11. Wash and trim the accompanying vegetables; slice the cucumber into thick diagonal pieces. Arrange them on a plate along with the herbs. The taste of the herbs is an important part of the lahp dining experience. Do not stint on them. Eat the herbs separately, or one or two may be included in each bite of lahp accompanied by some rice or the vegetable used for scooping the salad.
  12. Serve with sticky rice.

Variations

  • For beef lahp, use steak. For a raw lahp, use only fillet. Hand-mincing the meat will ensure airiness. The lime juice and fish sauce may need to be increased to taste. Beef lahp may be served raw – a Lao steak tartare – or cooked. If using raw meat in lahp, it is essential, of course, the meat be of fine quality from a safe source. This caution is equally important if one is offered raw lahp in a restaurant or home.
  • For pork lahp, use shoulder meat if possible. Again, by mincing the meat yourself, a fresh, airy lahp is guaranteed. Some pork skin, finely sliced and deep-fried until crisp, can be added to the lahp for additional flavour and texture.

Watercress salad, northern-style ຍຳ ຜັກສະຫຼັດ ຫຼວງພະບາງ yam pak salat Louang Phabang

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.

Watercress salad, northern-style ຍຳ ຜັກສະຫຼັດ ຫຼວງພະບາງ yam pak salat Louang Phabang
Watercress salad, northern-style ຍຳ ຜັກສະຫຼັດ ຫຼວງພະບາງ yam pak salat Louang Phabang

Ingredients

Salad

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

Dressing

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

To finish

¼ C dry-fried peanuts, chopped

Method

  1. Heat a wok or pan and dry fry the peanuts. Set the nuts aside to cool. When cool, chop.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. Add the lime juice and mix. Taste and adjust the sugar and lime juice.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Variations

  • 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.

Gadawm gourd ໝາກກະດອ່ມ mak gadawm

Gadawm gourd ໝາກກະດອ່ມ mak gadawm
Gadawm gourd ໝາກກະດອ່ມ mak gadawm

A small, rainy season gourd, it is used for soup or eaten steamed with jeow. It needs to be peeled.

Rattan Daemonorops jenkinsiana ຢອດຫວາຍ yawt wai

Rattan (Daemonorops jenkinsiana) ຢອດຫວາຍ yawt wai
Rattan (Daemonorops jenkinsiana) ຢອດຫວາຍ yawt wai

Rattan from Luang Namtha province is large and succulent; it is only mildly bitter. It is called naw boun (shoot of rattan) in Vientiane and yawt wai in Luang Namtha. Rattan from the South and Isaan, the Thai province with a large ethnic Lao population, is thin and often extremely bitter. Strip and use the steamed inner core for awm wai (rattan purée) or add pieces of uncooked core to stews such as aw lahm and gaeng bawt. Another way of preparing rattan is to char the rattan sticks in a low fire, strip the outer skin from the inner core and use the cooked, inner flesh with chilli paste, ginger and/or barbecued fish.

Khmu meal featuring rattan aw lahm
Khmu meal featuring rattan aw lahm

In Phongsaly province, also in Laos’ north, it is made into an aw lahm with dried beef. In Luang Namtha, rattan is used in a dish with dried squirrel. It is exported dried to the US from Boung Pao village in Toulakom district.

A substitute for fresh rattan is Thai bottled rattan which has been soaked for half an hour in cold water to which a squeeze of lime juice has been added. Remove from water and steam until soft. For a substitute, try parsnip or turnip; they mash similarly to rattan and hold their shape in stews. Use an apple corer with these substitutes to create rattan’s cylindrical shape.

Young Khmu women stripping rattan in Ban Chalensouk
Young Khmu women stripping rattan in Ban Chalensouk

Gaeng bawt with chicken or duck ແກງປອ໋ດໃສ່ ໄກ່ ຫຼື ເປັດ gaeng bawt sai gai leur bpet

This is a typical Kalom (Tai Yuan) stew from Ban Khone, The Boat Landing’s village. It is prepared with whatever vegetables are in season. Ingredients for the dish in the top photo below include banana flower, gourd vine leaves, chilli wood (the dark stuff on the  left) and rattan, whereas the stew in the next photo uses baby corn, beans and snake gourd and is served with less liquid.

 

Gaeng bawt with duck ແກງປອ໋ດໃສ່ ເປັດ gaeng bawt sai bpet
Gaeng bawt with duck ແກງປອ໋ດໃສ່ ເປັດ gaeng bawt sai bpet
Gaeng bawt with alternative vegetables
Gaeng bawt with alternative vegetables

Ingredients

2½ C water (or more for a thinner dish)

1 t salt

3 pieces chilli wood ( mai sakahn), half a thumb-length (or substitute 1 green chilli, ½ teaspoon of black peppercorns plus several Sichuan peppercorns if you have them)

2 T oil

2 T garlic, chopped

½ C chicken or duck on the bone, cut soup-size, 2 cm (1 in)

2 stalks lemongrass, white only and bruised to release flavour

1 chilli (or more to taste)

3 small green apple eggplants, cut in eighths

½ C rattan pieces (or use pumpkin, squash, gourd, baby sweet corn or tinned rattan, soaked and drained)

¼ C gadawm gourd (optional; or any other gourd or squash)

4 leaves sawtooth herb (or substitute coriander/cilantro)

3 stems dill, cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces

2 stems lemon basil (pak i tou Lao), cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces

2 small long beans, cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces

3 T roasted rice powder

2 T thin soy sauce

Method

  1. Put the water in a small pot, add ½ teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil
  2. In a wok, put 2 tablespoons of oil. Heat and add 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic. Stir fry briefly. Add the chicken pieces, lemongrass, the chilli and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir fry until the colour of the meat has changed. Transfer this mixture to the boiling water. Simmer.
  3. After 5 minutes, add the eggplant. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes, and then add the rattan (or substitute). Simmer 5 minutes more until cooked.
  4. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of roasted rice powder over the gaeng. Mix in smoothly. Add the long beans and herbs; simmer for a further 5 minutes. Finish with 2 tablespoons of thin soy sauce. Stir, taste and add more soy sauce or salt if needed.
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Variations

  • Try using tofu or pork instead of chicken.