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.
Serves two to four depending on the number of accompanying dishes.
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)
Slice the beans diagonally or halve them. Steam the vegetable for a few minutes until lightly cooked. Remove to a mixing bowl.
Dry roast the sesame seeds until golden. Remove them before completely browned. Set aside to cool.
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.
Add the soy and fish sauce and gently mix into the salad by hand. Add the chopped mint, sawtooth herb and coriander.
Add the dry roasted sesame seeds if using and gently mix in by hand.
Transfer the mixture to a serving dish.
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).
In Lao recipes, shallots are much more commonly used than are onions. They are used sliced in stir fries and raw in salads. They are also pickled whole. Small ones are finely sliced vertically into lahp and are roasted and pounded in jeow. They are pounded with garlic and added to moke and grilled taro leaf parcels. Shallots are also finely sliced, shallow or deep-fried until golden and crisp and then used as a topping for soupy dishes such as boiled rice soup (kao tom) and green bamboo stew (naw hian).
The garnish can be purchased, or make your own.
Peel and finely slice 1 cup shallots. Heat 2 cups oil. Add the shallots and fry on a low heat until golden brown. Remove with a wire strainer and drain on paper towels until completely cooled. Use immediately or store in an airtight container. The oil can be reused for fried rice and noodle dishes.
Long eggplant, long aubergine ໝາກເຂືອຍາວ mak keua nyaow
Grilled until soft, this variety is used in jeow. It can be stuffed.
A wonderful way to prepare aubergine is to cut the vegetable in 1 cm (⅓ in) slices across the waist. Partly slit and stuff each section with pork mince. Dip in a tempura batter and deep-fry. We sampled this dish in Vieng Phoukha, an ecotourism centre in Luang Namtha province.
Apple eggplant, Thai eggplant ໝາກເຂືອ mak keua
These small, round or slightly ovoid eggplants are green, white or green and white striped. Do not use overly mature ones. They are best while still pale cream inside, nutty and almost sweet. Left to get large or a few days older, apple eggplants turn bitter and the seeds go brown. In Laos these eggplants are grilled until black, pounded and added to jeow. They are also used in aw lahm and other stews. Simmered and then pounded, they are used as a thickening agent in stews and soups. They are eaten raw with lahp. They can also be finely sliced and added to lahp or sa. There are bitter yellow eggplants which are made into an eggplant sa or added to green papaya salad. There is a small white variety which perhaps gave this vegetable its ‘egg’ name.
Eggplant, pea ໝາກແຄ້ງຫວານ mak keng waan
Eggplant berry ໝາກແຄ້ງຂົມ mak keng kom
These are used in bamboo soup, aw lahm, phan miang bpaa and curries without coconut milk. They are also steamed and eaten with jeow. The bitter variety, mak keng kom, is eaten with lahp.
Most are grown to about 15 cm (6 in) but sometimes are left to grow twice that size. Smaller, dill pickle-size cucumbers are also available in Laos. The main varieties in Laos have a thin, edible skin. Stuff with pork and put in a mild soup. Stir fry with meat or tofu. Eat raw as a salad vegetable with lahp. This is a frequent garnish and accompaniment for many other dishes. In the uplands, large, juicy apple cucumbers are grown and eaten raw or in soup. They can grow as large as pomelo, a local citrus larger than a grapefruit. Lebanese cucumbers or telegraph cucumbers make good substitutes.
The elongated, barrel-shaped Chinese cabbage has two types. One is a pale green, almost white version, and there is a darker-leafed variety. Leaves go well added to a salad, stir fried with chicken or steamed to accompany other vegetables with jeow. Use in Lao hot pot (sin dat). Add to soop. The same Lao name, pak kaat kao, is used for pak choi, a glossy-leafed, non-heading cabbage with white or green crisp leaf stalks. This smaller, rounded-leafed green is used in Lao soup. The Chinese eat it steamed or stir fried.
Chinese cabbage, false pak choi ຜັກກາດກວາງຕຸ້ງ pak kaat kuang tung
This green has long stems and yellow flowers. The traditional seed, however, produces white flowers. Add to soup just before serving. Often steamed or stir fried, it is delicious stir fried with pork and sauced, wide, fresh rice noodles.
The hollow green leaves (greens) are chopped and added just before serving to soups and stews. Both the leaves and white stems are eaten raw with papaya salad and lahp. Spring onions are also deep-fried for a tasty garnish. To make it, finely slice the white part of the spring onion and pat dry with a paper towel or let dry for half an hour, and then deep-fry in 1 cup oil. Drain until cool. Use immediately or store in an airtight jar.
Small bunching onions are also referred to as pak bua bai. They are more common in some parts of Laos than spring onions and are used interchangeably. Many rural homes have small raised gardens in which onion greens and other herbs are grown. Indeed, these waist-high beds, usually about 1 x 2 metres and often on bamboo legs, are a fixture of the Lao countryside.
This green has yellow flowers and long stems. It looks similar to pak kaat kuang tung only bigger, with longer stems. Steamed, it is used to scoop up jeow. It is also used in stir fried dishes. It can be used as a vegetable for gaeng or soups where a mixture of greens is required. It is an ingredient for vegetable soop, a cooked salad.
Widely used in jeow (chilli pastes), it is also included in sour fish soup, tam mak hoong (papaya salad) and omelettes. It is used by restaurants as a garnish. The Lao language does not distinguish between cherry tomatoes, prevalent in the country, and larger fruit. Generally, cherry tomatoes are favoured for jeow and payaya salad.
This is a kitchen staple. Both the green tops and bulbs are eaten as salad. Fry cloves in oil at the beginning of a stir fry or soup. Use cloves in lahp when young. Heads of garlic are roasted over a fire, and then the cooked cloves are pounded as one of the ingredients for jeow and other dishes. Lao garlic, which has very small cloves, is used raw in jeow and other recipes.
The larger Chinese garlic is more commonly available now than the smaller Lao variety.
Chopped dried chillies are sprinkled over noodle dishes or added to a recipe to increase its hotness. In jeow bong, the flakes impart a deep red colour. Purchased chilli flakes are often old and have lost their colour and flavour.
To make fresh flakes, select deep red, almost burgundy dried chillies that smell of chilli and have no shrivelled yellow or brown tint to them. Choose ones that are either approximately 8 or 15 cm (3 or 6 in) long. Either dry fry or briefly shallow fry them until dark and crisp. Remove and cool. Break into pieces and remove seeds if desired. Pound or use a spice mill to create flakes. They store well for several months if the container is tightly sealed.
Chilli leaves ໃບໝາກເຜັດ bai mak pet
Use fresh, frozen or dried leaves of any chilli plant as flavouring for gaeng and aw (soups and stews). Substitute a chilli if leaves are not available. Alternatively, grow a chilli plant in your garden or in a pot.
Chillies, dried ໝາກເຜັດແຫ້ງ mak pet haeng
Medium-size dried red chillies are served deep-fried with kao poon or the noodle soup, kao piak. Large dried chillies are boiled for 15 minutes and minced finely for jeow and kao soi sauce. Drying is a simple way to preserve chillies.
Bird’s eye chillies, scuds ໝາກເຜັດຂີ້ໜູ mak pet ki nuu (‘mouse droppings’)
Very small and hot, these may be used for kao poon, chicken and pork curries and green papaya salad. Fry for pak bong fie daeng. Use in any lahp or sa.
Chilli peppers, large ໝາກເຜັດໃຫ່ຍ mak pet nyai
These long green or red chillies may be fried with pork or used in other stir fried dishes. Use in jeow and raw as a garnish. Peppers are dried and deep-fried as a garnish. The dried peppers are also soaked and finely chopped to make a spicy kao soi topping.
Hot chillies ໝາກເຜັດ mak pet
The most commonly used chillies in Laos, they are bigger and less hot than bird’s eye chillies. They are picked and sold at all stages of ripening – green, orange, turning red. Eat with kapi (shrimp paste) and noodles. They are added to aw lahm, jeow and many other dishes. Frequently they are strung on a strip of bamboo or a toothpick and grilled or roasted on hot ashes before using.
Pale green sweet chillies ໝາກເຜັດໃຫຍ່ mak pet nyai
These are often stuffed with fried minced pork or filled with a mixture of pork, lemongrass and rice or rice vermicelli and then steamed. Sliced in diagonal pieces, these chillies are used in stir fries.