I’m breaking the chain of Thai themed recipes here to bring a Lao based dish today. D and I recently crossed the border into Laos and have been enjoying the sleepy country for the last few days. Things move slowly here. People are in no hurry, everywhere we go there is a relaxed vibe, and bars shut down at 11:30pm. The streets are quiet.
This is a very laid back country.
Picture hammocks, river views and chilled local beer Laos (for the bargain price of $1.25 for a 640 ml beer)
And the food so far has been pretty good. To jump right into the cuisine I decided to take a cooking class at the Tamarind cooking school in Luang Prabang. The class was great. The instructor was a jolly guy cracking jokes, playing up the lazy Lao stereotype and all around keeping us entertained as well as teaching us about the cuisine and the food.
We started the class with an eggplant dip (Jeow Mak Keua) – a Lao classic. Made to be eaten with sticky rice (glutinous rice, not to be confused with regular rice) by hand this is a spicy smoky rich dip. Delicious essentially.
The traditional Lao kitchen (even today) revolves around a charcoal based “stove” essentially a huge bucket filled with coals and that’s where most of the cooking happens. Is there a formal term for this? The woks or pots are balanced on the top of the bucket, or for this dish the vegetables are just charred right in the coals.
Then the handy mortar and pestle come into use. The ingredients are smashed together, fusing the flavors and creating this finger licking good dip. A suppose a food processor could be used instead – though there are no guarantees the flavors will be released the way the are with the mortar.
Serve with sticky rice, with you grab with your hands and dip right into the spread. Or just use pita chips or crackers instead. Either way, you’ll love this traditional Lao dish.
- 1-2 Japanese eggplant or 1 small regular eggplant
- 1 red birds eye chili
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 small head thai garlic (2-3 cloves)
- 1 small shallot
- ½ cup cilantro, chopped
- dash of fish sauce (use gluten free tamari for vegan version)
- 1 green onion, white part removed, chopped
- Prick holes all over the eggplant with a knife.
- Skewer chili, and separately skewer the garlic and shallot on the tip of a bamboo skewer and grill over an open flame. Use either an outdoor grill, or a gas stove. If neither of these are available use a broiler. Do so until the skin is blackened (the chili will be ready first, then the garlic and shallot and then the eggplant)
- Allow the vegetables to cool and peel the eggplant. The garlic and shallot can be squeezed right out of the skin (and discard the skin).
- In a mortar pound the chili, salt, and garlic with a pestle.
- Add eggplant and cilantro and pound into a soft paste.
- Add fish sauce and green onion and pound. Add more fish sauce if needed.
- Serve with sticky rice, crackers or pita chips.