Citizens, after a week of well-known classic diner recipes, it’s time to not just jump back into the water – we are CANNONBALLING with one of the most unique recipes you’ll ever find! 😀
That’s just how we roll here at TFD.
The country of Laos is barely known outside of Southeast Asia due to a Marxist/Communist government that took power in 1975 and that until recently discouraged both emigration and tourism.
A fascinating country with strong Buddhist roots, its cuisine incorporates many unique ingredients found only in the Laotian jungle. Interesting anecdote – chicken is still a wild bird in Laos!
Or lam (pronounced “Awe Lahm”) – a humble dish of village origins savored by royalty – is the Laotian city of Luang Prabang‘s iconic dish.
Or lam is a soupy stew incorporating a range of vegetables, grilled meats or fish in a broth thickened with puréed eggplants and a ping-pong ball-size scoop of grilled glutinous rice. In Laos, or lam ingredients change with the seasons and according to availability.
The dish’s trademark flavor profile is that of many northern Lao dishes: complexity. In or lam, this is achieved with the addition of a number of fresh herbs including lemongrass, dill, culantro and basil amongst others), and a tingly heat derived not only from chilies and black pepper, but also from sakhan, the woody stem of a wild Laotian vine.
The black and Sichuan peppercorns, dried red chilies and celery leaf used here are the replacements for sakhan, which is rarely (if ever) available in the United States.
Sawtooth herb is called Ngo Gai ~ “N-gaw guy”
in Vietnamese and is also known as Mexican coriander, thorny coriander, culantro and saw-leaf herb.
A favored herb for tearing up and adding to hot bowls of pho beef noodle soup, this herb is native to Central America and is now grown throughout Southeast Asia and Latin America.
The leaves are thick and the thorns edging the leaves won’t hurt you. Flavorwise, it’s stronger than true cilantro, yielding a much earthier flavor. You can always substitute cilantro if it’s unavailable, but you can find it at Asian, Caribbean and sometimes Latino markets.
Rattan shoots are sometimes sold jarred, in Thai grocery stores – soak them in cold water (with a squeeze of lime) for one hour, rinse and steam until soft.
I’ve substituted spinach and mushrooms for the rare jungle herbs and leaves that simply are not available outside Laos. Since there is no definitive recipe (or even meat choice!) for or lam, my version is as authentic as any.
Citizens – this is a unique dish, don’t be intimidated by its unusual ingredients. With my suggested substitutes, you can make a fine Lao feast and you will NOT regret your effort!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
4 tablespoons cooked sticky rice
½ pound boneless pork loin cut into slices (authentic) or I have used Chinese BBQ pork (char siu) – I personally prefer char siu
2 snake beans, cut into 2-inch pieces or substitute string beans
¼ cup sliced spinach leaves
¼ cup sliced mushrooms (I prefer chanterelles, but use whatever wild mushroom you have access to)
¼ cup dried wood ear mushrooms (optional but highly recommended – available in Chinese supermarkets. Mandarin Chinese: 云耳; pinyin: yún’ěr, lit. “cloud ear”) or 木耳 (pinyin: mù’ěr, lit. “wood ear” or “tree ear”)
1 stalk lemongrass, bruised
3 sprigs dill
4 leaves sawtooth herb, if available – if not, substitute 4 tablespoons minced cilantro
3 dried red Chiles de Arbol or 5-6 fresh Thai chilis
In a tea infuser or bundled into a piece of cheesecloth:
3 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
15 Sichuan peppercorns
5 celery leaves
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
Salt to taste
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch mixed with some stock
Asian eggplant (about 8 inches total) cut crosswise into 1-inch slices
12 to 16 rattan shoots (optional) – or substitute 2 parsnips or a turnip, peeled and cut into batons
1 large sprig lemon or Thai basil
Grill the pork and sticky rice over a low flame (or roast under a broiler) until the rice is dry and partly brown and the pork is just cooked (if using raw pork) or takes on some color if using char siu. Cool.
Put beans, spinach, mushrooms, lemongrass, dill and sawtooth herb in a bowl of cold water to soak.
Bring stock to a boil over low heat, then lower to a steady simmer. Taste and add salt if needed.
Break the sticky rice into ½-inch pieces and add to the simmering stock. Ingredient by ingredient, add the lemongrass that’s been soaking, prepared eggplants, and rattan (or substitutes). Simmer for 4 minutes.
Add the chilies and infuser or cheesecloth bag of peppercorn mixture, then simmer for 10 more minutes.
Remove chilies and eggplants from stew when soft and put into a mortar or food processor. Pound or pulse to a coarse pulp.
Drain the remaining soaking vegetables, spices and herbs. Add all to the stew plus the pork and the cornstarch slurry and simmer for several minutes. Add the eggplant pulp. Taste for salt and add if necessary.
Garnish with more fresh dill and serve with plain white or sticky rice and a Laotian dip (jaew).