Sunday, May 25, 2014

Laotian Cooking Lesson on the Mekong Explorer

Most Americans associate the Mekong River with the Vietnam War
(or the American War as it is called in SE Asia). After our cruise on the Mekong Explorer from Vientiane, Laos to Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand John and I now know the river in this area is serene with the banks used for growing vegetables. I never thought I would have a BBQ on a sandbar in the middle of the Mekong but one night we did. Our eight-day cruise on the Mekong was aboard the teak and mahogany Mekong Explorer (, toll free in the US 855 702-4986) and included all tours.

Our days were divided between cruising and shore trips to fascinating places such as Lotus Lake, Phu Prabaht Historical Park (soon to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Buddha Sculpture Park, and a safe haven home of Ho Chi Minh. My favorite day included a long-tail boat ride up the Khading River to the Lao village of Ban BagBang. The village had a mix of
homes made of wood in the traditional style and new brightly painted concrete ones. Many homes had satellite dishes and everyone seemed to have a cell phone. When we returned to the Mekong Explorer chefs (Ms. Soyout and Mr. Ning) showed us how to make Laap (spicy salad) and Tham Mak Hung (papaya salad).

Laap is a signature dish of Laos and served on special occasions such as wedding or Baci ceremonies which can be any special event in a person’s life.  In the Lao language “laap” means luck or good fortune. It is special because it contains meat which is very expensive for Lao people. Laap is served cold making it perfect for celebrations that can last for several days. One such celebration occurs when a baby is born. Friends come to the house of the new parents, eat laap, and play a betting card game which can go on for several days. The money won from playing cards goes toward the baby’s future.

1 tsp butter
4 tbs glutinous rice
1 small lemon grass, diced
2 fresh Kaffir leaves (bay leaves with a little lime zest may be used as a substitute)
10 shallots, thinly sliced
1 or 2 garlic cloves, diced
1 lb minced cooked chicken (pork or beef can be substituted)
1 tsp bouillon powder
1 tbs salt
One-fourth cup lime juice       
One-half tbs chili powder
1 tbs fish sauce
3 spring onions - cut in one inch pieces
One-fourth cup fresh mint leaves
2 tbs cilantro, coarsely chopped 
2 cups Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, long beans and/or any fresh vegetables

Heat butter in a wok. Add rice, lemon grass, and kaffir leaves. Stir fry until rice is lightly brown. Remove. With mortar and pestle grind to a course powder. Set aside. Divide shallots in half. Fry one half with garlic in same pan used to fry the rice. Set aside. To the minced chicken add bullion powder and salt. Add all the shallots. Add rice, lime juice, chili powder and fish sauce to taste. Toss well. Add spring onion, mint leaves, and cilantro. Toss lightly. Arrange on serving dish with fresh vegetables on the side. (Lao meals always include sticky rice.)

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