After a interesting visit to Phousy Market, we arrived at a riverside home for our cooking class. The class would take place outdoors, and items were already in place for our class.
Looking over the ingredients got me excited. I realized that most of the folks taking the class were looking to kill some time, but I just wanted to get going.
What made this really fun was the total "hands-on" approach. We were give ingredients, and verbal instructions, and cooked by "feel", which was effective on many levels(we were given recipes after the class). You may not have a clue about the cuisine, but you instinctively build dishes to your taste, which is why the same dish differs so much from place to place.
Another big change for me was.....everything was cooked on charcoal braziers.
No thermometers, no dials, just use of your senses, something that Joy subtly emphasized. "It is ok, so long it tastes good to you...."
And since everything starts with sticky rice.....
Some of the key points, soak at least 3-4 hours, but overnight is the best. Lightly massage the rice before draining. After placing rice in the bamboo steamer, pour water over rice and the edges of the steamer. After 20-30 minutes, remove the steamer from the pot of boiling water, and "flip" over. The rice turned out perfect, but I'm still not comfortable with making it.
What I found interesting was that unlike most recipes I've read for making this, we never covered the rice!
The next item on the agenda was a Jeow, the wonderful Lao "dip". We had choices of Jeow Mak Keua (Eggplant Dip), or the Jeow Mak Len (Tomato Dip). This is where I learned the concept of a "Lao pinch", which is twice as much as what I think of as a "pinch". It is key to roast the peppers and the eggplant or tomato. And since returning I've made this several times. It is quite easy.
The concept of "Western spicy" (1-4 peppers) versus "Lao spicy" (10-12 chilies) was humorous.
If making the Jeow introduced me to the use of the mortar and pestle in Lao cooking, making the Mok Pa, drove it home.
The mortar funnels the scents of the items being bruised, mixed, and crushed right up to your nose. You really get in touch with what you're making.
I've already posted a modified recipe, which you can find here. Of course, being all thumbs, it was easy to iidentify my "packet".
Next up, Joy demonstrated how to trim Sa-Khan.
Yes indeed, we were going to make Or Lam (Lao stew). When I asked about substitutes for the bark of genus Piper Ribesioides, I was first told black peppercorns, then Joy, turned to me and said, "for you, I know you can get Sichuan Peppercorns, so use that, but do not toast." Ah yes, the Lao affinity for the numbing bitterness......
Everything was placed into a pot, along with lemongrass, pea eggplants, cloud ear fungus, etc. The thickening agent was a ball of day old sticky rice, roasted briefly over charcoal, than pounded with a pestle.
Water added, stew on the charcoal, Joy, being much the slave driver said, "it's time for a break." So while things were being set-up for the next portion of our class, we relaxed and partook in a Laolao tasting. Joy also brought out the small bamboo tube he had left Phousy Market with, and asked, "anyone want to try this?" Opening the tube, out poured a bunch of wiggly, squiggly, silk worms. Being with an adventurous bunch, there an immediate "yes" was the response. The silkworms were taken to the "real kitchen", and soon a small plate of fried silkworms dusted with salt arrived.
If you like fried, you'll like these. Crisp and light, it's sort of like shoestring potatoes... I don't know why restaurants here in the States don't serve this, they are very innocuous.
A few minutes later, revived by some good Laolao (Lao home-made whiskey) and fried silkworms, Joy grabbed a stalk of lemongrass, and started cutting slits into it.
Finely chopped chicken was distributed, and Joy instructed us as to the ingredients for Ua Si Khai, Stuffed Lemongrass. Meat, be it chicken, pork, or beef, is chopped and placed into a mortar along with coriander, scallions, garlic, kaffir lime leaf, and salt, and pounded into a thick and rough paste. It is subsequently stuffed into the lemongrass. We each made two stuffed lemongrass, the first was grilled over charcoal.
The second was put aside, and later coated with egg and deep-fried.
As the stuffed lemongrass was being grilled, our Or Lam was ready. The fragrance was a heady mix of anise-woodsy-earthy smells. The anise accents via the use of "Lao basil" (holy basil). We each had a small bowl of Or Lam, and had a shot at the Sa-Kahn.
I bit into the bark, and got an instant shot of the numbing-hot ("Ma"), bitter flavor of the Sa-Khan. Sort of like Sichuan Peppercorn without the floral touches, adding in a puckering bitterness.
The Or Lam itself, was the best I had tasted to date.
As we finished off the Or Lam, our grilled stuffed lemongrass was ready.
The unanimous response as we ate these were; "did we actually make this?" It was wonderful!
Soon enough it was time to get back cooking. It was time to make "Koy", a mixed salad of sorts. Joy mentioned the difference between Koy and Laap, but I must apologize, as I don't recall it. It just gives me reason to return no? Again, we split fish, or water buffalo....guess what I chose?
At this point, Joy told us, "I have something for you. This is an important ingredient in Water Buffalo Koy in Luang Prabang."
"It is optional, but we like Water Buffalo bile in our Koy." I've had Pinapaitan, a very popular Ilocano dish, where beef bile is front and center before, so it was no big deal for me, but there were no other takers. I thought that the tablespoon of bile I added to my Koy just added to the flavor. BTW, Sab E Lee will sometimes have beef bile available for their Koi Soi which adds a dimension to the dish.
At this point, we proceeded to deep fry our stuffed lemongrass dipped in egg wash. After the stuffed lemongrass was ready, we moved off to a table to eat (yet again!), the rest of our dishes.
While consuming the fruits of our labor, again the initial response was, "I can't believe I made this...."
So let me ask you, would you like me to do a post on anything you've seen. I'm willing to, or have already made some of the dishes, and would gladly do a post on anything except sticky rice, which I feel needs a bunch of practice, and Or Lam (because I don't think I can find Sa-Kahn).
For those of us not born, married, or exposed to the cuisine, Tamarind's Cooking Classes can make us believers.....