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Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 – A culinary "laap" of Laos

Our Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 event was inspired by our recent trip to Laos. We had the idea of sharing our culinary adventures at Tamarind Restaurant‘s cooking school with some friends by recreating the experience in our tiny Toronto kitchen and/ or backyard, weather cooperating.

If you have been following the blog, you will have seen some recent posts about the cooking school experience which was truly a magical day. We really wanted to recreate some of that Lao food magic here to prove that you can make exotic food using easy to find ingredients (gosh, I sound like I am pitching my “culinary viewpoint” to the judges of The Next Food Network Star don’t I?)

To my point, most of the ingredients we used came from our regular grocery delivery company. As they unloaded what seemed like hundreds of boxes containing coriander on Friday morning, I am sure they wondered what on earth we were up to.

The rest of the more difficult to find ingredients (i.e. banana leaves) came from a whirlwind trip to T&T Supermarkets - a paradise of every possible food from around the world that you could imagine (note to self and Neil: we are SO going back there!). We briefly stopped in Chinatown to pick up the mortars and pestles (what IS the plural of that anyway??):


Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny teeming with rain, so Neil’s tennis was cancelled and he got to help with the mise en place for the five (!! what were we thinking?) dishes our guests would prepare.

First we laid all the ingredients out:


Then we portioned each dish’s ingredients per “team” of 2 people:



Then we packaged it all away nicely and labelled each bag:


Someone was very interested in the bag of chili peppers until she realised what they were:


Later that day…

We set up the “workstations” (see, I said “tiny Toronto kitchen”!)


I set out the cool looking snacks:


And I got to work prepping the fruit shakes. What would a day in Laos be without a fruit shake (or many…)?


Our mix? Mango, papaya, pineapple, a dash of coconut milk, coconut ice “confection” (discovered at T&T), ice and white rum:


Mmmm

Next job was organising the sticky rice. We had never made it before (so always a good thing to do when you have company!) and obviously didn’t have the lovely Lao bamboo steamers so we opted for the rice cooker:


The purple sticky rice got to steam in a steamer not really destined for rice but lined with muslin, it seemed to work fine:


Finally after a few fruit shakes and some wonderful South East Asian beers (Tiger Beer, Singha, Saigon and Tsing Tao – our “students”‘ contribution to the evening – yum and thanks!), we got down to business. First up, Jeow Mak Keua and Jeow Mak Len (spicy aubergine and tomato dips as featured on this post).

We skewered and roasted the vegetables:




Then we chopped and pounded the other ingredients:



And all pitched in to skin the roasted vegetables:


Producing three very different dips. We let people experiment with the amount of chili they used:


Aubergine


Tomato (spicy!)


Tomato (not so spicy)


Our sticky rice was kinda gluey :-( Definitely something to try again though, altering the ratio of water to rice (I think we used too much…). In any case, it didn’t stop people from eating it! After a brief tasting session and some more palate-cooling beers, we set to work on the next dish, stuffed lemongrass (as featured on this post).

Neil demonstrated the proper cutting technique for the lemongrass:


And our guests attempted to copy him. With varying results:



More chopping ensued:


Followed by the stuffing the lemongrass:


And barbecuing it to perfection:


At this point in the evening, one of our students had to leave briefly to go and collect her daughter and things in the kitchen kind of lapsed. A couple of us stayed in the kitchen to prep the Orlam (Luang Prabang stew) whilst others enjoyed some Michael Jackson and more dips and rice in the living room (it was his birthday after all…). You know, as you do! The Orlam was originally featured in this post.

The stew prep is pretty easy – chop it all up and put it on the stove to simmer:



I corralled people back into the kitchen to prepare our final labour-intensive dish – the ubiquitous Lao dish, Mok Pa (fish steamed in banana leaves), that I originally featured here. Guess what? More chopping and mortar-and-pestling (ok, I know that’s not a verb!):




This dish is one of those with a true “wow factor” in terms of its presentation but is actually pretty easy to make. If you can’t find banana leaves, you could probably use aluminium foil but the leaves are sold in most Asian grocery stores in the frozen food section. Once you have chopped everything up, you simply pile it in the middle of the banana leaf:


And bundle it up, securing it with twine or raffia (again, with varying results!):



Then steam them for about 20 minutes:


And enjoy:



Our final dish for the evening was Khao Gam (purple sticky rice with coconut sauce which I first posted about here) which I have to admit not everyone had a hand in making. At this point we had been cooking for about 5 hours on and off so I took charge of this one (with help from the lovely Fran, fresh off the train from Montreal). We used frozen shredded coconut to make our own coconut juice (soaking it in a little water and squeezing the juice out):



Unfortunately it didn’t seem to produce the creamy sweet juice we had tasted in Laos. I did add a little sugar, obviously not enough. Maybe I soaked the coconut in too much water to start with, diluting the taste? Perhaps I didn’t heat it long enough? Who knows? And apparently the six thousand times we had rinsed the purple rice over the previous 24 hours wasn’t enough as you can see here:


(errr… it’s not supposed to be THAT purple…)

Anyway – we served it with a little pineapple and banana and a touch of the coconut:



And most people enjoyed this unusual dessert:


Finally around 11.30pm we were finished!

Verdict? Well I asked people for some thoughts (disqualifying Yvonne’s “yummy” as it was not descriptive enough) and the general consensus was that wow, yes, you CAN make exotic foods with everyday ingredients. People seemed impressed with how easy some of the more visually impressive dishes (the steamed fish and the stuffed lemongrass) were to make and I am certain these might be appearing on some dinner party menus fairly shortly.

As for me? Well I am totally exhausted but it was such a fun night. My only wish? That our kitchen was larger or that we had a bigger stove and/ or barbecue to expedite some of the dishes but on the whole, in our tiny space, I think we managed pretty well. The dishes tasted fairly authentic (although Neil and I realised that we actually forgot a few ingredients in a couple of dishes in the melée) as in, they tasted like what we had in Laos.

Our next Lao culinary challenge will be a dinner party later in the fall where we will attempt to recreate some of these dishes again (only better!) as well as the Lao favourite – laap. Stay tuned!

Thank you Foodbuzz and sponsor VISA Signature for the opportunity to share a little part of our Lao experience with our friends. I’ve already got my thinking cap on for a future 24, 24, 24 event!!!

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37 Responses to Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 – A culinary "laap" of Laos

  1. Fingers still intact :) August 30, 2009 at 15:33 #

    My biggest discovery of the night was probably the pestle and mortar. I've always stayed away from any recipe that called for it as it just looked too complicated. Not so! After this Laos dinner, I'd have to reconsider. The ingredients and dishes were all so aromatic, and bashing the herbs and spices about made all the difference.

    Great easy recipes – absolutely fantastic and thank you!

  2. eatlivetravelwrite August 30, 2009 at 15:34 #

    I KNOW – I am in love with the m+p…

  3. Alicia August 30, 2009 at 15:51 #

    An amazingly delicious, whimsical and fun evening – thanks Mardi and Neil! I had such a great time, and yes, I do feel more confident now that I could pull off some fancy dishes with my minimal culinary skills.

  4. high&low August 30, 2009 at 16:32 #

    Looks like such a fun night! Great idea! I empathize with the small kitchen situation – ours is under 36 sq ft in NYC and it was tight last night preparing for our Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24!

  5. Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 03:51 #

    Padaek is an essential ingredient of Laos cooking. How did you manage to make padaek beforehand and for how long did you ferment it?
    Also the type of rice used in making Khao Niau is quite a different variet to that usually obtained in westen supermarkets. Did you manage to get the real variety?
    Orlam has buffalo skin in it as well. Where on earth did you get the buffalo skin?

  6. Conor @ HoldtheBeef August 31, 2009 at 08:22 #

    Oh I love it, this is a great post! Well done!!!

    Looks like you've all done a fabulous job at recreating the dishes you learnt. Top work! Yay :)

  7. eatlivetravelwrite August 31, 2009 at 09:58 #

    Alicia – of COURSE you can make those dishes!! Thanks for coming!

    High/Low – thanks and bravo for getting your dinner done in your tiny kitchen! I am impressed!

    Anonymous: We found proper sticky rice at T&T Supermarkets here in Toronto. We did not use buffalo skin. Instead of padaek, we used regular fish sauce, also obtained from T&T. So probably not as authentic as you might get in Laos, but close!

    Conor: thanks!

  8. Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 12:36 #

    Reminds me of the Galloping ourmet, Graham Kerr. He was in a taxi one day and the driver said,
    "Aren't you that cook guy? I cooked your barramundi in Macamia nuts the other day".
    Kerr was chuffed and replied, "How did you enjoy it?"
    "Well we didn't have any barramundi, so we used some sardines; and we didn't have any macadamia nuts, so we used some salted peanuts. We also didn't have any Chablis, so we used some cooking sherry. It tatsed horrible. Are you sure you know what you are talking about?"
    Sorry, couldn't resist.

  9. eatlivetravelwrite August 31, 2009 at 12:43 #

    Anonymous – if you click on the links in the post you will see the recipes we were provided with in Laos which is what we used. I am sorry you think it was not authentic enough…

  10. Appreciative Hungry Reader August 31, 2009 at 12:48 #

    Love the Galliping Gourmet story — but hardly think it applies to this outing.

    Sounds like you managed to get almost every single authentic ingredient, created fine Laos dishes, and had a fun time doing it: I'd rank that as a success, and say that it's in the right spirit.

    Well done, all.

  11. penny aka jeroxie August 31, 2009 at 12:55 #

    Stuffing lemongrass. I like that very much. It is all so inspiring. I will take up the next 24,24,24 challenge. Looks so much fun!

  12. eatlivetravelwrite August 31, 2009 at 14:18 #

    Thanks Penny! And thanks Appreciative Hungry Reader! We did what we could with what was available :-)

  13. Yvonne August 31, 2009 at 19:16 #

    I think that we are very fortunate to live in a multiculturally diverse city like Toronto that we can get most of the ingredients for the recipes. While some authenticity might have been compromised, it is all about working with what you have and feeling empowered enough to make these dishes at home on your own – even with my limited culinary skills. If I had to make sure that I had all the ingredients and the pre-requisite culinary skills to cook something every time, I'd probably never cook at all :)

  14. eatlivetravelwrite August 31, 2009 at 19:40 #

    Thanks Yvonne!

  15. Neil C. Phillips August 31, 2009 at 19:59 #

    Time for me to (finally) weigh in? :-)

    Sorry participants, but I think my favourite pic is [obviously!] of Cleo wanting to help. ;-)

    Hope the instruction did not start to waver too much as the evening wore on…and Singha sank in. Too bad we could not locate any Beer Lao!

    See you all on the 12th September for our next cooking challenge/installment, featuring George the (noew) Cured Piglet.

    OINK!

  16. Dawn a.k.a The Whineaux August 31, 2009 at 20:41 #

    Oh my Gosh, I want to move to Toronto in hopes of being invited to one of your dinner parties! this looked like so much fun for people to get to experiment with recipes and ingredients they don't normally encounter. Your love of foods and cultures comes through and makes me smile!

    As for the Galloping Gourmet Comment — Those who do, do, those who can't criticize!

  17. eatlivetravelwrite August 31, 2009 at 21:00 #

    Thanks Dawn – and if you ever are in Toronto you are most welcome to come and cook here!

  18. Anonymous September 1, 2009 at 00:17 #

    Highly amusing comment Dawn. When you are in Laos perhaps you might like to visit the restaurant I run in Vientiane, which serves both Lao and western food.

  19. eatlivetravelwrite September 1, 2009 at 00:20 #

    Anonymous – perhaps you can give us the link or name of your place?

  20. K a b l o o e y September 1, 2009 at 00:41 #

    Wow, this all looks terrific and you did such a good job describing the evening. I only wish I could have made your kitchen a little more crowded by being there. And I used to love watching Julia Child AND The Galloping Gourmet drink wine and cook. They were both so happy and carefree.

    I felt kind of "foodie" tonight because I made batches of pesto with all the basil I was surprised to find still growing nicely after 10 days away.

  21. eatlivetravelwrite September 1, 2009 at 00:47 #

    Kablooey – we would have loved your company! Glad you're home safe and sound!

  22. denise September 1, 2009 at 00:56 #

    Stuffed lemongrass–WOW!

  23. eatlivetravelwrite September 1, 2009 at 00:58 #

    Actually, just wow factor, Denise!! So easy you will wonder why you didn't think of it!

  24. traveleatlove September 1, 2009 at 00:59 #

    What a brilliant idea, looks SO delicious and like a lot of fun!

  25. eatlivetravelwrite September 1, 2009 at 01:00 #

    Thanks, it was like a little trip back to Laos for the evening for our tastebuds!

  26. Frank September 1, 2009 at 01:34 #

    Sounds like a great time and a delicious meal!

  27. 5 Star Foodie September 1, 2009 at 03:51 #

    What a fun party and everything sounds delicious! Sounds like you recreated the magic of your trip!

  28. Anonymous September 1, 2009 at 04:19 #

    Tamnak Lao, Vte

  29. eatlivetravelwrite September 1, 2009 at 09:53 #

    Anonymous, that looks lovely! Clearly we are not in your league but then again, we never intended to be!!! Wish we had known about your place when we were there. Next time…

  30. Anonymous September 1, 2009 at 10:54 #

    By the way, I was not being nasty. I am sure what you cooked was delicious but I just wanted to ppoint out that it is very hard to cook authentic Laos food. For example coconut milk is very rarely used in Lao cooking, but often in Thai. Please visit next time you come to my country.

  31. eatlivetravelwrite September 1, 2009 at 11:12 #

    5 star foodie: yes it was a very fun night, thanks!

    Anonymous, of course it is hard to cook authentic Lao food when 1. you are not Lao and 2. you live in Toronto! Part of the fun!!!

  32. Tasty Eats At Home September 1, 2009 at 17:31 #

    Congrats! Sounds like an exhausting but exciting time.

  33. eatlivetravelwrite September 1, 2009 at 20:03 #

    Tasty Eats – there was not a dull moment!

  34. Eat Blog Sleep September 2, 2009 at 08:23 #

    This looks amazing! What an awesome night that must have been !!! I agree that sticky rice made in the rice cooker just does not work. Next time, try my method. It's soooooo easy and hardly any cooking time at all http://eatblogsleep.com/?p=522 … Can't wait to see your laab post!

  35. eatlivetravelwrite September 2, 2009 at 10:46 #

    EatBlogSleep – your sticky rice recipe is now printed and read to go for next time… Thanks!

  36. Tangled Noodle September 4, 2009 at 03:36 #

    This is fantastic! I've never had Laotian food before and don't even know if I could find anyplace here in MN that serves it. But I'd love to try it, especially that lovely stuffed lemongrass!

    Thanks so much for a wonderful 24, 24, 24 presentation highlighting a little-known (at least to me) cuisine!

  37. eatlivetravelwrite September 4, 2009 at 10:55 #

    Thanks Tangled Noodle, that was the idea. Laos tends to get the short shift in terms of people knowing much about it, overshadowed by her more well-known neighbours…

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