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:
We set up the “workstations” (see, I said “tiny Toronto kitchen”!)
And I got to work prepping the fruit shakes. What would a day in Laos be without a fruit shake (or many…)?
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Anyway – we served it with a little pineapple and banana and a touch of the coconut:
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!