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Laotian food recipes: 4 traditional lettuce wrap dishes

Hey there, food lovers and curious cooks! Today, we're diving into the heartwarming world of Asian cuisine, specifically focusing on traditional Lao lettuce wraps. Ever heard about ingredients like rice semolina, tapioca, or puffed rice? I’ve got four cozy recipes to share: stuffed tapioca balls, a unique puffed rice mousseline, rice semolina with pork and the beloved nem khao. Each dish brings its own little burst of specific flavors and textures.

I show you how to craft each one from scratch. It might not always be a walk in the park, but the results? Absolutely worth it. So, are you ready to roll up your sleeves and take on the challenge?

1. Sakhou ngat sai (saku sai moo, sakoo yat sai) - Pork stuffed tapioca balls

Sakhou ngat sai is a savory dumpling. It's a steamed dumpling with a chewy tapioca pearl exterior, filled with seasoned ground pork, chopped sweet pickled radish, and peanuts. You can wrap a dumpling in a lettuce leaf with some fresh herbs like cilantro, and fried died chili peppers for an extra kick.

Tapioca pearls, also known as boba pearls, are chewy balls commonly enjoyed in bubble tea and other Southeast Asian desserts. For this recipe you will need small pearls. Feel free to choose your color 😊.

Full recipe here and video here.

2. Mieng (mieng muang luang) - Puffed rice mousseline

Mieng muang Luang or Mieng is a Laotian snack or street food made with rehydrated sticky rice puffs. It is a speciality of Luang-Prabang - “Muang Luang” means literally from the region of Luang.

It features puffed sticky rice, which is sun-dried and then rehydrated. The rehydrated rice is seasoned with fish sauce, sugar, and mixed with ground pork. It's typically served with a variety of fresh herbs and nuts for wrapping. Popular choices include lemongrass, cilantro, ginger, green onions, peanuts, pork rind chips, fried dried chili and lettuce leaves.

On the streets of Laos, you'll find mieng all ready to go, in bite-sized snacks, the seasoned rice already wrapped in lettuce along with herbs.

There can be vegetarian or vegan versions that skip the pork and use plant-based substitutes for the fish sauce.

Full recipe here.

3. Mou nem - Rice semolina with pork

Mou nem is a savory salad from Luang-Prabang made with rice semolina served with lettuce leaves. Rice semolina, a coarse flour made from ground rice, forms the base of the dish. It's typically seasoned with galangal (a ginger-like root), pickled vegetables, and lime zest for a refreshing and fragrant taste.

In Laos the dish is made with pork skin and large chili peppers. When we move to Europe my mum replaced them by pork belly and bell peppers. It is my mum’s recipe that I share with you here.

4. Nem khao (nem Tha Dua, nem Thadeua) - Crispy rice with fermented pork sausage

Among Laotian wraps, nem khao also known as Nem Tha Dua, is arguably the most famous. This salad is widely available in restaurants. Tha Dua is a village located in northern Laos, where the dish is believed to have originated.

The star of the show is the crispy fried rice. Cooked rice is seasoned with ingredients like grated coconut and red curry paste, then fried until golden brown and delightfully crunchy. It is complemented by fresh herbs and sliced fermented pork sausage (som mou). This adds a sour and slightly funky punch.

Som mou is a fermented pork sausage, made with lean ground pork, cooked pork rind (for texture), garlic, chilies, and salt. The mixture is packed tightly into casings or banana leaves and left to ferment for several days. The fermentation process gives it its characteristic tangy flavor and firm texture. I explain you here how to make it from scratch but it's also readily available fresh or frozen at Asian grocery stores.

I like to replace the lettuce by piper lolot. Piper lolot, also known by its scientific name Piper sarmentosum, is a plant commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisines, particularly Vietnamese cuisine. The leaves are dark green with a glossy sheen and have a distinctive heart-shaped appearance. They have a mild peppery taste and a unique aroma that enhances dishes.

Full recipe here and video here.

What was the most difficult dish to cook?

  • Nem Tha Dua

  • Sakhou ngat sai

  • Mou nem

  • Mieng

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