I’m in very good culinary company here in Mae Hong Son. As soon the owner of the house I’m renting learned that I have an interest in the local food, she started bringing me local sweets and snacks on a daily basis. This morning she went out of her way to bring me a local dish of sticky rice steamed with coconut milk and turmeric and served with local-style meatballs (more on this later), something that I had mentioned the previous day. My next-door neighbour, Phii Laa, is equally generous, and possibly even more enthusiastic. Once she learned that I was interested in the local eats she’s been in my kitchen every morning since, sharing a new recipe.
The first recipe Phii Laa shared is one I only came across recently. Khao som literally means ‘sour rice’, and is local a dish of balls of rice made sour by the addition of tomato and tamarind. The dish is traditionally served with yam thua, ‘bean salad’, the recipe for which can also be adapted to make any sort of local salad where the main ingredient, which here can range from tender fern shoots (a popular local ingredient) to sour leaves, is first par-boiled. In my next blog I’ll demonstrate how to make a saa, another type of local salad centred around fresh (as opposed to par-boiled) greens or veggies.
The ingredients required for khao som and yam thua are pretty basic and I imagine all are generally available even in the west, except for nam phrik phong:
a mixture of thua nao (disks of dried soybean), dried chili, salt and MSG, all ground to a fine powder. If you’re determined, I’d suggest just substituting a pinch of finely ground dried chili flakes and some salt, although the dish will be missing a truly local flavour in thua nao.
And if you haven’t done it before, making crispy deep-fried garlic and garlic oil is a snap:
Simply get your hands the smallest cloves of garlic you can find, chop them up coarsely (skin and all), and simmer in a generous amount of oil over medium heat until the garlic is just beginning to become crispy. When this happens remove mixture to a heatproof container and allow to cool.
And as always, ingredient measurements below are estimated; Phii Laa, like most Thai cooks, doesn’t use measuring utensils, instead cooking by taste and feel.
Khao som & yam thua (Sour Shan-style rice and bean salad)
Uncooked rice, 2 cups Strained tamarind pulp, 1 cup Chopped tomatoes, 2 cups Salt, 1 tsp Turmeric powder, ½ tsp Sugar, 1 Tbsp
French beans Shrimp paste, 1 Tbsp Nam phrik phong, 2 Tbsps Ground roasted white sesame seeds, 4 Tbsp Shallots, sliced, 4 Garlic oil & crispy deep-fried garlic Deep-fried dried chilies
Cook rice with at least three cups of water (the rice is supposed to have a soft consistency). When cooked, allow to cool slightly.
Combine tamarind pulp, tomatoes, salt, turmeric and sugar in a wok over low heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a thick paste:
about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Prepare beans by removing the strings and chopping:
Par-boil beans until just cooked, about a minute, and shock in cold water. Set aside.
In a wok over medium heat, dissolve shrimp paste in ¼ cup of water. When shrimp paste is fully incorporated, add nam phrik phong and sesame. Combine thoroughly and turn off heat. Allow to cool slightly, add sliced shallots and beans and mix thoroughly. Remove to a serving dish and top with crispy fried garlic and garlic oil.
When rice is cool enough to handle, combine ¾ of the tamarind mixture with cooked rice.
Taste and season with remaining tamarind mixture and/or salt if necessary.
Coating hands in a bit of the garlic oil, shape rice mixture into golf ball-sized balls:
Arrange on a plate and drizzle with plenty of crispy garlic, oil and deep-fried chilies.
Serve dish, as illustrated at the top of this post, on individual plates with a generous serving of the bean salad.