When I travel, I often taste dishes that I'm eager to replicate when I'm back home in Hong Kong. Some are easy, while others take a few attempts before I get the flavours right. These recipes fall into the easy category but they're still delicious.
Miang kham (pictured)
This, to me, is a perfect dish. At first glance, it looks like a bunch of ingredients - most of them uncooked - laid out separately. If you taste each ingredient on its own, it seems too strong: raw shallots, raw ginger, bird's-eye chillies and skin-on fresh lime. Those ingredients, plus peanuts and coconut, are essential, but I've tasted versions that add pork cracklings or tiny pieces of salted fish. When you combine the ingredients by putting them in a wild pepper leaf and adding a dollop of sauce, it's hot-sour-salty-sweet, which is everything a good Thai dish should be. It's a hands-on dish, where everyone assembles the mouthfuls as they want them. It takes a little bit of practice to shape the wild pepper leaf into a cone, to hold the ingredients so they don't fall out, but it's not difficult.
The recipe for the sauce, made by my helper, Kamonwan, makes more than you'll need for this amount of filling ingredients. The leftover sauce keeps well in the fridge; just heat it and dilute as needed.
Thai shrimp paste is not as dry and hard as Malaysian/Singaporean belacan. Buy top-quality dried shrimp that aren't too dry - they should be a little pliable, have a deep pinkish-orange colour and shouldn't smell at all of ammonia.
You'll need to go to Southeast Asian specialist grocers for the wild pepper leaves. At Thai shops, ask for bai cha plu; at Vietnamese ones, ask for la lot leaves. You may need to order them in advance.
For the sauce:
10 grams fresh galangal, peeled and finely julienned
15 grams ginger, peeled and finely julienned
15 grams lemongrass, the juicy core only, thinly sliced
20 grams shallots, thinly sliced
15 grams Thai shrimp paste
20 grams toasted skinless peanuts
20ml Thai fish sauce
200 grams Thai palm sugar
20 grams toasted unsweetened coconut shreds
Other ingredients for miang kham:
About 50 grams dried shrimp
About 40 grams fresh ginger, in one chunk, peeled
2 Thai limes
2-3 lemongrass stalks, the juicy base (about 4cm) only
2 each red and green bird's-eye chillies
About 60 grams toasted skinless peanuts
About 30 grams toasted unsweetened coconut shreds
About 25 wild pepper leaves
Make the sauce. Put the galangal and ginger in a dry (unoiled) skillet and place it over a low-medium flame. Cook, stirring frequently, until they've dried out and darkened slightly. Add the lemongrass and continue to cook, stirring often, until dry and slightly toasted. Stir in the shallots and cook until slightly browned. Put the ingredients in a mortar and add the shrimp paste. Pound to a rough paste then put it into a bowl. Use the mortar to roughly pound the toasted peanuts.
Put the fish sauce into a saucepan and bring to the simmer over a medium flame. Stir in the palm sugar and bring to a boil. Add the galangal/ginger/lemongrass/shallot/shrimp paste and simmer, then stir in the peanuts and coconut. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about five minutes. The mixture will be very thick and sticky.
Prepare the other ingredients. Rinse off the shrimp in cold water (to rid them of any dust), then dry them thoroughly with paper towels. Cut the ginger, shallots and skin-on limes into 6mm chunks. Very thinly slice the lemongrass on the diagonal. Cut the bird's-eye chillies into 3mm-thick rounds. Rinse the wild pepper leaves then dry them.
Lay the pepper leaves on a dish and place the shrimp, peanuts, coconut, ginger, shallot, lime, lemongrass and chillies in separate piles. Heat about 150 grams of the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and dilute it with boiling water until it's spoonable but still thick. Pour it into a bowl and serve with the ingredients.
To eat, shape a pepper leaf into a cone, add a shrimp and a peanut, some coconut shreds, a piece each of ginger, shallot, lime, lemongrass and chilli, then top with a dollop of the sauce. Eat immediately.
Beef heart with Thai dipping sauce
Several years ago, my husband and I were walking through a Muslim section of Bangkok and found a place that specialised in grilled meats. We walked in and all eyes turned to us - we were the only non-Muslims there and I was the only female not wearing a headscarf. The food was basic but delicious - and what made it interesting is that the cooks had "localised" the food - the kebabs and other grilled meats were served with a selection of home-made Thai dipping sauces. My favourite meat was the chewy chunks of beef heart, but this sauce is also delicious with kidney, and even on an ordinary steak.
500 grams beef heart, trimmed of sinews, veins and exterior fat
About 30ml cooking oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce:
4-6 green bird's-eye chillies, roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
The roots of two coriander stalks, roughly chopped
About 80ml Thai fish sauce
About 40ml fresh lime juice
About 50 grams palm sugar
Soak wooden skewers in cold water for about 30 minutes (this lessens the chance of them burning on the grill). Cut the beef heart into 2cm chunks and season with salt, then mix with the cooking oil to lightly coat the meat.
Put the chillies, garlic and coriander roots in a mortar and pound to a paste. Mix in the fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar, then taste for seasonings and correct, if needed. If the mixture is too thick, add more fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar.
Mix the beef heart with some pepper then thread the chunks onto skewers. Cook over hot coals (or under the oven grill) until the meat is done - it's best if it's still a little pink. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.
Stylist: Nellie Ming Lee
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