The blog, Wandering Chopsticks, is a great resource for Vietnamese/Indochinese/Pan-asian recipes and for all her tips and reviews of restaurants in California. Two weeks ago I had read her post on how to make a Laotian pork larb, a spicy sauteed pork with herbs dish served with cabbage or sticky rice. Larb (also spelled larp, laab, laap) is also found in many Thai restaurant menus, and can range from mildly spicy to searingly hot, depending on the intensity of the fish sauce, nuoc mam, used in the mix. Wandering Chopsticks broke down the recipe into three parts: the toasted rice powder, the nuoc mam, and then the larb itself. The individual parts make for a fantastic whole, and I put it all together with some tweaking based on what ingredients I found locally.
There was no problem toasting and grinding the rice, and a half cup of jasmine rice makes enough toasted powder to store for other dishes. I did adjust the nuoc mam by adding bagoong balayan (the intensely fishy fermented sauce) to the mix - a couple of teaspoons of that along with patis (local fish sauce), a dash of sugar, a paste of Thai chillis and garlic, a teaspoon of vinegar, and a squeeze of calamansi - that should suffice to spice up the ground pork! I browned half a kilo of ground pork, drained it in the sink to remove as much of the pork juice, added the nuoc mam to the pork and spooned the meat onto the serving plate. Two tablespoons of the rice powder soaks up some of the moisture remaining in the meat, but also adds a lovely nutty flavor to the dish. Chopped up some thai chillis (yes for extra heat), a light chiffonade of coriander leaves and basil (I searched for mint but was unsuccessful), and a wedge of raw cabbage to scoop the tasty pork salad. This is a favorite for sure. Easy to make, and relatively healthy. For non-pork eaters, use ground turkey or chicken or maybe a seafood of choice.
From heat to sweet, I had to throw together a mango dessert for a party, and was not as well prepared as I should have been. For one, I didn't have the main ingredient! I dashed off to Farmer's Market early on a Saturday morning, grabbed a kilo of mangoes, and a bag of otap biscuits (a local flaky sugary biscuit). Since the dessert needed to be frozen, I was hoping that a few hours would suffice, but had doubts it would be firm enough to serve properly. The recipe I was using came from my friend I, who couldn't be at the party, and I was making the recipe so she'd be there in spirit (and in our tummy, which is a rather odd thing to want, but hey, it's to share our annual gathering with her in some fashion). She normally makes this dessert with crushed graham crackers and cream and condensed milk. I did make changes - first otap vs graham crackers, and the addition of pastillas to the cream. It turned into a tres leches (three milk) dessert - all purpose cream, a can of condensed milk, and mashed up pastillas blended together to make a very thick custard. It's basically a layered dessert, the crushed biscuits, topped with the mangos and then smothered in the custard. Repeat until it's high enough for the container, then stick into a freezer for a few hours. Preferably overnight to firm it up, but in this case, we managed with about 4 hours of freeze. I was pleased how the flaky crushed otaps worked with the sweet mangoes and creaminess of the custard. And the addition of the pastillas does take the dessert a bit over the top, but was totally worth it. Now why hasn't anyone made mango flavored pastillas candies?? It would work I tell you!
With a full tummy, good friends, healthy family members, I look forward to 2009, and put all the challenges of 2008 behind me.