I have made this four times now in the last ten days. It is fair to say that I am addicted. This is really a hybrid of three recipes in Hot Sour Salty Sweet, and the introductions to each recipe are almost more important than the recipes themselves, which are of course approximations of street food. Buy the book if you can. It is one of Those books.
To me, this food is a tonic, a kick in the pants, a comfort, a blessing, therapy.
The recipe settled on, with tweaks, and I can't remember what drove me to it in the first place, was this one:
Green-wrapped flavour bundles: [- with license] - from Laos.
1/2 lb boneless lean pork [or cooked leftover pork, chicken or beef], chopped fine
1 Tablespoon tamarind pulp, dissolved in 1/4 cup water [or tamarind syrup]
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
3 Tbsp minced garlic
[3 Tbsp minced fresh ginger]
[1 Tbsp shrimp paste]
2 Tbps palm sugar [Spice shop on 1st Avenue sells it] or brown sugar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp ground, roasted peanuts
Wrapping and topping:
Floppy lettuce leaves, like Boston/butter lettuce, or Chinese cabbage
1 cup basil, cilantro (coriander) and mint leaves
1/2 cup chopped scallions/green onion
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/2 lime's juice
1 Tbps palm sugar or brown, or more to taste
1 Tbsp ginger, chopped
3 thin slices lime, peel included, chopped very small
1 chopped, hot chile
1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed and minced very fine
Mix all sauce things together and put in a little bowl.
In some oil fry garlic and ginger but do not brown. Add finely chopped fresh meat or leftover chicken, etc. Stir. Add tamarind, sugar, fish sauce, shrimp paste and some water, and cook till all liquid has evaporated and the mixture is turning brown. You're making almost a paste. Salty, sour, sweet. Take off heat and cool. You can make this days in advance and chill...but why?
My Vietnamese friend Mimi introduced me to wrapping things in leaves, with herbs in the bundle.
To make a flavour package, put a lettuce leaf in your palm. Spoon in some meat. Top with some basil, cilantro and mint leaves. Yes, all of them. Add some scallions. Spoon some of the sauce, in which the ginger, chile etc are floating, on top of this. Fold sides of the lettuce leaf in towards each other.
Pop. In. Mouth. Chew.
Be happy. Feel your troubles float down the Mekong.
Good additions are pickled carrots or radishes, as per banh mi. Cut them into matchsticks and bath in 1/4 cup vinegar to 1 cup water, with salt and sugar to taste, in the fridge (I like a cold pickle). Only takes an hour or so...drain. Instant pickles!
Speaking of pickles, to further distract your tastebuds, check out Jen's post for Banh mi, and more here on mine, too...for disorganized ones.
Hot Sour Salty Sweet, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, Artisan, New York, 2000.
And that, my friends, concludes Meals for Me. From now on it will be Meals for We.
But do not underestimate the calibre of your own company. Remember Lucullus.