Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Laotian Fast Food

Since I came back from New Zealand where I consumed the most delicious Asian food, I've had some cravings. So I declared last week Asian food week in my kitchen. Singapore noodles, Vietnamese banh mi, steak salad with Thai salad dressing and Thai hot and sour soup were all on the menu. My repertoire already contains quite a few Asian foods.

I really like getting beyond the stir fry and soy sauce when it comes to Asian food. In fact I didn't even consider making Chinese, though some of the potstickers I made a few months ago were still in the freezer and I popped those into a pan as an appetizer to my noodles. Many parts of Asia are not well represented here. In New Zealand, there was Malaysian and Laotian food at the international food court. I would love to find such a food court here, with the creamy curries, noodles, and spices replacing the hamburgers, fries, and chicken sandwiches.

So it was perfect timing that I found a section of Laotian recipes in a recent issue of Food & Wine. The lettuce wraps I made with ground chicken, scallions, cilantro, shallots, and a surprise ingredient of ground rice powder were delicious. They tasted fresh, with the brightness of lime juice and the bite of raw shallots and scallions. I ground the toasted rice in my new spice grinder - if you have a coffee grinder it should work just as well - and this added a really nice, nutty texture to the dish.

I guess you could say this is the Laotian version of fast food tacos.

Ground Chicken Laap (Food and Wine)
1 tablespoon long-grain white rice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound ground chicken (turkey or duck)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 large stalks of lemongrass—tender pale inner core only, minced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced and separated into rings
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Small romaine leaves and lime wedges, for serving

In a small skillet, toast the rice over high heat, shaking the skillet a few times, until the rice is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the rice to a spice grinder and let cool completely. Grind the rice to a powder.
In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the ground meat and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat evenly, until no pink remains, about 4 minutes. Add the stock and cook, stirring, until bubbling. Remove from the heat and stir in the fish sauce. Season with salt and black pepper and stir in the lime juice. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir in the lemongrass, scallions, shallot rings, cilantro, mint, crushed red pepper and rice powder. Arrange the lettuce and lime wedges on a platter. Spoon the laap on top and serve.

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