Friday, July 22, 2011

Connecting with Lao culture through cooking

Lately my mother has been very persistent in making sure I know my culture and where my family comes from, especially through cooking. It seems like everyday she is asking me
"daughter! Do you really know how to make (insert Lao recipe here)? Do you know the secret ingredients and techniques? You know I've been cooking since I was 7 years old in my country...ramble ramble...Oh I just show you again just to make sure..." 
You would think she would remember that she's been showing me for almost 20 years now, but at least I don't mind testing her recipes :p
Anyways, my mother comes from a little known country called Lao People's Democratic Republic, or Laos for short.

Her main goal while she was raising me was to preserve our culture and teach me all the recipes that my Madou (grandmother) taught her. Growing up, I was spoiled with home cooked Lao food and now that I'm moving out for college there's no place to get this amazing, authentic taste of home.

Here is a classic Lao favorite that is made in every Lao home. Yes...the ingredients might seem a bit strange, but if you enjoy trying something new you will love it.

Lao Papaya Salad

2 cups shredded papaya
1 shredded carrot (optional, for added texture & color)
2 garlic cloves
1-4 chilies (depending on how spicy you want it)
1 tablespoon fish paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon msg
3 tablespoons sugar
5 cherry tomatoes
1/2 lime squeezed
(or more, depends on how sour you want it)

Cut the outside skin of the papaya and carrot off.
Using a vegetable shredder, shred the papaya and carrot until you have your desired amount.
Dice the tomatoes and put to the side.

Using a large mortar and pestle*, pound the garlic and chilies together until well combined.
Add the fish paste, msg, and sugar one at a time until well combined.
Add the shredded papaya, shredded carrot, diced tomatoes, and fish sauce. Use a spoon to help mix ingredients together.
Taste and adjust to your liking, it should be sweet, sour, and spicy.

*If you don't have a large mortar and pestle, no big deal. The garlic, chilies, fish paste, msg, and sugar should be combined with some weight. For example, if you have a rolling pin or meat tenderizer of some sort, place the ingredients in a resealable bag and pound it until combined. When adding the papaya, carrot, and tomatoes you want to toss the ingredients together until very well combined.


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