Monday, February 7, 2011

A Taste of Lao Cuisine in Luang Prabang

While we were in Laos, we stayed at the picturesque La Residence Phou Vao in Luang Prabang. It's beautiful outdoor Phou Savanh Restaurant served traditional Lao cuisine fused with inventive French touches, courtesy of the inspired panache of Executive Chef Gilles Galli. One of the staples of Lao cuisine is sticky rice, and popular herbs such as galangal, limes, lemongrass, coriander and of course hot chilis. Lao food has many influences, such as Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and French, but the former royal seat of Luang Prabang is considered to be the country's culinary heart. Chef Galli prepares a dish called Khao Lam to accompany his Coriander and Garlic Infused Chicken on Lemongrass Skewers, which is sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and dotted with black beans, and served in bamboo, however it's sometimes served in coconut shell too. Each of the dishes we enjoyed were a treat for the eyes and the environment, with each meal artfully presented using materials found in nature, from banana leaves, coconut shells, hand made wooden bowl and rustic wood or stone platters. And eating under a blanket of stars amid dozens of glowing lanterns, made dining at Phou Savanh a memorable experience. 

Coriander and Garlic Infused Grilled Chicken on 
Lemongrass Skewers with "Khao Lam"

Coriander and Garlic Infused Grilled Chicken on Lemongrass Skewers
Serves 8

2 tbsp finely chopped ginger 
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander 
4  garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, finely chopped
4 lemongrass stalks, cut in half and pared with sharp points
2 kg chicken thighs and/or breasts
1 cup light soy sauce
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp white sugar

Pound ginger, coriander, garlic and lemongrass with a mortar and pestle, or process in a small food processor, until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients, mix well to coat chicken, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat barbecue to low heat. Remove chicken from marinade, thread onto lemongrass skewers and grill, turning occasionally, until cooked through about 10-15 minutes. Serve hot with Spicy Peanut Sauce and Khao Lam sticky rice.

Spicy Peanut Sauce

1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbp red curry paste
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chicken stock
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp chili sauce 
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp sesame oil

Heat oil in a saucepan. Add the red curry paste and saute until fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer to thicken, about 2-3 minutes. Serve with Chicken on Lemongrass Skewers.

Khao Lam (Sticky Rice and Black Bean) - Wrapped in Banana Leaf
Serves 8

2 cups Thai sticky rice, soaked in water for 3 hours or overnight, then drained
3/4 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup canned black beans, drained
8 8"×8" pieces of banana leaves (or parchment paper)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir sticky rice, coconut milk, water, sugar and salt in a large pan over medium heat. Stir until all coconut milk is absorbed. Stir in black beans and fold gently to mix. 

Put equal amounts of the sticky rice mixture onto 8 banana leaves. Form the rice into a cylinder about 6″ long and lay it in the center of the leaf so that you have about 1 inch left on either end. Fold the banana leaf in half around the rice, then roll it around the cylinder. Fold in both ends and secure them with a toothpick, poking down and then up, or you can twist the ends and tie them. Each bundle will make a round tube about 6 inches long and 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. 

Grill for 5 minutes on each side until the sticky rice is translucent and cooked, or bake in the oven for 10 minutes. For a dramatic presentation, serve the rice hot in the banana leaves and let your guests unwrap the little parcels.