Sunday, 2 November 2014

L for Laos

Dee:  “We’re lacking the familiar dining room pictures this time, as we’re in the middle of decorating.
We decided to prepare a vegetarian feast again tonight, and, after searching through the recipes, discovered a few promising sounding dishes.  Initially I thought that we would have trouble sourcing ingredients, but I’m happy to say that this didn’t turn out to be a problem.  I read that sticky rice was a staple of Lao cuisine, but we hadn’t allowed ourselves enough time to prepare it, so opted for a soup, a salad and a spiced vegetable based dish
Everything that we cooked, and brewed in the case of the tea, was simple to prepare and full of flavour.  A winning combination I think.
The main feeling I got when we sat down to eat was of balance.  Everything complimented everything else.  The sweetness of the tea, the saltiness of the beans and the different textures in the salad.  Even the music created a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere.”

Papaya Salad
Dee:  “The recipe for this calls for unripe green papaya, but we had to go with what was available to us, which was a ripe one.  An alternative of shredded cabbage and carrot was suggested, but we decided to see how the dish would taste with ripe papaya, and fortunately it was fine.  We found some Thai spiced peanuts which we added both to the salad mix and as a garnish.  Laos and Thailand share an extensive border, and I’m not sure how ‘Thai’ the spiced nuts were anyway, so I decided that I’d be ok to use them.  The nuts and lightly steamed beans gave a nice contrast of textures with the shredded papaya and tomatoes, and the lettuce and cucumber brought an additional fresh dimension to the overall taste.  The original recipe called for fish sauce as part of the dressing, but we used soy sauce instead as a vegetarian alternative.
We served it on a bed of shredded lettuce and finely chopped cucumber”

Hot and Sour Mushroom Soup
Dee:  “This soup was a real hit and would have been even better if we’d been able to find some fresh kaffir lime leaves.  Unfortunately we only had dried ones which had been hanging round for ages.  I pre-soaked them before adding them to the soup but was fighting a losing battle with them.  The recipe was simple.  Basically just put everything apart from the chilli in a pot, bring it to the boil and simmer it for 25 minutes.  Then add the chilli and simmer for another 5 minutes.  During this time the mushrooms had softened and the broth had taken on an intense flavour.  The taste was more sour than hot but that was ok.  The recipe also called for green chillies but we used red instead to give the soup a bit more colour.  ”

Akha Beans
Dee:  “The write-up for this recipe said that either ginger or sesame seeds could accompany the beans, but not both so, as we’d used ginger in the tea, and sauce with ginger in it in the soup, we decided to go with the sesame seed option.  I love toasted sesame seeds.
Jay sent me out into the garden with a torch to get some mint, but it was worth it as they helped to give these beans star treatment.  The recipe called for 3 tablespoons of soy sauce along with 1 teaspoon of salt, which did give the dish a pronounced saltiness so next time I’d probably cut down on the amount of soy sauce, but I was still very pleased with it overall.”

Lemongrass and Ginger Spiced Tea
Dee:  “The original recipe that we picked was for Iced Tea, but that wasn’t going to be suitable for a cold, dark evening at the start of the English Winter, so we adapted the recipe and made hot tea instead, which we served in the small espresso cups as shown in the photo.  These turned out to be perfect vessels, as the tea was very sweet, though not unpleasantly so, and would certainly be best enjoyed in small measures.  I was a little worried that the ginger would overpower the other ingredients but it didn’t. Although it was present in the overall taste, the spicing was subtle and the sweet tea was a fine accompaniment to the other dishes.”

Soundtrack:  Nouthong Phimvilayphone – Visions of the Orient: Music from Laos
Dee:  “This fascinating album opened with what sounded like a vintage synthesizer with a few preprogrammed notes on loop.  It managed to capture my interest even though there was no tune as I was sure I detected subtle changes in among the seeming repetition.  There were one or two tracks in this style interspersed among the rest of the album.  The vocals kicked in on track 2 and sounded as if they were half sung, half chanted, and worked in close harmony with the music, which was driven by slow rhythms, on top of which various stringed instruments and bell-like percussion seemed to weave this way and that.  I would describe this album as a collection of intricate musical patterns, rather than verse-chorus-verse style songs.  The only discernable tunes came from a pipe-like instrument, but these sounded more improvised rather than structured.  It's difficult to imagine how this music is created.  The pace of all the various tracks on the album was quite slow, but some, such as ‘Lam Phoeng’ sounded like they could accompany choreographed dances.  After a few tracks, it started to have quite a calming effect on me.  It was an ideal accompaniment to tonight’s meal.”

Next Week we’re off the South East Coast of Africa:  M for Madagascar

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