AppetizerIshan Jain

Lao Roasted Tomato Salsa & Smokey Eggplant Dip

AppetizerIshan Jain
   

Luang Prabang is an ancient city, nestled on a hilltop peninsula between the Nam Kahn and Mekong rivers in northern Laos. Until 1975, it was the capital of the Kingdom of Luang Prabang. It has a mystical feeling, and is well known for its Buddhist temples and monasteries. Every morning at dawn, hundreds of monks line the streets to collect alms from the locals, who feel that it is an honor to feed them.
Lao cuisine is unlike many others in the region, partially due to its location – it is landlocked and has no trading ports. The staple of each meal is sticky rice, and its rolled into little balls and eaten with fingers – chopsticks are only for noodle dishes. A typical meal includes sticky rice, which is used to pick up food, and jeow, spicy vegetable dipping sauces similar to salsa. The local markets are overflowing with chicken, fresh water fish, duck, pork, water buffalo and goat. They also cook with a number of ingredients that I had never seen before, like pea eggplants – tiny, bright green eggplants the size of blueberries that grow on branches (there is a picture below). They use lots of herbs, and try to balance the flavors of their dishes with bitter, salty, sour and spicy components.
These jeow recipes are really easy to prepare, and can be mild or very spicy. At Tamarind Cooking School, we made jeow by threading eggplant or tomatoes, garlic bulbs, whole shallots and chili peppers onto skewers, and roasted them right on top of red-hot coals until they were blackened. For the recipes below, you can use an outdoor grill or a broiler to achieve a similar effect. Serve the jeow with rice crackers or tortilla chips as an appetizer or over fish, chicken or pork as a main dish.

Active Time: 30 minutes
Makes 1 cup each
Adapted from Tamarind Cooking School, Luang Prabang, Laos

Ingredients

Roasted Tomato Salsa: Jeow Mak Len

5 large cherry tomatoes
1 bulb of garlic
1 large shallot bulb – whole
1 or 2 small red and green chilies
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
½ teaspoon fish sauce
1 scallion, white and green parts, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice – or more to taste

Smokey Eggplant Dip: Jeow Mak Keua

2 small Japanese or Lebanese eggplants, or one medium western eggplant
1 or 2 small red and green chilies
1 garlic bulb
1 large shallot bulb – whole
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 scallion, white and green parts, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped Thai basil leaves
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice – or more to taste

Preparation

Roasted Tomato Salsa: Jeow Mak Len

Put the tomatoes, garlic, shallot, and chilies on a skewer and roast over a grill or under a broiler until blackened. The vegetables should be charred on the outside and the garlic and shallot should be soft when you squeeze them between your fingers.
Peel off the blackened skin from the tomatoes and discard it. Peel the shallot and roughly chop. Remove the stem end from the chilies and scrape out the seeds – for a spicier jeow leave the seeds in. Roughly chop the chilies. Squeeze a few garlic cloves out of their skin and place the garlic, the shallots, chilies, salt and sugar in a mortar and pestle, or food processor and pound or pulse until a chunky paste has formed. Add the tomatoes, fish sauce, scallion, cilantro and lime juice and gently pound or pulse until a rough salsa has formed. Transfer to a serving bowl and season to taste.

Smokey Eggplant Dip: Jeow Mak Keua

Put the eggplants, garlic, shallot, and chilies on a skewer and roast over a grill or under a broiler until blackened. The vegetables should be charred and the eggplant, garlic and shallot should be soft when you squeeze them between your fingers. Peel off the blackened skin from the eggplant and shallot. Roughly chop the shallot, discarding the root end. Squeeze a few of the garlic cloves out of their skin. Remove the stem end from the chilies and scrape out the seeds – for a spicier jeow leave the seeds in. Roughly chop the chilies. Place a few cloves of garlic, the shallots, chilies, salt and sugar in a mortar and pestle, or food processor and pound or pulse until a chunky paste has formed. Add the eggplant, fish sauce, scallion, cilantro and lime juice and gently pound or pulse until a rough salsa has formed. Transfer to a serving bowl and season to taste.