Laotian Duck and Cucumber Stir-Fry

5 medium cucumbers or 2 telegraph cucumbers, washed (choose young ones with thin, edible skin and small seed core if possible)
1/2 duck breast with skin (or equivalent in thigh meat and skin)
1 T garlic, chopped
2 T fish sauce
2 T thin soy sauce
1 T chicken stock powder (optional)
3 T oyster sauce
1/2 t sugar
1 t chilli paste to taste (optional)
1/4 C spring onion greens, finely sliced

Method

Separate the duck skin from the flesh, reserving fat. Slice the fat into 1 cm (1/2 in) pieces and the skin into 2 cm (1 in) slices. Set aside. Slice the duck meat finely across the grain. Set aside.

Toss the chopped fat and skin into a heated wok set over a medium flame. Allow the fat to render down and the skin to fry until golden brown and crisp. At this stage (there will be a change in the frying sound and a fragrance released), push the crisp skin to one side. While the skin and fat are cooking, prepare the cucumbers.

Peel the cucumbers if the skin is tough and bitter; cucumber is used in this dish to impart sweetness. Slice them in thin diagonal wedges, creating slices that taper off about two-thirds of the way through the cucumber.

Add the chopped garlic to the rendered fat and then the meat. Stir fry several minutes until the colour changes. Add the crisp duck skin and then the cucumber. Mix together and stir fry until all is heated through and starting to cook. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, stock powder, oyster sauce, optional chilli paste and sugar, briefly stirring between each addition to distribute the flavours evenly and merge them together.

Cover and let cook for a few more minutes. The moisture from the cucumbers should be released to form a tasty sauce with the other flavourings, but the vegetable must not be overcooked. It should remain crisp.

Taste for flavour and adjust. Stir in the spring onion greens. Transfer to a serving bow

Lao Soop Pak

1 C Chinese cabbage, cut in small, loose leaf pieces 7 cm (2 – 3in)
1 C cauliflower flowerets (or other white vegetable)
3 fingers sized amount of bamboo shoots, pre-cooked, finely sliced (optional)
3 long beans, cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces (or 10 green beans)
1 bunch sawtooth herb, three fingers-width, tailed and cut in half (or coriander leaves)
1/2 – 1 C collard greens (or bok choi ), cut in 4 cm (1½ in) pieces
2 – 3 stems dill, cut into 4 cm (1½ in) lengths
2 very large or 4 medium oyster mushrooms, torn in 1 – 2 cm (½ in) wide shreds
1 large bowlful water with 1 teaspoon of salt for refreshing vegetables
1/2 large head garlic, strung on toothpicks or satay sticks for grilling
3 or more red chillies (amount to taste or omit), strung on toothpicks for grilling
2 thin slices galangal or ginger
2 T to 1/3 C sesame seeds, dry roasted. A mixture of white and black seeds is desirable, although white alone is fine.
2 T soy sauce, padek or fish sauce (or to taste)
8 C water

Method

Prepare the vegetables as described, placing the readied ones in a large bowl. Add water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Rinse vegetables in the brine, picking off any wilting pieces. Let soak briefly.

Put fresh water into the bottom of a steamer or a sticky rice pot and bring to the boil.

Toast the sesame seeds. Place in a mortar. Pound until most of the seeds are broken. Remove and set aside.

When the water comes to the boil, tip the vegetables into the steamer, allow them to drain and then place the steamer over the boiling water. Steam for 10 – 15 minutes depending on preferred crispness.

Roast the garlic and chillies. Cool. Remove their charred skins. Add the peeled garlic, chillies and galangal/ ginger to the mortar. Pound until a paste forms. Adding a dash of salt helps the blending.

When the vegetables are ready, toss them briefly in the steamer to expel the steam. Invert the steamer over a low-sided, wide bowl. Let the vegetables cool. Sprinkle them with the pounded sesame seeds and the pounded galangal/ginger and garlic paste. Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Gently use your hands to mix the ingredients together well. Taste and adjust with sauce if needed.

Turn into a serving bowl, garnish with coriander and serve as part of a Lao meal. This dish goes well with sticky rice or can be used as a picnic dish.

Luang Prabang Watercress Salad

Salad

1 large bunch watercress (or 1 cup Chinese or regular celery leaves or 1 cup rocket)
4 eggs, hard-boiled, whites only; reserve the yolks for the dressing
2 C mesclun using whatever greens are available
1/2 C coriander leaves
1/2 C mint leaves
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
10 cherry tomatoes or 2 medium tomatoes

Dressing

1/3 C light oil
4 T garlic, chopped
4 egg yolks, chopped
3 T sugar
2 T fish sauce
2 T soy sauce
4 T lime juice

To finish

1/4 C dry-fried peanuts, chopped

Method

Heat a wok or pan and dry fry the peanuts. Set the nuts aside to cool. When cool, chop.

Heat the oil on a medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and fry until golden brown, stirring frequently so it does not burn (about 2 minutes).

While the garlic is frying, mix together the chopped egg yolks, sugar, fish sauce and soy sauce in a deep bowl or screw-top jar. When the garlic is ready, remove it from the heat and cool. Add the garlic and its cooking oil to the mixture. Whisk or shake to blend well.

Add the lime juice and mix. Taste and adjust the sugar and lime juice.

Wash the watercress thoroughly in clean water; drain and discard any thick stems. Cut cherry tomatoes in halves. If using larger tomatoes, cut into wedges about 1 cm (½ in) thick at the widest part.

Assemble the salad on a large, flat plate or in a bowl by forming a bed of watercress which is topped with the other herbs and leaves, tomatoes and sliced egg whites in a nice pattern. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the whole. Serve the salad immediately, as it will quickly wilt.

Variations

For a sweeter version, reduce the lime juice; for a sourer version, increase the lime juice. Do not reduce the sugar amount. Equal or other sugar substitute may be used as a replacement sweetener.

The number of eggs can be reduced to 2 or 3. The dressing will be thinner.

Save any remaining dressing in a screw-top jar and refrigerate for later use.

Jeow Bong (Luang Prabang Chili Sauce)

3 large heads of garlic (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup shallots
1 thumb-size piece of galangal chopped into small pieces
1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt
1 – 2 tablespoons dark red, roasted chilli flakes
2 teaspoons palm sugar
Water or fish sauce to thin, if needed

Roast or grill the garlic and shallots until cooked through. Meanwhile, in a mortar pound the galangal.

Peel the garlic cloves and shallots, add to the mortar along with the salt and pound to a paste. Stir in the chilli flakes. Add the sugar and pound to mix. Taste and add water, fish sauce (or soy sauce for vegetarians) or more chilli flakes.

Transfer the mixture to a small frying pan and dry fry on a very low heat for 10 minutes until rich, dark and aromatic. The flavour develops over time.