Tag Archives: substitutes

Lao ingredients can be hard to find so the Lao recipes in the cookbook always suggest substitutes for hard to find vegetables and herbs.

Sticky rice, glutinous rice ເຂົ້າໜຽວ kao niao

Sticky rice, glutinous rice ເຂົ້າໜຽວ kao niao

Sticky rice, glutinous rice ເຂົ້າໜຽວ kao niao

Sticky rice accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the rice consumed in Laos. It is opaque rather than semi-transparent like plain rice. High in gluten, it is the staple diet of many Tai and Kmhmu’ people. In the uplands, much work goes into polishing the rice which is unfortunate as many essential vitamins and minerals lacking in local diets could be provided if the bran were left on the grains. There are many varieties, both old, traditional seeds and new, higher-yielding ones. The latter have improved food security in subsistence economy villages and added income when yields are large enough for a portion to be sold. However, they may need more chemicals and be less resistant to drought, disease and pests.

Swidden rice harvest, Ban Goop

Swidden rice harvest, Ban Goop

Sticky rice is the most important crop for subsistence economies in the hills of northern Laos even when it is not traded.

Harvesting upland sticky rice, Ban Goop

Harvesting upland sticky rice, Ban Goop

It is grown dry on steep, upland slash and burn fields, interplanted with crops such as maize, cucumber, chilli, taro and sesame. Other sticky rice varieties are grown in wet paddy fields.

Khmu foot-driven rice pounder for husking rice, Ban Sopsinh

Khmu foot-driven rice pounder for husking rice, Ban Sopsinh

Winnowing rice, Ban Goop

Winnowing rice, Ban Goop

Steaming sticky rice for a celebration

Steaming sticky rice for a celebration

The rice must be soaked before steaming. It is usually cooked in a traditional bamboo or wooden steamer above a special aluminium pot. Once steamed, the rice is allowed to breathe by being stirred and turned over with a wooden paddle. Turning, allowing the steam to escape, prevents an overly sticky rice. A special woven bamboo basket is used for storing and serving sticky rice. The rice is eaten with the fingers. The diner presses the rice in the right palm to form a small ball to scoop up accompanying food. Dip the ball into chilli paste or use it, along with the thumb, to grab a piece of food. See recipe for Sticky rice for full cooking instructions.
Sticky rice is available in supermarkets and Asian suppliers. Buy young rice which requires less time to cook. Overseas Lao prefer Japanese sticky rice to the long grain Thai sticky rice because the Japanese variety has smaller grains like that at home.

Green beans ໝາກຖົ່ ວເບີອ mak tua beua

Green beans ໝາກຖົ່ ວເບີອ mak tua beua

Green beans ໝາກຖົ່ ວເບີອ mak tua beua

Steam and serve with jeow or use in stir fries. They are used in Akha bean salad and any soop and can be substituted for long or yard-long beans.

Fermented fish sauce ປາແດກ padek, paedek

This extremely pungent, opaque fermented fish sauce incorporates chunks of fish. It is eaten raw or cooked in a variety of Lao dishes; it is used extensively in Thailand’s Isaan province, home to many Lao. It is also made and used in northern and central Thailand. Padek’s odour is so intense that tam mak hoong (papaya salad) made with nam padek (padek liquid) can be detected a room away. When the correct amount of padek is added to a Lao dish, however, the sauce magically transforms it, adding a depth not replicable by substituting fish sauce.

High quality fermented fish sauce ປາແດກ padek, paedek

High quality fermented fish sauce ປາແດກ padek, paedek

The main ingredients of padek are salt, fish and rice bran or rice husks. The addition of other ingredients depends on preference, but is based on scale. The best padek has fermented for at least six months – a year is better – and comes from the North, according to northerners. It should be made in the dry season (around April) when the danger of spoilage is less.
Fresh water fish such as glass fish, Siamese mud carp or giant Mekong catfish, bpaa kao, are commonly used. Padek made from Mekong fish in the South has the danger of containing liver flukes. There are no known ways to remove liver flukes from padek. Investigators from Singapore and Thailand have discovered new bile duct cancer-associated gene mutations that are caused by a type of parasitic flatworm (liver fluke) infection. Boiling padek for 15 minutes may kill bacteria but cannot be guaranteed to kill the liver flukes, so it is best to avoid padek from southern Laos unless the fish origin is known to be safe. If using the fish pieces in the sauce, wash the bran or husks off first. Commercially produced padek, such as that sold in Isaan, is rumoured to sometimes have formalin added.

Padek seller preparing a plastic bag of padek for customer

Padek seller preparing a plastic bag of padek for customer

Bottled Lao or Isaan padek or Thai pla ra can be bought from some Asian food supply stores. Another substitute is anchovy sauce or paste. Do not use one with vinegar. Alternatively, stew tinned or bottled anchovy fillets in fish stock until disintegrated. If desired, this mixture can then be sieved for a finer sauce. Preserved or fermented fish from various Asian countries also makes a good substitute, for example Filipino fermented or preserved gourami fish.

Here is a recipe for authentic padek from Boutsady Khounnouvong who learned it from her grandmother when she was young.

3 kg of fish/3 portions of fish
1 kg of salt/1 portion of salt
1/2 kg of rice bran (eg, half the amount of salt)

Scale, gut, wash and drain the fish.Put the drained fish in a large bowl and add the salt. Mix together, and then leave to sit, covered, for 12 hours.
After 12 hours, add the rice bran and mix again. Shift the mixture into a pottery or glass jar. Use your hand to press down the contents. A boiled rock may be used to maintain pressure on the fish. Do not fill the jar completely; leave 7 to 8 cm (3 in) at the top as there will be expansion with fermentation.
Cover the jar, and then leave it for at least six months. A year is preferable. During the fermentation, check the mixture. Use a large spoon to turn it and press it down again. It will keep two years in the jar. Store carefully as flies love padek!

Here is another recipe for padek from Madame Ny Luangkhot who devised it using sea fish when she was a graduate student in the Soviet Union.

If you have small fish, the proportion of fish and salt is one to five –1 kg(2 lb) of salt to 5 kg(10 lb) of fish. Mix the salt and fish together, and then leave for a few days. Next add 1 kg (1 lb) rice husks or rice bran. Squeeze the mixture a bit as the ingredients are being incorporated. Transfer the mix to a jar or pot. Put a clean boiled stone on top. Its pressure will create the juice over the next months. Keep the pot well closed for at least a year. If you are making padek with large fish – 7 to 8kg (16 lb) per fish – the proportion of salt to fish is one to three. Before salting, hit the fish firmly several times on both sides so that the flesh can absorb the salt.

Here is how the Kalom (Tai Yuan) people make padek in Luang Namtha.
Big fish are preferred, but small fish are also used. Use 3 kg (7 lb) fish, including heads. Slice fish and bones into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces. Put in a bowl, and then leave three or four days until the fish smells—the smellier the better. Pound a thumb-size piece of galangal and 6 – 10 chillies together and add ½ cup rice bran, ½ kg salt and ½ cup alcohol, such as lao Lao or whiskey. More salt may be used if a very strong sauce is desired. Add the fish, mix and put in a ceramic pot to ferment. Cover with a plastic bag and weigh down. Leave untouched for a year, although it may be eaten after two months. Two-year-old padek is very nice.

Cucumber ໝາກແຕງ mak taeng

Cucumber ໝາກແຕງ mak taeng

Cucumber ໝາກແຕງ mak taeng

Most are grown to about 15 cm (6 in) but sometimes are left to grow twice that size. Smaller, dill pickle-size cucumbers are also available in Laos. The main varieties in Laos have a thin, edible skin. Stuff with pork and put in a mild soup. Stir fry with meat or tofu. Eat raw as a salad vegetable with lahp. This is a frequent garnish and accompaniment for many other dishes. In the uplands, large, juicy apple cucumbers are grown and eaten raw or in soup. They can grow as large as pomelo, a local citrus larger than a grapefruit. Lebanese cucumbers or telegraph cucumbers make good substitutes.

Fermented bean paste, Muang Sing ໝາກຖົ່ວເນົ່າ mak tua nao

Fermented bean paste, Muang Sing ໝາກຖົ່ວເນົ່າ mak tua nao

Fermented bean paste, Muang Sing ໝາກຖົ່ວເນົ່າ mak tua nao

This salty and chilli-flavoured fermented soybean paste is widely available in Luang Namtha markets. To create it, soybeans are steamed and then put in a plastic bag in the sun where they are left for a time. They are then pounded with dried chillies, rice alcohol and salt. The mixture is left for between a month and a year. The paste is used to make the sauce for kao soi noodles. Koreans make similar pastes called doenjang and gochujang. The closest equivalent is Chinese douban jiang, a spicy, salty paste made from fermented broad beans, soybeans, red chilli peppers, salt and spices native to Sichuan.
An easy substitute is to buy bottled fermented yellow bean sauce with whole beans, drain the liquid and mash 1 cup of the beans with 1 teaspoon chilli powder or 1 tablespoon chilli flakes. Miso, spiced up with chilli powder, can also be used.

Kao soi with parboiled vegetables ເຂົ້າຊອຍ ກັບ ຜັກລວກ kao soi gap pak luak, which contain a generous dose of pork sauce made with fermented soy bean paste

Kao soi with parboiled vegetables ເຂົ້າຊອຍ ກັບ ຜັກລວກ kao soi gap pak luak, which contain a generous dose of pork sauce made with fermented soy bean paste