Friday, February 22, 2013

Luang Prabang Salad

I've been in Southeast Asia since early February, retracing some of my past footsteps and setting down new ones, too.  It's my first time in Laos, a land-locked country that has been open to western tourists only 10 or 15 years.

Luang Prabang, the most popular tourist destination in Laos, is a low-key, provincial capital city and former home to one of the old monarchs of Laos.  Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang is likely to remain a small, walkable city between the Mekong and Khan rivers with a lovely mix of traditional and colonial architecture.

The cuisine of Laos is similar to, but also distinct from its Southeast Asian neighbors.  And there's French influence in many popular dishes, a vestige from the days when Laos was part of the French colony of Indochine.

The Lao have always eaten lots of greens and a wide variety are farmed in the countryside surrounding Luang Prabang.  But probably the most popular leafy green in these parts is watercress.  We saw watercress growing outside of the hillside village of Ban Long Lao about 25km from Luang Prabang.

Many restaurants serve a dish called Luang Prabang Salad which is a tossed salad consisting of a variety of fresh mixed greens and fresh herbs along with cucumber, tomato, spring onion, and sliced hard-cooked egg.  The salad is often garnished with crushed peanuts and/ or crispy-fried sliced garlic and shallot.

I enjoyed three versions of the Luang Prabang Salad during my visit.  All included a refreshing mixture of tender lettuces, watercress, mint leaves, dill, and young cilantro but each was dressed differently. One had a creamy, egg-y dressing like hollandaise.  Another had a slightly sharper version of this dressing.  But the one I like best was a chili-flecked, sweet and sour dressing similar to the dipping sauce that accompanies spring rolls served at the Coconut Garden restaurant on Sisavangvong St.

You can make your own version of Luang Prabang Salad easily enough, though tomato and cucumber are not currently in season in Los Angeles, they are grown in hot houses in California and trucked in from neighboring Mexico.  Be sure to use a good variety of fresh greens and herbs, and don't forget the watercress.

Luang Prabang Salad

For 2 servings:

4 C watercress leaves and mixed fresh lettuces, broken into pieces and loosely packed
1/2 - 1 C loosely packed leaves of fresh herbs like mint, dill, and cilantro
1 medium tomato sliced
1/2 cucumber, sliced
2-3 T chopped green onion
2 hard boiled eggs, chilled, peeled and sliced
2-3 T crushed roasted peanuts
1-2 T sliced and crispy fried garlic and/ or shallot, optional

For the dressing, you can make the more traditional egg-based dressing by finely mincing a small clove of garlic with 1-2 hard-boiled egg yolks, then add 2 T canola oil, 2 T lemon juice, 1-2 t sugar (or your favorite sweetener), a few drops fish sauce and salt to taste.  Blend until smooth.  Thin with a little water if desired.  Or try a sweet and sour dressing if you prefer.  Just about any dressing would be delicious on  Luang Prabang Salad.



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