Lao Tomato Chilli Jaew


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Jaew is pounded sauce or rough paste, the main ingredient of which is chilli: it is essential to a Lao meal.  My favourite is Jaew Bong, a specialty of Luang Prabang made with buffalo skin (don’t be put off, it’s delicious).The varieties are endless, ranging from simple blends of chilli, salt and fresh herb leaves to unctuous condiments whose recipes are handed down through families. The secret of a really good one is to sear one or more of the ingredients on a charcoal fire.  It is served in a separate bowl and everyone dips food into the communal dish rather than scoop a personal portion onto their plate.


In the North of Laos, jaews are so hot that when I first tried one it felt like someone had sneaked up behind me and slapped me on the back with a frying pan. I almost lost my breath, not to mention the roof of my mouth and my tongue.  I soon got used to it and my chilli tolerance has gone up a thousand fold forever.  Lao people believe chillies are beneficial in many ways. They stimulate the production of mucus in the stomach lining which protects it against irritation; they’re antiseptic, good for the circulation and excellent at clearing the respiratory system of excess phlegm.  Try eating jaew next time you have a heavy cold, it works wonders.


DSCF3159Ingredients for Tomato jaew


Between 4 and 20 (depends on how hot you like it) fresh birds eye chillies, stalks removed.


3 cm piece       galangal root, peeled then seared,blackened.


1/2 tsp             rough sea salt


1                      salted anchovy (Paa-dek is the authentic condiment to use here, in the UK we use salted anchovies (not oily ones) as a replacement, fish sauce is just about acceptable if you have none. Shrimp paste would be used in Thailand but the flavour tone is quite different.)


1 head            garlic, seared blackened.


3                      shallots, seared blackened.


500g/1lb          small, flavourful tomatoes, chopped roughly.


1                      the juice of one lime


1 handful         coriander leaves or Thai basil leaves


A pinch            sugar (optional)


Spear the chillies, garlic, galangal and shallot on a skewer. Then sear them over a open flame (gas ring or even a candle if desperate) until well they begin to blacken.


Rub off the worst of the soot and discard the onion and garlic skins. Slice up the vegetables separately.DSCF3313


Transfer the vegetables to a pestle and mortar in the order below and pound until they turn to rough paste.


First pound the chillies, salt, and galangal, pound to a paste then add the garlic and anchovy and keep pounding. Next add the shallots and when they have reached paste form add the tomatoes a few at a time and pound them down.  You may need a spoon to scrape the mixture around as you pound it.


Add the herbs.


Now add the lime juice and taste.  You may want to add a pinch of sugar.


Serve with sticky rice or kaipen (see below)  if you can get them.DSCF3324


Chillies, of course, are not native to Laos but come from Mexico and the Americas. The Portuguese brought chillies to Southeast Asia when they arrived in Siam in 1511. Over the centuries, they replaced peppercorns (a native of Malabar, India) as the preferred spice of heat, starting as a subtler flavouring which built up over the years.  My friend Khamtoune, believes that Lao food has become hotter, even in her lifetime. She came back from Laos recently and was shocked by the new strength of chilli use in her native Luang Prabang cuisine.  She believes this to be the influence of Northern Thai cuisine brought in by the many Thai tourists in Laos.


Spicy Jaew Bong with kaipen (crisp river weed)

Jaew bong (Lao: ແຈ່ວບອງ) is a sweet and spicy ...

Lao River Weed snacks served with Jaew Bong, a specialty of Luang Prabang, made with buffalo skin.

Steamed Lao Sticky (glutinous) Rice

I’m moving – follow my new Lao Food site

The Lao verb “to eat” is directly translated as “to eat rice” and one food that unites all Laos is ‘sticky’ rice, kao neaw

DSCF3324How To Cook Sticky Rice in a traditional steamer

The name ‘glutinous’ rice is misleading as the grain contains no gluten.  The stickiness of the cooked rice is due to the combination of the carbohydrates in the starchy interior and this rice is steamed rather than boiled. Buy a packet of glutinous rice from an Asian store, it should be labelled clearly.  Pour out as much as you would like to serve because it DOES NOT EXPAND when cooked like fluffy rice.  Then put into a bowl with plenty of water and soak overnight, changing the water a couple of times.  If you forgot to soak it overnight then you can soak it for a minimum of two hours but longer is better.  Give the rice a final rinse and drain it. If you do not have a traditional bamboo steamer you can wrap the rice in fine muslin and steam it in a regular steamer.

The traditional steamer, a conical bamboo basket with matching aluminium pot, (available cheaply in Thai supermarkets) adds a certain perfume to the rice and is worth seeking out. First, fill the aluminium pot with about a litre of water, the water should not touch the bamboo basket.  Place the bamboo basket on top of the pot, fill with a pound of drained rice and bring the water to the boil. Once boining, steam the rice for approximately twenty-five minutes without a lid (varieties differ a little) turning it over in one lump, halfway through.  To do this take it off the heat and toss it.  The rice should lift from the bottom and turn over in one lump.

DSCF3326When ready, the rice should look opaque and firm.  If it is gooey you’ve cooked it too long, if it’s crunchy, not enough. Laotians cook it perfectly every time, I however, sometimes get a little gooey bit at the bottom of the conical basket.  I’ve learnt to live with it. Take the rice out of the steamer and roll it around on the work surface to release a bit of steam, then put it in a basket and serve.  To eat, roll it into a ball in your hand and use to to soak up food juices as you would bread.

N.B. Once cooked do not store it in the fridge, it goes hard.

Some information about Lao sticky rice.

Rice is the single most important crop in Laos and takes up 72% of the cultivated area, 85% of which is ‘sticky rice’. It tends to have a shorter growing season (90-110 days as opposed to 100-200) than non-sticky varieties, grows better in poorer soils with erratic rainfall; and once cooked, keeps longer and is easily transportable.  Nearly all Lao sticky rice is consumed locally.

The differences between plain and sticky rice the proportion of two starches, amylose (linear glucose molecules) and amylopectin (branched glucose molecules), within the grain.  Dry and fluffy rice varieties have a high amylose starch content of 10–25 percent, while sticky rice contains only 0.8 to 1.3 percent.  It has been suggested that the variety came about by the selection of man but the evidence has been lost in time.

Man working in a ricefield.

Man working in a ricefield. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Farmers tend to grow a small area of prized native varieties for their own needs, spreading them through the growing season, and it is not uncommon for one family to have been growing their own special strain for centuries. They grow and distinguish between early (Kau do), medium (Kau kang/theung) and late growing rice (Kau pee). This enables farmers to stagger the workload and hedge against natural disasters that might affect the entire harvest

The rice can be cultivated wet or dry.  In the lowlands, the wet method is preferred and the crop is grown in irrigated flooded paddy fields.  In this method they plant a ‘nursery field’ and allow the rice to grow to about 12 inches high while the main fields are plowed and flooded.  The young plants are then transplanted manually (twelve to fifty days worth of an individuals labour) and tended by hand until they are harvested after the rains and the fields are drained.

In the mountains the dry method is preferred for topographical reasons.  The fields are prepared using the slash and burn technique prior to the rains in late April.  The seeds are  hand planted with a dribble stick in rows of holes and they begin to sprout in the rains at the beginning of May.  The fields then have to be weeded every day until the harvest at the end of the rainy season in late September/ October, (though I saw rice harvested as late as December and January). It is extremely labour intensive, and a  farmer will typically spend one hundred and sixty-five days of the year on his rice crop.

At harvest time, many families build a small hut in the fields and move into it to save time and guard against pests.  They fence off an area to grow vegetables and keep animals such as chickens and pigs who live off the discarded rice bran and kitchen scraps.

The mature plants, with their droopy seed heads, are usually harvested with a sickle and gathered into sheaths or hung on a scaffold to dry. The rice has to be threshed to separate the grain from the stem. This can be done by simply thrashing the sheaths against the inside of a large basket, on a log or alternatively laying the sheaths down on a mat and beating them with a stick.  I have even seen people riding over them on a bicycle.  Alternatively some ethnic groups strip the grain by hand directly in the fields by holding the stem and pulling off the grain into the hand.

The grains are then winnowed to remove the chaff using a large flat tray.  The grains are thrown in the air and back onto the tray so that the breeze carries away the chaff.

Finally, the rice has to be pounded to remove the bran.  Village women  typically spend half an hour each morning pounding the family’s rice which they put by to soak overnight. Yesterdays hulled, soaked rice would then be steamed in a bamboo basket for thirty to forty minutes for the family’s consumption.  The cooked rice is placed in a ‘lunch basket’ to be eaten in the fields.

Sticky rice is also used in many other ways: fermented to make spirit or beer; ground into flour to make noodles, cakes and sweets or ground and roasted to add flavour to other foods.

English: Khao lam (ข้าวหลาม), sticky rice with...

English: Khao lam (ข้าวหลาม), sticky rice with sugar and coconut cream cooked in a specially-prepared bamboo section (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Venison cooked in a Stone (age) Oven

Chloe by the oven

We were invited to a birthday party last night by our friend Chloe.  She is a member of ACE ARCHAEOLOGY CLUB which based in Mid Devon and dedicated to investigating and protecting Devon’s Archæological Heritage.  The club is an active local group of people of all ages devoted to the promotion, use and investigation of all the many different types of archaeology, from surveying, experimental archæology, field walking, participation in excavations to archive research, from palaeolithic to more recent times.  Recently, they’ve been investigating the damage done by bracken rhizomes on the ancient round house sites on Dartmoor.

In honour of one of the member’s birthday, Mac Howard, they build an oven from granite stone slabs with, as Chloe called it, “mud pie glue”.  First, they dug a shallow pit, then placed in granite stones in a box shape and held it together with mud.  They built a fire inside,  and outside (to heat the door) and let it burn for about 5 hours.  The fire was then cleared away and a  seven kilo leg of venison on the bone, was placed inside. Two and a half hours later it was ready to eat.

Earth ovens are one of the earliest pieces of cooking ‘equipment’ and took our culinary experience beyond holding meat on a stick over a fire to preparing it in a more sophisticated and communal manner. 

We can attest to the high quality of the oven. The venison was tender and delicious and it didn’t take long for a field of archeologists to eat it all up to the bone. Did we notice the rain? Of course not. Thank you Mac, Chloe and Spyder, we had a great time.

Fresh Strawberry Chocolates made in an ice-cube tray

Everyone seems to dip strawberries in chocolate fondues these days but it’s much more fun to hide the fresh strawberry inside the chocolate itself.  All you need is good quality dark chocolate, fresh strawberries and an ice-cube tray or chocolate mould.  I happen to have a silicone mould for heart shaped ice which works rather well.

1. Remove green leaves from the strawberries and leave whole or cut to size depending in the tray you need to fit them in.

2.  Melt your dark, high cocoa chocolate over a pan of hot water. (I used 180g for my chocs).

3. When the chocolate has become liquid pour 1/3 into your mould, add strawberries and cover over with more chocolate using a spatula.

4. Carefully place the mould in the fridge or if like me you cannot wait that long, whack them in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

5. Remove when set, and enjoy.  The only problem is that everyone eats them so fast you have to make another tray almost immediately so make a few at a time.  Mmm, the surprise of finding soft, fresh fruit within the crunch of dark chocolate lifts that strawberry flavour to new heights.

“Strawberries are the angels of the earth, innocent and sweet with green leafy wings reaching heavenward”
–  but so much better still, encased in chocolate.

Aubergine and Fresh Tomato Pasta

The aubergine (Solanum melongena) is not a vegetable but a berry? A big, glossy berry, and that little morsel of biological detail makes me love them even more.

This is a quick version of a River Café pasta recipe, as I needed to get food on the table pretty fast for the ravenous beasts after a hard day.

You start by frying garlic, chilli and flat leaf parsley in oil for five minutes. Then add tomatoes which I DO NOT drop into hot water and peel because it takes too long. I only cook the tomatoes for 5 minutes instead of the recommended 20 as I like fresh, fresh tomato sauce in the summer. Then I add a bit of sugar because I live in the Northern hemisphere and our tomatoes are just not as sweet. Oh, and I don’t add mozzarella, so is this a River Café recipe at all? Probably not, but it’s still good.
The aubergine needs to be cut into fine slices and fried in a very hot pan to avoid them becoming sponges of oil and I prefer to griddle them for that very reason.  You can pick up a cast iron griddle pan for under ten pounds on Ebay and it will be your friend for life, if you don’t have one, go get one now.

1 medium aubergine

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

3 garlic cloves peeled and chopped

5 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley

2 dried chillies crumbled

600g fresh tomatoes, chopped

Salt to taste1tsp sugar

300g spaghetti or pasta of your choice

120g parmesan freshly grated

Slice the aubergines into really thin slices, sprinkle with salt. Leave for half an hour.  Rinse and dry. In the past, aubergines were far more bitter and this removed the bitter juices, these days they are rarely bitter but the salting will reduce the amount of oil absorbed in cooking.

While they are draining heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan and add the garlic, parsley and chill.

Fry gently for almost 5 minutes.

When the garlic has started to turn a golden light brown, add the tomatoes and cook for ONLY 5 minutes. Then set aside

Heat 3 more tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan and add aubergine slices to cover the bottom. Do one batch at a time and do not overcrowd the pan. Or better still place them on a hot griddle over a high gas flame.

Fry on both sides until light brown and crisp.

Drain well on kitchen paper.

Repeat until all the aubergine is cooked.

thoroughly return to the pan. Place the sauce back on the heat, when hot, add the aubergine and finish with the grated cheese.Cook the spaghetti in a generous amount of boiling salted water.Serve immediately with a green salad and garlicy dressing.

Red Peppers Stuffed with Black-eyed Peas

I have to admit that when faced with stuffed peppers I have a tendency to eat the stuffing and discard the pepper. Don’t get me wrong, I like peppers, particularly when roasted with salt and honey and finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or eaten raw and used as a scoop for a generous dollop of hummus; but stuffed, they so often disappoint.   The pepper is over or undercooked, and the stuffing contains gooey rice, too much tomato or, like a tasty mince, just doesn’t need the enhancement of pepper flavouring at all.

So when I got a handful of glossy new season peppers in my veg box this week, I thought I’d look for a stuffing that actually needed the addition of pepper to complete it. Essentially, I’ve made a spiced bean and corn stew and stuffed it into pre-cooked peppers (to avoid that raw thing). I love black-eyed peas, and they are complimented here with the crunch of corn kernels, tinned corn is too soft, don’t use it, and of course peppers.  Serve as a side dish or as a main course with guacamole, sour cream and some flat-bread or tortillas.

4                      long red peppers

1  tsp               salt, divided

A few grinds             ground black pepper

A drizzle            olive oil

1                      medium onion, chopped

2                      cloves of garlic peeled and chopped finely

4                      green chillies (optional) sliced finely

1/2                   cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp             paprika

1/4 tsp             cinnamon

1/2 tsp             whole coriander seeds

1 tsp.               ground cumin

1/2 tsp             dried fragrant oregano

1 tsp                sea salt (level spoon)

1tsp                 caster sugar

15 oz (400g) tin of Black eyed peas – drained and, rinsed (235g drained)

1-2                   cobs of corn, steamed, then cut from the cob

250ml               chicken or vegetable stock

1 tbsp              tomato puree

50g                  cheddar cheese, grated

2 tblsp              coriander, chopped roughly


Start by boiling or steaming the corn cobs for about five minutes. Allow to cool, then cut the kernels from the corn with a sharp knife and set aside.

Slit the peppers along their length, de-seed, then season with salt and black pepper and a drizzle of oil. Roast them in a hot oven for 15 minutes, until the skins start to soften and blister. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Chop the onion, garlic and chilli.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan for a minute or two then add the chopped onion and chillies.

Sauté on a medium heat, stirring gently until lightly golden. (about 3-6 minutes depending on your stove).

Add the chopped garlic and spices, stir for one minute then add the beans and corn kernels.

Add the chicken/veg stock, a tablespoon of tomato puree and stir the mixture to combine.

Continue to cook for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Spoon the bean mixture into each pepper and top with grated cheese.

Return stuffed peppers to the oven for  5-10 minutes to heat through.

Serve with, chopped coriander, sour cream and guacamole.

Coddled mushroom breakfast egg


Verb: Treat in an indulgent or overprotective way: “I was coddled and cosseted”.

1 mushroom, I tablespoon of butter, 1/2 clove garlic crushed, salt and pepper. Top with parsley.

De-stalk the mushroom and spread with garlicy butter. Fit it snugly in a ceramic pot, crack an egg on top and place in a hot oven for about 8 minutes. When ready scoop out onto sour-dough toast, or eat it straight from the pot in its own  buttery juices.  Comfort food for an unseasonably cold and drizzly summer morning.

Thirty-Minute Spanish Chicken Stew

Sometimes you need to make something tasty and hearty in a rush. This dish is packed with flavour with the added smoky chorizo sausage (chorizo is either mild or spicy so if you don’t like spicy food choose the mild one). This is very simple and quick to make as a family supper. So quick in fact, I even manage to make and cook it in the morning before the kids go to school, let it meld all day, then eat it for supper. If your guests are fussy about the lovely flavourful chicken skin, crisp it up when you are browning the chicken, remove and chop it up into really small pieces before adding back in the stew.

It’s a classic recipe that can be adapted with many variations. I sometimes make it with chickpeas, or I add peppers or use chopped tomatoes. A splash of white wine is always a bonus. Why not throw in some olives at the end? Finish it off with fresh coriander or parsley, maybe a little lemon zest, some slivered almonds?

Serves 4

3 large (700g)  chicken breasts, cut into generous pieces (can use legs or thighs)

2 tblsps            sunflower oil

2                      medium onion, sliced

4                      garlic cloves, finely chopped

100g                chorizo sausage, skinned and sliced

1tsp                 dried fragrant oregano

1/2tsp              thyme

1/2tsp              smoked paprika (hot or sweet depending on your taste)

500ml               chicken stock

1 tin                 butter beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed (400g tin 240g drained)

1/2tsp              salt (or more to taste) ground black pepper

Finish with a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander


To begin chop the vegetables and chorizo.

Heat the oil in a large skillet then add chicken pieces to the hot oil in a single layer without crowding. Sauté for about 8 minutes or until chicken is browned then remove with tongs to a side dish.

Take a heavy bottomed pot and place it over a medium heat. Add the oil and wait for 2 minutes. Now add the onion, garlic and dried herbs and sauté, stirring all the time.

After about 3 minutes the onion will have started to soften.  Now you can add the chorizo, and cook, stirring occasionally for a further 7 minutes. You will soon see the golden oils coming out of the sausage infusing the vegetables with flavour. Stir every once in a while to stop anything sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Twenty minutes have now gone by so add the chicken stock, drained butterbeans and the chicken pieces. Add salt and bring back to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes longer.

The whole thing takes about 25-30minutes; depending how quickly you can peel and chop onions. If you have more time you can leave the stew overnight for the flavours to really meld together and re-heat it the next day but be careful not to overcook it or the chicken will shred and the stew will go gloopy. Serve with rice or couscous and a green salad.

Chorizo curing in the rafters of a round house in the mountains of Galicia

Vietnamese Barbecued Aubergine/eggplant & Lime Coriander Corn

I love aubergines on the barbie and this dish is superb.  I was shown how to make the sweet/sour/salty/hot sauce by a hotel chef in Vietnam and I’ve tried making them in various incarnations. You can make them in advance for an outdoor party as they taste great at room temperature or even cold from the fridge.


1 tblsp             caster sugar

2 tbspn             rice vinegar

2 tbspn             fish sauce

1 clove             garlic peeled and chopped

1                      Thai chilli (hot) chopped finely

2                      Aubergines/eggplants

2                      roasted peanuts, crushed roughly

3-4tbsp             chopped coriander

1                      spring onion (optional) green part only, chopped

Combine the sugar, vinegar, fish sauce, garlic and chilli in a small bowl and set aside.

Prick the aubergine with a fork or you make some light cuts along the length of the aubergine with the tip if a sharp knife for easy peeling later. Don’t forget or it may burst in the heat.

Grill over medium coals or a gas flame tuning regularly until the flesh has softened and the skin is charred. The remove to a rack and allow to cool.

When the aubergines have cooled, split them open.  Mash the softened flesh with a fork a little and then pour on the sauce. Add the chopped coriander and some spring onion and finish with a sprinkling of chopped roasted peanuts.  This dish is best served at room temperature.

Corn with Lime and Coriander butter

A fine flavoured butter to brush onto hot corn cobs. The sharp lime lifts the sweetness of the corn, and contrasts nicely with earthy-ness of the coriander and cracked pepper, finishing off each bite with little salty bursts of Maldon salt crystals. I steamed the cobs as the ‘stair-rods’ of rain stopped play, but this is another excellent one for the barbecue.

4                      corn cobs

75g                  butter

1                      lime, juice and zest

2 tbspns            chopped coriander

Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper

Barbecue, steam or boil your corn until tender

Meanwhile, zest the lime and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan for a minute of so.

When ready, remove from heat and add the zest, coriander, salt and pepper. Squeeze in the juice of half the lime. Taste. If the lime is big and juicy this will be enough but if it is one of those tough little dry ones you will need to squeeze in the other half.

Take a pasty brush and brush over the hot corn. Enjoy, with butter running down you chin.

‘Sunday Morning’ Potato Curry

Feeling slightly worse for wear on a Sunday morning? This is my stalwart dish for left over potatoes guaranteed to make you feel a little better in yourself, but maybe not your waistline, after a big night out. The potatoes could be boiled, they could be roasted, you may need to start them from scratch (as in this recipe) in a pan of boiling water for 5 minutes, just cube them up roughly ready to go. If you don’t have all the spices, use your imagination; add garam masala, fenugreek or other spices. Real ginger really helps though, and make it really hot. You can always add the chilli afterwards if you are sharing it with chilli-phobic friends.

You can throw in other stuff, too. A couple of fresh chopped tomatoes works well, right at the end. Maybe some green or red peppers added at the start, spring onions, curry leaves, chick peas; the curry is your oyster. Finish with plenty of fresh herbs and a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Eat straight from the pan making sure you don’t burn yourself in the greedy rush to chomp this down. Or stuff into chapattis, the kids love them.

Ingredients: Serves 4 depending on how hungry you are

10                                medium potatoes ( about 1kg) parboiled, cut into 4cm cubes

1                                  large onion, halved and sliced

35g                              butter

1-2 tablespoons                 vegetable oil

chili peppers

chili peppers (Photo credit: marzbars)

2-6                               fresh chillies finely chopped

1 teaspoon                  salt

1/2 teaspoon               turmeric powder

1 tablespoon                fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into matchsticks

1 teaspoon                  coriander powder

1 teaspoon                  whole coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon               whole fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon               cumin powder

1 sqirt                           tomato puree

2 tablespoon                fresh coriander or parsley, chopped roughly

1                                  lemon or lime, juice of

  1. SLICE the onion and chilli.
  1. HEAT the butter in a large frying pan until it begins to FOAM. Add the sliced onion and chillies
  1. COOK on a high heat, STIRRING gently until lightly GOLDEN. (about 3-6 minutes depending on your stove).
  1. Add the oil to the centre of the pan followed by the spices and tomato puree and STIR for about 2 minutes.
  1. LOWER THE HEAT, add the potatoes and STIR GENTLY with a spatula. The potatoes will start to break up so don’t mash them about to much. The contents of the pan may start to dry out so add some water when necessary, maybe some more oil. COOK through (approximately for another 3-5 minutes)
  1. ADD the chopped coriander, SQUEEZE over the lemon juice. TASTE, you may need to add more salt as potatoes suck it up and some more fresh chilli.  Eat straight from the pan, making sure you don’t burn yourself.

    English: Veg. thali

    English: Veg. thali (Photo credit: Wikipedia)