Lao Mushroom Chilli Jaew (mushroom chilli sauce – Jaew Hed)

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I’m moving – follow my new Lao Food site

I’ve had mushrooms in my veg box for the fifth week running which put me in mind of a recipe taught to me by Seng Sone Darasavath, at the Darasavath guesthouse in the Northern Lao town of Luang Nam Tha.  Seng Sone was an extrovert, thirty-year-old single mother who ran her own business in Laos with canny charm. She spoke English and Chinese and crocheted hats at great speed in between capably multi-tasking the business and looking after her excitable toddler, Micky.

The evening I arrived, she took the time to sit down and introduce herself to me, whilst coping with twenty raucous communist party officials on a drunken night out, and offered to teach me to cook the meal I ate on my first night there – chicken and potato curry, served with a plate of steamed vegetables and two super hot jaew, one made with fermented shrimp paste and another with mushrooms.

Jaew is pounded sauce or rough paste, the main ingredient of which is chilli.  The varieties are endless, and you may wish to try my tomato jaew recipe on my blog link here.  Seng Sone’s jaew was extremely hot; she used twenty bird’s eye chillies for one small bowl, though today I used four, as I didn’t want to my guests to detonate during our barbeque.

Seng Sone had big plans to build another guesthouse and restaurant in the hills ten kilometres away near her family’s poppy fields, and I’m sure a woman of such determination is now the head of a mini-empire in the region. I still have a delicate crocheted hat she presented to me when I left the area and, of course, her recipes to share.


3-4 large flat field mushroomsImage

4 -20 birds eye chillies, seared, stalks removed

1 head of garlic, seared black and then peeled

2 shallots, seared black and then peeled

a little peanut or sunflower oil

½ tsp coarse sea salt

1 tblsp of paa dek or alternatively, Thai fish sauce. (see paa dek notes at the end of the recipe)

10 Basil leaves


Baste the mushrooms with a little oil and grill until juicy. Set aside.

Spear the chillies, garlic, and shallots on a skewer. Then sear them over an 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. Roughly chop up the onion and garlic, leaving the chilli to one side.

Transfer the vegetables to a wok with a little oil and stir fry for 2 minutes stirring constantly.Image 1

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

First pound the chillies and salt pound to a paste then add the garlic and paa dek (or fish sauce) and keep pounding.

Image 2 Next add the shallots and when they have reached paste form add the sliced grilled mushrooms and pound some more.  You may need a spoon to scrape the mixture around as you pound it.  I prefer the mushrooms to stay in larger lumps so I only pound for about ½ a minute.

Add the basil leaves and pound some more.  Serve with sticky rice.

Image 4Notes on Paa Dek

The famous Paa-Dek of LaosImage 9

Paa-dek is a condiment of fish chunks mixed with brine, rice dust and rice husks. These ingredients are fermented in large pottery jars for up to a year to produce a salty fishy sauce with a pungent aroma.  This may sound a little off putting (remember, we eat fermented mouldy milk) but the taste is very similar to preserved anchovy fillets.  The mixture may be used straight; or the fish chunks are washed of their rice husks and used alone; or the liquid is used without the fish chunks.  I often saw people pour a ladle into a wok with another ladle of water, then hard boil it for a minute, sieve the result and use the flavoured water. Image 5

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You can buy Thai and Philippino versions of paa-dek in jars which will give you the closest similar flavour .

Anchovy sauce

I have also found a good alternative in a thick muddy brown bottled anchovy sauce available in most Asian supermarkets, which you can just splash in to give a near-as- damn-it authentic flavour with the added bonus that it is easier to handle.  Or use English bottled versions made with anchovies and salt (NOT vinegar).

With neither available you can make your own, like many British Laotians do in an emergency.

Home made English Paa Dek water

Place 400ml of fish stock (or half a stock cube with 1/2 litre of water) in a small saucepan with ten tinned anchovy fillets (in oil).  Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes until the anchovies have almost dissolved.  Sieve out the lumps and boil vigorously for another few minutes to produce a salty, muddy brown liquid. Yum.


Easy Picnic Bread


I just made a fresh loaf, cut it in half, pulled out the hot gooey centre (don’t panic it wasn’t wasted in a household like mine!) and spread it with wild garlic pesto before stuffing it with Mary Quickes’ hard goat cheese which melted into the bread, prosciutto, sliced vine tomatoes and rocket. We ate the whole loaf in one sitting and it never made it to the picnic.

Wild Garlic Soup

A pathway of wild garlic at Buckland Abbey

A pathway of wild garlic at Buckland Abbey, nr Yelverton

This is the greenest of spring soups that you can also enrich with chicken stock, cream, or yoghurt if you wish. I just like to keep it simple. The trick is to add the garlic leaves at the end, AFTER cooking up the potato in the stock. It keeps the flavour fresh. Last year I wrote up the recipe for wild garlic flower tempura which looks beautiful served on the side (with a little chilli dip). If you don’t have a food processor or blender, a potato masher and a chopping knife does the job just as well. The soup is good served hot or cold.Image

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped finely

450g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

500ml Marigold vegetable stock

3 generous handfuls of wild garlic leaves

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, sauté the onion in the butter until softened but not coloured.

Add the vegetable stock and potatoes and bring to the boil.

Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked.

Blend the soup in a food processor.

Now add the raw garlic leaves and blend again until the leaves have melded into the soup.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Other things to do with wild garlic:

Pesto – Whizz the leaves with pine nuts, grated Parmesan and olive oil to make pesto. Or add pancetta, egg to make a variation of wild garlic carbonara.

Rice – Wild garlic risotto

Mash – Chop the leaves and mix them into mashed potato.

Fish – Wrap the leaves around fillets of buttered trout and bake gently in the oven. They also work well with smoked fish.

Mayo – Chop the leaves into sour cream or fresh mayonnaise and use as a dip

Salad – Use whole leaves in salads and decorate with the flowers.

Sandwiches – Add the leaves to cheese or ham and mustard sandwiches.

Spinach – steam with spinach, they can be a bit watery steamed alone.

Puree – puree with oil and use as a drizzle or dressing.

Scrambled eggs – chopped into creamy scrambled eggs, divine.

Butter – flavour butter with chopped leaves.

Frittata – one of the best

Hummus – tahini, chickpeas, wild garlic

The Best Cream Tea in Devon

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In Dorothy Hartley’s book “Food In England” she gives this quote “Clowtyd crayme and nawe crayme put together is eaten more for a sensuall appetyte than for any good nouryshement.”

Clotted cream is just, well naughty, and what better way to eat it than with a perfect scone and strawberry jam. The absolute best cream comes from the rich pasturelands of Devon and my friend Emma Parkin was at the Exeter Food Festival when she heard that The Real Food Store in Exeter, where she makes the bread (and fabulous scones), had won the Best Cream Tea in Devon. Quite an accolade in a county where the cream tea is the most popular regional dish.

Emma Parkin on the right

Emma Parkin on the right

The clotted cream comes from from Riverford FarmImage 12And the strawberry jam is made by Lori on her pick-your-own farm ShuteFruit near Teignmouth.Image 10Traditionally, clotted cream is made by heating fresh cream gently overnight, after which the cream loses about 10% water and forms a thick folded crust. Once clotted the cream lasts about two weeks and an extra good crust can hold up to a pound in weight without breaking. The name probably originated from an ancient shoe-making term, ‘clout’, meaning a thick patch of wrinkly leather. It is still made using traditional methods and is sold all over Devon.

The Real Food Store and Cafe is owned by Exeter Local Food (video) which is a Community Benefit Society with over 300 members, one of the largest community-owned food enterprises in the country. The food they sell is seasonal, sustainable and local. Start with the cream tea, but while your there why not pick up some sour-dough bread, a bit of Ruby Red beef for the the barbeque, and some micro-brewery beer to wash it down. If you haven’t been there already, go and find it.

11 & 13 Paris Street, Exeter, EX1 2JB
Telephone: 01392 681234 Email:

English: Riverford farm

English: Riverford farm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)