So, I don’t think I’ve ever waffled quite as much about the title of a dish for a blog post. I have never been to Laos. I don’t know anyone from Laos. I don’t think I even know anyone who’s been to Laos.
All I’m basing this on is that I read somewhere, at some point, that in Lao cuisine, dill and mint are used much like cilantro is in its more famous culinary neighbor, Thai. Needless to say, I was intrigued–I love cilantro, but I really love dill and mint.
The internet was uncharacteristically unhelpful when I began to wonder if I could attempt a Laotian take on Tom Ka Gai, a Thai chicken and coconut milk soup that happens to be a favorite of mine. Turns out, there aren’t many resources on Lao cooking out there, and therefore, I feel like I can’t be faulted if this is wrong or inauthentic or, you know, stupid.
But in that case, I preemptively ask anyone who comes out of the woodwork to yell at me: where were you, and why aren’t you on the internet teachin’ kids how to cook good and do other stuff good too?
Hmm? Derek wants to know.
So, all I did was make a standard Tom Ka Gai, using dill instead of cilantro to garnish, meaning that until that last touch, we are working with true-blue Thai classics: fish sauce, lemongrass, galangal, lime, bird’s eye chiles, and kaffir lime leaves.
…Which look like this, and you can find them fresh or frozen (like these ones) at your Asian supermarket.
My hand is so pink. It’s like it’s blushing.
Stuff simmers. Stuff smells good.
Coconut milk makes things creamy and even more fragrant. You can go light on this part, or you can go heavy.
And there you have it. Taste and adjust, garnish with lime, Thai basil and dill (or cilantro for the classic Tom Ka Gai). Whether you believe me or not when it comes to whether this is an actual Lao dish (and honestly, you have no reason to), trust me when I say: delicious. Fragrant, spicy, creamy, comforting goodness.
And really, really, ridiculously good-looking.
Tom Ka Gai (Laotian Style)
(adapted from about.com)
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 chicken breasts, sliced
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced (I used a red bell pepper instead-you can do either or both!)
1 red bell pepper (optional)
1 lemongrass stalk
4-5 kaffir lime leaves (fresh or frozen)
1-3 fresh red chilies, minced (to taste), OR 3/4 to 1 teaspoon dried crushed bird’s eye chile
1 thumb-size piece galangal or ginger, grated
1/2 to 1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons lime juice, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Handful fresh dill, for garnish
Handful fresh Thai basil leaves, for garnish
3 scallions, sliced, for garnish
Slice and mince the lower portion of the lemongrass stalk, retaining the upper part for the soup pot.
In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, bring broth to a boil and add the chicken, mushrooms and bell pepper (if using), lemongrass (both the minced part and the upper stalk), kaffir limes and chile peppers. Boil 5-8 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
Lower the heat to medium and add the galangal or ginger, 1/2 a can of the coconut milk and the fish sauce. Stir to combine and simmer gently for 1-2 minutes, then turn the heat down to low, add lime juice and sugar, and stir.
Taste soup and adjust accordingly–add more fish sauce for more saltiness/savoriness, more lime juice if you find it too sweet or rich, more coconut milk if it’s too spicy or you want it creamier, and more sugar if it’s too tart for your liking.
Once you are happy with the soup, ladle into serving bowls and top with Thai basil, dill and scallions. Serves around 4 as the main course.