So Saturday’s supper club was inspired by our travels (and eatings) in Laos and also by the fantastic book ‘Ant Egg Soup’ written by Natacha Du Pont De Bie. We read Natacha’s book while we were travelling through South East Asia in 2012 and 2013 and it really encouraged us to eat adventurously and get off the beaten track in Laos.Natacha’s fantastic research and descriptions of The Plain of Jars, an archeological landscape scattered with thousands of mysterious megalithic jars, and the remains of the Khmer’s temples at Champasak were one of the main reasons we visited these sites. We weren’t disappointed, despite a few challenges getting to them on public transport, they were some of the highlights of our trip.
Natacha’s book also included meticulously researched Laotian recipes and several of these appeared on Saturday’s menu – spicy salads, aromatic BBQed Chicken, sticky rice and laap, Laos’ national dish.
On Saturday we started out with a Vodka, Elderflower, Lime & Mint welcome drink and a little hors d’oeuvre of Spicy Fish Cakes with a Peanut, Chilli & Cucumber dipping sauce. It was a gorgeous day and we had our drinks, appetizers and introductions in the garden. Then everyone came inside and Jo did a quick intro to beer and brewing and then we got everyone to carve a tomato! Yes, a slightly random dinner party activity, but in South East Asia they are pretty obsessed with vegetable carving and we did a few classes in it while we were out there. Carving a tomato rose is one of the easiest things to make and looks pretty impressive too. It was a fun icebreaker and it’s always nice to learn something new.
Onto the starter, Laos’ national dish, Laap. I’ve also seen it spelt larp or larb. This is a spicy salad of fish or meat (in this case we did one with prawn and one with chicken) with lemongrass, ginger (or galangal), shallot, chilli, coriander and mint all finely minced and seasoned with lime juice and fish sauce. Finally, toasted ground sticky rice is stirred into the mixture giving the salad a crunch and a slightly roasty, toasty flavour. This is a zingy and refreshing dish and a perfect starter for a warm summer day.
For the main event we served Jo’s favourite dish ever, BBQed Chicken, Green Papaya Salad and Sticky Rice. We had a couple of really memorable versions of this dish in Laos and in Northern Thailand, where the cuisine is very similar. Laotian cuisine doesn’t use much creamy coconut milk and is often spicier than neighbouring cuisines, so you do need to enjoy a bit of heat to get the most out of Laotian food. Sticky (or glutinous) rice is ubiquitous in Laos and is always steamed rather than boiled, it has a sticky texture and you pull off small balls of sticky rice with your hands which you then dip into the other dishes, which are usually served communally. We also served a Spicy Green Bean, Tomato and Peanut Salad and a ‘Jeow’, a spicy dipping sauce.
After all that spicy food we felt the need to cool down everyone’s palate, so we served a little cleansing sorbet of Coconut. Kaffir Lime, Lemongrass & Ginger. I got lots of feedback that this was a highlight of the meal, I was amazed how much flavour you can get into a sorbet. And finally, for dessert, Chocolate, Chilli & Lime Eclairs served with a mango puree and some fresh mango. This was a bit of a Laos/French fusion, as Laos was once a French colony. There are plenty of amazing French bakeries in Luang Prabang and Vientiane and I used some of the delicious pastries we ate there as inspiration for this dish. It was fun to combine some of the classic South East Asian flavours, chilli, lime and mango, with classic French pastry.