Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, much less known in the West than many of its neighbours like China, Thailand and Vietnam. Its population is only about six million, very little in the Asian scale. It used to be a colony of France and gained independence in 1953. Laos is now a single-party socialist republic and Buddhism is an important part of the society, though animism is also practiced. The infrastructure and human rights situation are quite poor, but the economy is growing thanks to rich mineral resources. Tourism is also rapidly growing. Because of the small population quite a lot of wild nature still remains, mostly forests and mountains. Muay Lao, a type of kickboxing, is the national sport.
Sticky rice, eaten by hand, is the most important part of Lao cuisine – and even a very important part of the culture and national identity as a whole. Most Lao families grow their own rice. Larb is the most famous Lao dish, a spicy mixture of meat (sometimes fish), herbs, greens and spices. Spicy papaya salad, as well as other salads, is also popular in Laos. Grilling is a common preparation method. Lemongrass, galangal and Lao fish sauce are important seasonings. Other common ingredients and spices include kaffir lime, shallot, Lao eggplant, tamarind, cilantro, Lao dill, mint, several types of basil, chili, garlic, ginger and various greens and flowers. Main dishes may be be bitter, but never sweet. French cuisine is still visible in the capital Vientiane, where French baguettes remain popular. Kaipen is a popular fried seaweed snack.
It’s very hard to find vegan Lao recipes or even recipes that can be veganized, as so many Lao recipes are based on things like raw meat or fermented fish. I found several recipes for this jeow mak keua (or jaew mak khua), but based mine mostly on this one. The biggest difference I found that some versions included both roasted shallot and fresh green onion, some only green onion. I love roasted shallot, so I obviously went for that version. Traditionally the dip is eaten with sticky rice, but many people might want to dip something else, like vegetables.
I found the dip quite nice. My husband doesn’t normally like eggplant and isn’t the biggest fan of excess cilantro, but surprisingly he enjoyed this dip with kropoek (Indonesian crackers that normally contain shrimp, but vegan version are also available – I prefer the normal vegan type, I find the emping type quite vile). Do note that the recipe makes surprisingly little, like half a cup or so, so for more than two people you might want to double the recipe.
Jeow mak keua
1 small purple eggplant or a few Asian ones
1 red bird’s eye chili (or other chili), chopped
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 cloves garlic
1 small shallot
1/2 cup/1.2 dl cilantro, chopped
dash of soy sauce/Maggi
1 green onion, white part removed, chopped
Pierce the eggplant with a fork several times. Grill or roast the eggplant, shallot and garlic until mushy, naturally they will take different amounts of time, a purple eggplant up to 45 minutes in the oven (200C/390F). Scoop out the eggplant flesh and squeeze out the shallot and garlic. Mash or puree (I used an immersion blender), but let it remain a bit chunky. Add the other ingredients Serve at room temperature.