Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Miang Kham (Thai leaf parcels with palm sugar sauce)

Generally I haven't written about things that have plenty of existing content here, because I don't see much of a point. Marcia Hazan's tomato sauce is amazing, but everyone posted about it years ago; pad thai is delicious, but I don't have my own recipe and there are a million; cream scones are the opposite of the Starbucks bakery case sawdust that put you off of them, but that's 1. pretty simple and 2. been written on by much better bakers than I am.

Erm. I never said recommendation was a bad thing. The point is, everyone else has done it (and much better than I would!) before. This, however, is something harder to find.

Alright you've buried the lede enough get on with it FINE. Here we go. This post is about Miang Kham, a traditional snack in Thailand and Laos. It's...a bit hard to describe succinctly, so while I sniggered at one of my sources calling it 'Leaf Wrapped Snack,' I was hard pressed to come up with a better English name. I believe the Thai name translated means something along the lines of 'mixed leaf parcel bite,' which is a bit better.
From Real Thai Recipes

Still don't care what is this alright. It's tiny pieces of intensely-flavored things, bound by a savory-sweet thick sauce, wrapped up in a mild edible leaf. It's addictive, tangy, fresh, crunchy, aromatic, and complex. You can assemble them in advance and put them on skewers, but I've always enjoyed it way more as a group appetizer. Everyone picks exactly how much of each item they want in each bite, and it's a tangle of arms over the tiny bowls in the best way possible.
From ImportFood.com

The Thai philosophy of food calls for the balance of the four flavors - salty, sweet, sour, spicy. Instead of salt and pepper, a table should have a condiment caddy containing fish sauce (salty), sugar (sweet), white vinegar (sour) and dried chilis (spicy) for diners to use to customize the balance to their taste. In view of that, this seems like one of the most Thai dishes ever.

Miang Kham
The amounts for all of the ingredients should be fairly equal, so feel free to just eyeball it and to scale up and down as you like. Add items to your heart's desire, just chop them finely first. Tiny dried shrimp, like in pad thai or green papaya salad, are easily found at any Asian grocery store, as is Chinese broccoli. Galengal, palm sugar, and fish sauce are even stocked at Cub (if you're local to Minnesota).
Also, the leaves are traditionally chaplu (possibly spelled shaploo etc) leaves, but the small Asian grocery store near my house didn't have them. Chinese broccoli leaves were fine as a substitute, as would lettuce or any mild leaf...although I've heard of peppery nasturtium leaves being tasty so it's really up to you.

1/4 c tiny dried shrimp
1/4 c dry-roasted unsalted peanuts
1 small thin-skinned lime, sliced very very thin, skin left on, the slices cut into 4ths or 8ths (I used a mandoline to slice)
1/4 c chopped shallots - tiny little ones from the Asian grocery store are best, but the big ones are fine too
1/2 c grated unsweetened coconut, toasted - yeah, go a little heavier on this one
1/4 c ginger, finely chopped. Use smaller, more tender roots rather than bigger woody ones

Sticky palm sugar sauce (recipe follows)

Also consider:
-Little Thai chilis
-Sour fruit, like green apple or unripe mango
-Green onions
-Crispy-fried shallots or onions instead - available jarred or google how to make your own
-Very ripe sweet fruit, like small bits of mango or peach
-Sub Meyer lemon slices for lime

Do all of your chopping/dicing/slicing, and put ingredients in separate small bowls. Make sauce. Wash leaves thoroughly, cutting off at the top of the stem, and pile on a plate or platter. Arrange bowls however you like, making sure to show off a bit with how awesome your presentation skills are. Put out spoons for the different components, though it seems to devolve into fingers eventually.
Option 1: Take a leaf, add a bit of everything, top with sauce. Roll up, devour.
Option 2: Do it in advance and stick them on bamboo skewers. Obviously better for a buffet situation, but a lot more work.

Palm Sauce
Sticky palm sugar caramel with aromatics. I let mine boil too long yesterday and it was hard and sugary after it cooled, but I'd imagine if you kept a better eye on it than I did it'd be fine. If you're nervous, a candy thermometer could help keep it around soft ball stage - that'd probably be about right. Also, if it annoys you as much as it did me to buy a knob of galengal and stalk of lemongrass only to use a tiny bit, consider using up the leftovers by making my favorite soup ever, Tom Kha Gai.

2 tsp finely chopped galangal
2 tbsp finely chopped shallot
1 tsp very finely chopped inner tender lemongrass
1 c water
1 c palm sugar (just estimate with the disks, don't worry about being extremely exact)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 c grated toasted coconut

Throw everything but the coconut in a saucepan and boil it until it's dark and sticky and caramel-y, and the texture of caramel sauce...or to the upper end of the soft ball stage, about 240. Add coconut, stir to combine, let cool so it's not molten.

Drinks note: We had them with a Washington state riesling provided by Ferrol Pemberton (of Blondie's Plate, and if you happen to be in the Sequim WA area you really really should check them out), but I can't vouch for the pairing, since I was too busy cooking AND trying to eat AND laughing at David Pemberton to have more than a sip before we sat down...so let me know if you think of something brilliant.

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