Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mieng Kham - An explosion of flavors in one mouthful!

I love Thai food in all its variations - the spicy tom yums and curries, flavorful grilled meats and seafood, and noodles of course. What I like the most are Thai salads, a unique combination of different salad leaves and fruits, piquant herbs and often shredded meat as well.  The flavours all meld together in mouth-watering combinations that whet the appetite, leaving you craving for more. The appeal of Thai food can be summed up in a neat little package called Mieng Kham. You can just pop in your mouth for an explosion of favours - sweet, sour, spicy and bitter all at once!

I’ve had Mieng Kham in various Thai restaurants, but it was in Chiangmai many years ago that I discovered these diminutive snacks sold as street food. Each morsel was tightly wrapped up and four or five or them were skewered together. They came together with the dipping sauce in a separate bag. And only for less than 50 cents!

I thoroughly enjoy having Mieng Kham as a refreshing appetizer in Thai restaurants. It’s always fun to play with food and Mieng Kham is no exception. It’s a challenge folding the betel leaf into a cone and filling it with each of the side ingredients, being careful not to fill it too much. Then it’s just a matter of drizzling a little of the sauce on top and popping the whole thing in your mouth without spilling or dropping any of it.

When I had a look at some of the Mieng Kham recipes, I realized that it was really quite simple to make, just having to purchase and assemble all the ingredients. Best of all, there are betel leaves growing at the bottom of my apartment block, ready for the picking. I just choose leaves that are not too old but large enough to accommodate all the chopped up ingredients. I suppose any kind of lettuce leaf that’s large enough will make a good substitute, but the betel leaf does have a subtle bitterness that lends itself very well to the melding of all the flavors.

I’ve tried to make the recipe as simple as possible, mainly because I’m a lazy cook and don’t fancy spending so much time slicing and chopping. When I run out of palm sugar, I just substitute it with honey or brown sugar and also add some hoisin sauce for extra piquancy. There’s really no hard and fast rule. You just include whatever you like and omit the rest, although the trifecta of Thai cooking - fish sauce, lime and sugar - are a must.

Mieng Kham

Dipping sauce:
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced lemongrass
1 tbsp minced shallots
1 small piece of toasted shrimp paste
1/2 cup palm sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice

Pound the ginger, lemongrass, shallots rand shrimp paste together.
In a pot, heat fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice.
Mix in the pounded ingredients and keep stirring until it reaches the consistency of honey and drizzles easily. If it is too thick, then add some water.
Cool and set aside.

Side ingredients:
1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes
1/2 cup toasted dried shrimp
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup shallots
1/2 cup ginger
1/2 cup chillies
1/2 cup lime
20-30 betel leaves, washed and dried (can be substituted with lettuce leaf)

Cut the above to similar-sized cubes and slices, about 1/2 cm each.

Serve all the side ingredients and betel leaves in a lazy susan dish or individual bowls.
To eat, hold the leaf in one hand and place a little of everything on it. Drizzle a little of the sauce on the top, wrap it up and pop it in your mouth.

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