Grilled Tomato Salsa, Lao Style

tomato jeow

…. otherwise known as jaew mak len. You already know about jaew, and this is a definite favorite of mine. Fresh, healthy, easy. Just get the grill fired up, and you’re on your way.

Jaew Mak Len

For grilling:
10 medium tomatoes
1 head of garlic
1 large shallot
chiles (your preference)

For mixing:
1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 large handful of green onions, chopped
a glug of fish sauce
squeezed lime juice to taste
pinch of salt

Instructions:

First grill the vegetables, skins on, until blackened. (Laos traditionally cook over an open flame, not gas.) Peel off garlic and shallot skins, as well as the most blackened parts of tomato and chile skin. Pound the vegetables in a mortar with a pinch of salt. Add chopped cilantro, green onion and fish sauce; pound a bit more. Taste. Add more of anything needed. If it is too sour or bitter, add a pinch of sugar. Serve with sticky rice. Or, use the dip with chips instead of Mexican salsa.

Now here’s what happened: I weasled my way into the in-laws’ kitchen, extracting knives from their block and banging pans in a frenetic fit to find the right size. Chop, chop; pound, pound — so happy to work with food again! I employed the use of several large, green jalapenos, which my father-in-law had bought before our arrival. The chiles grilled up beautifully, and I couldn’t help but adore them.

But I have this bad habit of pounding and squashing, mixing and stirring, adding a pinch of this, a guzzle of that, tasting all the while, getting lost in the preparations, forgetting my whereabouts. I cook by the whims of my mouth, but that doesn’t work very well when the crowd around me shares little of my crazy fondness for spice.

And so we had a flaming jaew, ever more fiery with every minute it sat. Too hot. Not for me, but for most everyone else at the table. So know this: the Laos love their jaew hot, hot, hot. (Don’t believe anyone who tells you Lao food ain’t spicy, because they’re wrong, wrong, wrong!) But know your chile, know your audience, and choose accordingly. This is one great beauty of Lao cuisine: there are no concrete rules. People cook according to preference and practicality. Use what you have, eat what you like. And always enjoy.

3 thoughts on “Grilled Tomato Salsa, Lao Style

  1. Dear daughter in law, the jaew mak len was hot but delicious, and we did enjoy it. Now, about that cabbage dish. THAT was killer.

    Drive safely,
    your mother in law

  2. I would take the jaew as a challenge!
    I’ve never had it to my knowledge, but in Vientiane I had a beef salad that required 2 papaya shakes to finish it but would not have asked them to change a thing.
    In Thailand I just say, “phet no pompem” and they get a laugh out of that.

  3. Eric,
    The beauty of jaew is that it tastes great, flaming or not.
    I still remember a papaya salad I had in Tha Khaek about 10 years ago. I swear it left blisters. It was a fine introduction to local Lao food.

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