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Ua Si Khai

During our first trip to the magical village of Luang Prabang, Laos we wandered into a just opened Tamarand Cafe. I was impressed with the tastefully appointed small dinning room and the artfully arranged gift offerings. A delightful energetic woman named Caroline Gaylard greeted us and told us of their tasting menu. That was the beginning of a love affair for the culinary delights of Luamg Prabang. The flavours of Laotian cuisine are reminiscent of Northeast Thailand, but different with the use of exotic ingredients like water buffalo skin, aromatic woods, and kaipan, a river "nori".

We met Caroline's mum who was visiting from Australia and her now husband Chef Joy. Inbetween that first visit and our second visit this amazing couple had opened a cooking school in an idyllic location beside a stream a few minutes outside town. The minute you arrive the breath taking ambiance literally takes you back in time in Luang Prabang, which is a stunning World Heritage city and was the ancient capital of Laos.

I first learned to make Ua Si Khai (Stuffed Lemongrass) at Tamarind Cooking School during our second visit to this magical lost in time town. I have played around with the original recipe over time depending on what fresh ingredients I have available.

You can vary the recipe with different meats such as chicken or pork. For a vegetarian version, you can use tofu.

Makes 12 Stuffed Lemongrass

4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 pair kaffir lime leaves, very finely sliced
1 teaspoons salt
2 large shallots, minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro*
1/4 cup chopped Thai basil
2-4 Thai chiles, minced
5 oz ground pork
4 oz shrimp, shelled, deveined, chopped fine
1 teaspoon Roasted rice powder**
12 stalks lemongrass
1 qt vegetable oil for frying
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

*If available use cilantro roots pounded

** Toasted or roasted Rice powder can be purchased at Asian markets. It is easily made at home - see link.

With a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic, lime leaf, chiles, and salt to a smooth paste. Add shallots, cilantro and basil to the mortar and pound to soften. Add ground pork and shrimp into the paste, stirring to blend well.

Starting 1/2 inch from bottom of a lemongrass stalk, with tip of knife make a 4-inch-long lengthwise cut. Rotate lemongrass stalk a little at a time, making more lengthwise cuts all around lemongrass stalk being careful not to cut across the previous cuts.

Hold lemongrass with one end in each hand and move ends toward each other.

This should open the slit portion of stalk to make a basket or cage like opening. Repeat with remaining lemongrass stalks.

Spoon about 1 to 2 tablespoons soft mixture into center of each lemongrass basket depending on the size of the lemongrass.

Heat oil to 375F in wok

Dip stuffed part of 3 or 4 lemongrass stalks in beaten eggs, turning to coat, and fry, turning occasionally, until golden and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer stuffed lemongrass stalks on to paper towels to drain.

Coat and fry remaining stuffed lemongrass stalks in batches of 3 or 4.

Variations-Substitute chicken for pork.

Vegetarian option-use 8 ounces of firm tofu in place of meat. Brown tofu in a skillet in a small amount of vegetable oil, season with 1 tsp. soy sauce and let cool. Crumble into very small bits and place in a mortar or food processor with the garlic, green onion, cilantro, lime leaf, and salt. Blend until all ingredients are incorporated. Proceed as above to stuff lemongrass.

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