Originating from the Hmong of Luang Prabang, rustic au lahm is a stew mainly made from vegetables: beans, eggplants, gourds, black mushrooms, then seasoned with lemongrass, chili, and coriander and finally thickened with sticky rice.
Ho or au is loosely translated as “to put in”, which indicates that this stew is a hodge podge of whatever ingredients are on hand.
Herbs are very important in Lao cuisine, and early morning markets are the best time to buy these incredibly fresh products, delivered daily by countryside farmers.
But the key ingredient that gives au lahm its distinctive taste is sa kan, a bitter, spicy root herb. Lao people love spicy food, and often incorporate spicy leaves and wood in cooking.
The woody stem of a wild vine and not meant to be eaten, sa kan can be chewed, releasing the astringent, almost peppery menthol, oils, and then spit out. It gives au lahm a wonderfully earthy, rustic flavor, especially accompanied by buffalo meat. The following recipe uses buffalo meat, but chicken, pork, beef or fish can be substituted, adjusting cooking times as needed. (Full recipe at the end of the post.)
Ingredients for Buffalo Au Lahm, speciality of Luang Prabang
Firstly, slices of buffalo meat are grilled over a low flame until tender.
In a sauce pan, add buffalo stock, eggplant, lemongrass and spicy sa kan and boil over low heat for 4 minutes.
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the sticky rice and add it to the sauce pan as a thickening agent.
When the eggplant is tender, remove and mash.
Add green beans and spring onions to the stew and cook for more 4 minutes.
Add the herbs: spicy leaves, Irish leaves and dill and cook for 4 more minutes.
Add the grilled buffalo meat and the mashed eggplant to the stew and continue cooking for 4 more minutes. The sauce will reduce, becoming slightly sticky.
The au lahm stew is now ready to be served. Garnish with some of the remaining herbs and red chili. Traditionally, au lahm is enjoyed with sticky rice served in woven baskets.
Recipe and photos courtesy of the wonderfully scenic Kitchen by the Mekong Restaurant at Victoria Xiengthong Palace, with both indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the Mekong River. The restaurant offers casual all-day dining featuring both European and Laotian cuisine, including Buffalo Au Lahm.
Traditional Buffalo Au Lahm
While this recipe uses buffalo meat, chicken, pork, beef or fish can be substituted. Simply adjust cooking time until the meat is tender.
Ingredients (Serves 2):
- 200g buffalo tenderloin sliced
- 10g dry tree ear mushroom
- 100g round eggplant
- 10g lemongrass
- 20g Irish leaves
- 30g spicy leaves
- 10g sweet basil
- 20g spring onion
- 80g green bean
- 1 piece small red chili
- 40g spicy wood
- 2g salt
- 10g sticky rice soaked in water for 4 hours
- 2 dl buffalo stock
- 2 individual baskets of sticky rice
1. Put sticky rice in a bowl of cold water to soak.
2. Grill buffalo slices over a low flame until cooked.
3. Prepare the vegetables. Cut beans into 4 cm long pieces, cut eggplant in wedges, peel and cut spicy wood into 2 cm pieces, cut lemongrass into 3 cm long pieces and crush.
4. In a sauce pan, add buffalo stock, eggplant, lemongrass and spicy wood and boil over low heat for 4 minutes.
5. Crush sticky rice in mortar and add to the stew as a thickening agent. Season with salt.
6. Remove eggplant when cooked and mash.
7. Add green beans and spring onions to the stew, cooking for 4 more minutes.
8. Add spicy leaves, Irish leaves and dill and cook more 4 minutes.
9. Finally, add buffalo meat and mashed eggplant and cook for 4 more minutes. The sauce will reduce, becoming slightly sticky.
10. If you like your stew spicy, you can add slices of red chili.
11. Serve in a bowl, garnished with some of the remaining leaves and red chili.
12. Serve with sticky rice in traditional basket.