Sometimes, folks, every dish I touch doesn’t turn into heaven in your mouth. At LWK, we post the fails too, just for funsies. My first fail! (She says with feigned excitement.)
I’ve been meaning to try to recreate Luang Prabang stew ever since we visited Luang Prabang, Laos years ago. It’s this famous dish that’s made by peasants, enjoyed by royalty, so they say. We tried the stew and yes, it was wonderful. A gooey (in a good way) pot of beef, eggplant and jungle flavors that left a little numbness on the tip of your tongue.
I knew there would be a few caveats. One being that the spice in the stew came from a type of wood they get from the jungle that has capsaicin in it and kind of leaves a little numbness behind in your mouth. Clearly I would not be able to procure said wood, since they literally walk into the jungle and find it, however, Szechuan peppercorns have a similar effect so it’s a common substitution. The other issue is in our Lao cooking class, they used “baby eggplant,” which are eggplants but they are small, round and green if my memory serves me. Well, I was in luck, because I happen to find some at the Asian grocery store so I thought I was golden. I even made sticky rice, rolled it into balls, and broiled it to throw in there. Seriously guys, nothing was missing.
Well, I don’t know what happened. I followed the recipe; I had all the ingredients; the consistency was right, and I checked a few other recipes online and it was all the same, but for some reason the stew was NOT, I repeat, NOT the magical bowl of deliciousness that we remember. Maybe my baby eggplants were too big, changing the flavor just enough. Or maybe it’s because my husband insisted I use dried meat (jerky) instead of fresh, because in his mind that is how the dish was despite the fact that the recipe we have from our cooking school specifically says to use fresh meat. Maybe I used too many Szechuan peppercorns. Or not enough. Maybe I’m completely mistaken about the “baby” eggplant thing. In fact, maybe “baby eggplant” are the small purple and white eggplants, not the small green ones. (See photo below.) Maybe it’s only good when there is 100% humidity and you’re sweating your proverbial balls off and for some reason or another this dish hits the spot.
Or, maybe, there is a reason they season it with wood that numbs your tastebuds. (Insert numbness-inducing wood joke.) Mostly, my version tasted like a bowl of old man farts. Chunky old man farts, at that. So, I may go back to the drawing board with this, or serve it to dinner guests I don’t want back, but for now it will not die another day; it dies today.
However, if any of you happen to find yourselves in the wonderful, beautiful city of Luang Prabang, Laos, I suggest you try the Or Lam. No really. I promise, it’s delicious.