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      RECIPE TITLE "Aromatic Lemongrass Patties [mak paen - laos]" from Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey through Southeast Asia

    yields Makes 7 or 8 patties; serves 4 as part of a rice meal time--- difficulty easy

    There's a small evening market in Luang Prabang, just between the post office and the river. Tiny candles light the tables where vendors sit selling grilled fish, dark red salsas, sticky rice, grilled chicken, spicy curries, and piles of fresh and plain-cooked vegetables to eat with whatever foods you buy.

    One of our favorite local specialties in the market is mak paen, small aromatic grilled meat patties. Luckily, we've discovered that they are almost as easy to make at home as they were to pick up at the evening market (though minus a considerable element of atmosphere . . .).

    Serve these hot, or set aside on a plate to cool, then wrap well and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Use, thinly sliced, as a topping for Vietnamese Savory Crepes (page 280), or for noodles, or as an ingredient in Saigon Subs (page 287).


    • 1/2 pound boneless reasonably lean pork (shoulder or butt, trimmed of most fat)
    • 1/4 cup sliced shallots
    • 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


    Thinly slice the pork. Transfer to a food processor, add the shallots lemongrass, salt, and pepper and process for about 30 seconds or until the mixture forms an even-textured ball. Turn out into a bowl. Alternatively, use a cleaver to finely chop the pork, first in one direction and then in the other, then fold the meat over on itself and chop again until smooth, discarding any fat or connective tissue. Add the shallots and lemongrass and continue mincing until the mixture is smooth, then transfer to a bowl.

    Set out several plates. Working with wet hands, pick up a scant 2 tablespoons of the pork mixture and shape it into a flat patty 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Place on a plate and repeat with the remaining mixture; do not stack the patties. You'll have 7 or 8 patties.

    Heat a large heavy skillet (or two smaller heavy skillets) over medium-high heat. Rub lightly with an oiled paper towel and add the patties. Lower the heat to medium and cook until golden on the first side, then turn over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until golden and cooked through. As the patties cook, use a spatula to flatten them against the hot surface. (You can also grill or broil the patties until golden and cooked through, turning them over partway through cooking.)

    Serve hot, with rice, a vegetable dish, and a salsa.

    Notes: A close relative of these patties, called cha heo, is made in markets in the Mekong Delta. The minced flavored meat is shaped into fairly thin strips about 2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide, then threaded onto skewers and cooked over a grill. As the meat cooks, it's brushed with a little sweetened coconut milk, making it very succulent. To try it, before you begin grilling, warm some coconut milk and dissolve some palm sugar and a little fish sauce in it.

    To make a thai-lao salad (a yam) with this aromatic flavored pork, slice the cooked patties into thin strips and place in a bowl with an equal volume of thinly sliced shallots, along with some finely chopped fresh mint and/or coarsely torn coriander leaves. If you have some leftover cooked sausages (see Index) or Vietnamese Baked Cinnamon Pâté (page 259), or Vietnamese Grilled Pork Balls (page 252), cut them into bite-sized pieces and add to the salad. Dress with a lime juice and fish sauce dressing such as the one used for Turkey with Mint and Hot Chiles (page 202). Don't be shy about using hot chiles in the dressing, and use plenty of Aromatic Roasted Rice Powder (page 309) if you have any handy. Serve with sticky rice or jasmine rice.

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