Note: You can find fermented crab in the freezer section of an Asian grocery that stocks Southeast Asian ingredients (Ha Tien on University Avenue has it). Most Asian groceries stock shrimp paste, and tamarind purée can be found at both Asian and Mexican groceries. You can taste a version of the salad at the new Indian restaurant called M, in Minneapolis.
• 1 large (31/2 lb.) green, unripe papaya
• 1 carrot, peeled and trimmed
• 10 long beans (can substitute skinny green beans)
• 5 very small Thai eggplants (2 to 3-in. diameter, green-and-white)
• 10 cherry tomatoes
• 2 small Thai chiles (or more, if desired), thinly sliced
• 1/4 c. sugar
• 3 garlic cloves, peeled
• 2 tsp. shrimp paste (see Note)
• 2 tsp. fermented crab, optional (see Note)
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/4 c. fresh lime juice
• 6 tbsp. dry-roasted peanuts
• 6 tbsp. tamarind purée (see Note)
• 1/4 c. fish sauce
• 1/2 fresh green cabbage, for garnish, cut into wedges
Peel the green papaya and shred with a julienne peeler or a mandoline fitted with medium-width teeth, stopping before you get to the seed cavity in the middle. Measure out 4 packed cups of green papaya and transfer to a bowl. Shred the carrot over the papaya and mix gently to combine.
Cut the beans into inch-long lengths, slice the eggplants thinly and halve the cherry tomatoes; set aside.
In the bottom of a heavy mortar, place the sliced chiles, sugar, garlic, shrimp paste, fermented crab and salt, and pound until smooth. (If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can chop the chiles, garlic and sugar together on a cutting board and mash with the flat side of a knife until the mixture forms a paste, and transfer it to a bowl.)
Add the lime juice, long beans, eggplant and peanuts, and mix well to combine. (At this point, if you're using a small mortar and pestle, scrape the mixture into a larger bowl and discontinue pounding; incorporate the rest with your clean hands.)
Add the papaya and carrot and pound to bruise. Add the cherry tomatoes, tamarind purée and fish sauce, and pound. Toss with a spoon until everything is well incorporated. Serve with sticky rice and slices of cabbage.
TRADITIONAL CHICKEN AND HERB SOUP
Note: Hmong soup herbs are available at the farmers market.
• 1 fresh free-range chicken, about 31/2 lb. (Mai uses freshly killed chicken)
• Salt to taste
• 1 large (12-in.) stalk lemongrass
• 1 bundle mixed Hmong soup herbs (see Note)
• 20 turns freshly ground black pepper
Cut the chicken into 12 bone-in pieces.
Heat 1 quart of water over high heat until it boils. Add salt until it tastes seasoned. Add the chicken to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Drain, discarding water.
Heat 3 quarts of water in a stockpot over medium heat. Wash the lemongrass and add it to the pot. Cook, under a simmer, until the water turns green and smells fragrantly of lemongrass. Add salt to the water until it tastes seasoned.
Add the chicken pieces and bring the water to a lively simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat and cook very slowly for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the soup tastes of chicken. Season with salt again if necessary.
Wash the herbs twice in water to cover. From the soup herbs, add the stiff chive-like herbs to the pot. Pick the softer herbs from their stems and set aside.
Bring soup to a boil and add soft herbs. Cook for 3 minutes, or until the herbs are tender to the bite. Remove the stiff chive-like herb, as it is tough to chew. Add the ground pepper and serve immediately, with some jasmine rice on the side.
Note: Sticky rice is also called sweet or glutinous rice. You can find it at any Asian grocery store.
• 3 c. sweet, glutinous rice (see Note)
Place the rice in a sieve and scrub under running water until the water runs clear. Place in a bowl and add water to cover by 2 inches; soak at least 4 hours, but as long as overnight.
When you're ready to cook the rice, prepare a steamer. Use a flat Chinese bamboo steamer (10-inch-diameter or larger). Line it with a double layer of cheesecloth.
Drain the rice. Place in the steamer, which should be set over a pot or a wok of boiling water. Steam the rice for 25 minutes, turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.