reposted from a guest blogging article written at JasonRuggles.com
Posted on 29. Jan, 2010 by April
As we’ve mentioned more than once, last month we went up to an Akha village for a few days to experience their culture. Part of that was, of course, their food. My favorite part was using chopsticks to eat it all. Since we only ate Akha food a few times, we decided to bring in an expert to tell you all about it. Lori Vernon graciously agreed to be our guest blogger today to teach us about Akha food and even share a recipe!
Akha food is fairly simple compared to Thai fare. Most Thai dishes seek to find the perfect balance between many different flavors (sweet, sour, spicy, salty, etc) using a multitude of ingredients like coconut milk, curry paste, lemon grass, chili peppers, fish sauce, sugar and lime to name a few. Most Akha dishes, on the other hand, are savory and have very few ingredients. Akha dishes rarely use more than salt, garlic, chili pepper to flavor the main ingredient. However, this doesn’t mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that Akha food could be considered bland. Quite the opposite, Akha food is very flavorful and spicy!
Of course, rice is the main staple for the Akha people. At a meal, each person has their own bowl of rice, and the accompanying dishes are served family style. There are 5 categories of Akha food; a traditional meal would include at least one dish from each category.
1. STIR FRIED:
This category can vary greatly. Any combination of vegetables, eggs, meat or beans can be stir fried for an Akha meal. An Akha favorite is a spicy stir fried minced pork dish called sa byeh which is the exception to the “simple-ingredients-list rule” and has many herbs including a special type of tree bark. It is almost always eaten for special occasions like weddings, funerals and festivals.
Greens can be pickled when the crops are in abundance and preserved for use at a later time. Often pickled greens are also dried and reconstituted when ready to eat, increasing their shelf life even further.
Greens, squash or potatoes are boiled with pork and bones to create a savory broth soup. The Akha also make a thick rice porridge soup with chicken that is eaten to celebrate the birth of a child or to feed to an invalid unable to eat rice.
The Akha use a mortar and pestle to create very spicy dips to be eaten with fresh vegetables, or spooned directly onto the rice. The most simple version would contain tomato, salt, chili peppers, green onions & cilantro. However, we have tasted many variations of this dish including ones that contained crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, fish, dried beef, and bamboo worms. This is a dish that is different at every house, because each family has their own secret recipe.
The dip mentioned above is generally eaten with a variety of fresh greens and vegetables. Some commonly served items from this category include cabbage, green beans, sweet pea greens, cucumbers, mint, thai eggplant and other herbs. (which I don’t know how to translate into English.)
If you’d like to taste a bit of Akha food, here’s a simple recipe you can try at home:
Spicy Akha Peanut Dip
This is normally made with a mortar and pestle, but since those tools are not commonly available in American kitchens, I’ve included instructions on how to make this using a Cuisinart (a blender may also work.)
- 1 small clove of garlic (optional, depending on how much garlic breath you’re willing to tolerate)
- 3 medium plum tomatoes or one large American Tomato
- ¼ cup of roasted peanuts
- 1-5 Thai chili peppers to taste
- ½ tsp of salt (or to taste)
- green onions, chopped
- cilantro, chopped
- Boil/blanch tomatoes and chili peppers for several minutes… until the tomato skin splits. Remove from water and let cool.
- Chop peanuts roughly in a Cuisinart.
- Peel skin off of tomatoes & add tomatoes in with the chopped peanuts.
- Add blanched chili peppers and garlic clove. Use the pulse setting to chop/mix.
- Add salt to taste
- Remove from Cuisinart.
- Stir in chopped green onions & cilantro to taste, reserving a small amount for garnish on top.
- Serve with raw vegetables or over rice.
- Lori Vernon