Lao Stuffed Lemongrass (Ua Si Khai)


 I’d been meaning to educate myself more seriously on the cuisine of Laos since I started blogging a little over three years ago. And the book, Traditional Recipes of Laos, which is a compilation of handwritten recipes by Phia Sing Chaloensilp (circa 1898-1967), a former chef at the royal palace of Luang Prabang, had been on my wish list for a long time. Then I recently found out that while I’d been allowing things to get in the way of me buying and cooking from the book, a publisher in Thailand has come up with a Thai version based on both the English and the original Lao texts.

Sweet. (Easier to understand. After all, me no speak English so good.)

With the Thai version of the book in my possession, I’ve been making Phia Sing’s recipes for a few weeks now. And so far, Ua Si Khai (Oo-ah See Kye), literally stuffed lemongrass, is one of my favorites. It was also the first recipe I tried out.

stuffed lemongrass ua si khai
Phia Sing’s recipes seem to have been written with the assumption that the end users have already been familiar with the basics of Lao cooking. But I wouldn’t let that be a problem. For one thing, though the equipments and terminology employed in various cuisines may be different, the physics of cooking is universal and cooking itself is instinctive. Besides, the lack of precision or clarity can be viewed as an invitation to improvise and adjust things to suit one’s taste. The ultra-traditional, almost to the point of being archaic, cooking methods employed in the recipe also require some creative solutions in a modern kitchen.

And that’s exactly what I did.

ua si khai stuffed lemongrass
For example, Phia Sing’s recipe calls for “a piece of pork the size of your palm” which is to be chopped up finely (meaning you need to do this on a chopping block with a large cleaver); I just use ground pork from the supermarket. The recipe tells you to mash up some shallots in a mortar and mix them into the meat; I replace the shallots with finely-chopped green onions and add a few cloves of garlic which is an ingredient not found in the original recipe. The recipe also tells you to cook lemongrass stalks in ashy coals until pliable enough to manipulate; I steam them in a microwave. The recipe instructs you to make several fine cuts on the lemongrass stalks with a needle; I make only 6-7 cuts with the tip of my paring knife. Lastly, the recipe specifies that the stuffed lemongrass stalks be wrapped in banana leaves, grilled over coals, and cooled before you deep-fry them; I skip this step entirely.

I took the easy way out not out of disrespect but necessity. Forgive me. But if my wayward ways appeal to you, feel free to do what this baddie has done.

stuffed lemongrass ua si khai
I love that Phia Sing’s Ua Si Khai recipe is seasoned very, very simply. There are no strong herbs such as kaffir lime leaves, basil, or mint involved. This allows the assertive-but-not-at-all-aggressive scent of the lemongrass to come through loud and clear. After all, isn’t this the whole idea behind the dish?

This is also the reason why I don’t feel compelled to serve it with any strong-flavored dipping sauce. Ua Si Khai needs no further adornment.

ua si khai lao cuisine
Lao Stuffed Lemongrass (Ua Si Khai)
Adapted from the recipe by Phia Sing [1]

lao cuisine ua si khai

5.0 from 1 reviews

Lao Stuffed Lemongrass (Ua Si Khai)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main Dish, Entree, Meat
Cuisine: Lao, Laotian
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 6 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed to six inches in length (measuring from the bottom)
  • ⅓ lb ground pork (ground chicken or ground turkey will do too)
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Instructions
  1. Wrap the lemongrass stalks loosely with a piece of paper towel and microwave on high for 4 minutes or less. You want them to be justsoft enough to be pliable while still retaining as much of their fragrant essential oil as possible.
  2. With the tip of a sharp paring knife, make several 4-inch cuts lengthwise all around the lemongrass stalks, starting about ½ inch from the bottom. By doing this, you’re turning each stalk of lemongrass into a basket — a cage, if you will — which will hold the meat. So it’s imperative that you leave both ends of the lemongrass stalks intact.
  3. In a mixing bowl, mix together all ingredients, except the eggs and the frying oil. Divide the mixture into six portions.
  4. Stuff one portion of the meat into each lemongrass “cage.” Try to get the meat to stay inside the cage as best as you can, but if some oozes out, it’s not the end of the world.
  5. Once you’ve filled the lemongrass stalks with all the meat, press each filled stalk with your palms (easier if your hands are moistened) to form a tight rugby ball-shaped capsule.
  6. Heat up the frying oil until it reaches about 300°F. (We don’t want the temperature to get too high as the outsides of the filled lemongrass stalks will burn before they’re cooked all the way through.)
  7. Dip each filled lemongrass stalk into the beaten eggs, making sure it’s thoroughly coated, and drop it into the hot oil slowly and carefully.
  8. Once the filled lemongrass stalks turn golden brown, give each one a light squeeze with a pair of tongs. If the inside is cooked all the way through, you should feel some resistance.
  9. Transfer your Ua Si Khai from the oil and let them cool on a paper towel-lined plate.
  10. Serve with steamed jasmine rice or sticky rice.

 

[1] ตำรับพระราชวังหลวงพระบาง (“Recipes from the Palace of Luang Prabang”), p. 211, Butterfly Book House, Bangkok: 2010, translated into Thai by Pensri Thongyai Na Ayudhaya and Jinda Chamroen from Traditional Recipes of Laos by Phia Sing.

14 Responses to Lao Stuffed Lemongrass (Ua Si Khai)

  1. Amy March 21, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Wow! These look absolutely delicious!

  2. Angry Asian March 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    Leela, this looks amazing. is it weird that while i’m reading this recipe, i’m trying to figure out a way to make more than just six without spending too much time frying them gems up cus 6 is just not enough for my fat ass?

  3. Kimberly March 21, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    Food on the Go! SE Asia has true fast food. They Look very tasty and totally make sense. I was fortunate to be invited into a Lao home in Luang Probang years ago and the food was delicious, simple and hands on. Though we had something different no utensils were involved. TY for the new recipe to try in the near future!

  4. MrsAdams March 21, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    Looks & sounds delicious. I can’t wait to try these. I have made ka takrai (pork on lemon grass sticks) from Vatcharin Bhumichitr book The Essential Thai Cookbook.

  5. Dale March 22, 2012 at 4:29 am #

    Viva la Cuisine de Laos!

  6. Lambsy March 22, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Again you amaze me. Thank you! I don’t think I have told you, actually I am sure I haven’t, but your blog is eagerly awaited and hungrily read. Loove it!

  7. Bville Yellow Dog March 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    I own that book.
    I generally prefer international cookbooks published in the US and written by a native of that country.
    Then the author will call ingredients by the name they are called in the US and will not call for impossible ingredients.
    I will have to give this one another look.

  8. Sisaket March 24, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    Yes you are right not an easy cookbook to work with-however I do think it is a significant record of Lao Cuisine,and culturally important for anyone interested in this food.
    PS have you looked into the work of Alan Davidson -UK ambassador to Laos who was instrumental in getting Phia’s work into print-he also writes about Thai Funeral cookery books somewhere else and did create the infamous book Fish and Fish dishes of Laos

  9. Thao Khamsene January 25, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Thank You very much for the recipe of UA Si Khay of Phia Sing

    It ‘ nice to know that Lao recipe.

    I’ m Lao, living Poland never know about this recipe. I’ll try to cook too.
    Sincerely.
    T.Khamsene.

  10. Thao Khamsene January 25, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    Nice to know about
    and to know it is from Laos
    my native kongdom of Lanxang>

  11. Rani Veerassamy January 3, 2014 at 3:37 am #

    I tried this recipe this evening but used chicken thigh meat as I am intolerant to pork. Beautiful!

  12. Padaek January 6, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    They look perfect and delicious. I think you did an awesome job capturing Phia’s recipe. I just love the smell and taste of lemongrass cooked with meat and look forward to trying this recipe one day. Thanks! :)

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