Spicy Pork with Mint Leaves

This is from up in the Northeast, where Nakhon Phanom sits alongside the western bank of the Mekong, directly across from the Laotian town of Thakhek. We had an apartment on the second floor of a house right on the river, and there was a large patio. Depending on my work schedule, we could have a quiet dinner on the patio while watching the Royal Laotian Air Force bomb the Pathet Lao across the river. Of a quiet and cloudy evening, we could see the flashes reflected on the clouds as B-52's hit the Laotian side of Mu Gia and Ban Karai passes, two of the major inputs into the Ho Chi Minh Trail. North Vietnam was only 40 miles or so across the Laotian panhandle.

At other times we would watch the elephants trudge off to work, chivvied along by their handlers.

And at still other times, Sue would go down to the street and give food to the monks. NKP was a rough little frontier town, with all sorts of sneaky things going on, what with the war across the river and "special operations" out of Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base. Still, it sort of grew on one after awhile.

Where was I?

Ah yes. Spicy Pork and Mint. One of my favorites. Sue grows her own mints, you know. We have a garden in which she grows various herbs - dill, basil, sage, oregano, yarrow, lavender, marjoram, and some others...and round and long Thai eggplants, bitter melons, and so on. Fresh veggies make a huge difference in Thai cooking.


Mix the minced pork and tamarind juice and let stand for 15-30 minutes.

You can make your own ground coriander by browning whole seeds over low heat without oil, then using a mortar and pestle to grind finely. This has a better flavor than mere ground coriander out of a bottle.

Make rice powder by browning a tablespoon of rice without oil, and using the mortar and pestle to grind finely.

Wrap the garlic and shallots in aluminum foil, place over an open fire (or charcoal, or a gas grill) and cook until almost burned. Pound these in the mortar and pestle.

Cook the minced pork over high heat for perhaps five minutes. Use a little oil if necessary to prevent sticking. Place it in a mixing bowl.

Add the roasted garlic and shallot, salt, nampla (be careful with the salt, as nampla is naturally very salty itself), lime juice, coriander powder, rice powder. Mix thoroughly. Sue just sticks her hand in and squishes it around. Place on a serving plate. Sprinkle the chili powder over the top, and top with sprigs of mint. Garnish with lettuce hearts and raw asparagus bean. You need beans in good condition, as these are little nibblers.

Sue never uses measuring devices; she just wings it. This is as close to what she uses as I can get it. You can dabble with it to get it to taste. There are endless variations of chili powders and sauces you can use. Sue makes her own from those little Thai chilis and habaneros. She says the habaneros, being fairly mild, temper the Thai peppers.

Much can be done in arranging the dish for aesthetics.


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