A popular Southeast Asian hawker food, this dish consists of minced meat flavored with chili, cumin, crushed galangal, ground coriander, coconut milk and fish sauce, wrapped around lemongrass stalks and grilled. There are Thai, Malay, Indonesian and Vietnamese versions but, for the life of me, I can’t recall any of their local names.
The lemongrass stalks are bruised before the meat mixture is wrapped around them. As a result, during grilling, the lemongrass emits its oil and flavors into the pork. I had to do the grilling indoors as it was raining earlier and the aromas that permeated the house were just unbelievable. Like citrus notes and pungent shadows dancing in the air. Oh, never mind. To even try to describe it would do this dish an injustice. I don’t think there are proper words.
And what about the taste? Juicy meat that is at once spicy, a bit salty and a bit sweet because of the coconut milk. Heighten the experience with peanut sauce on the side and it’s perfection twice over.
- 8 stalks of lemongrass
500 g. of finely minced or ground pork with at least 20% of fat (or use lamb, chicken, beef or even fish)
1 onion or two shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely minced
1 tbsp. of patis (fish sauce)
1 tbsp. of crushed galangal (or substitute ginger — it won’t taste the same but it’s a good enough substitute)
1 tsp. of chili flakes (or 1/2 tsp. of chili powder)
1 tsp. of ground cumin
1 tsp. of ground coriander
1 tsp. of turmeric powder
1 tbsp. of finely chopped cilantro
3 to 4 tbsps. of roasted grated coconut (optional but highly recommended)
2 tbsps. of coconut milk
- Use only the light colored portion of the lemongrass. Peel off the outer layer. Bruise (lightly pound) the lower half of each stalk — this is the secret to allow the lemongrass to release as much of its flavors and aroma.
Put the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and mix lightly but thoroughly.
Take about two tablespoonfuls of the meat mixture and pat onto the fingers of one hand. Place a lemongrass at the center then use your hand to wrap the lemongrass in the meat mixture. Lightly flatten the meat for faster and more even cooking.
Grill the meat in the lemongrass stalks. Turn them over gingerly (the stalks will soften during cooking so a pair of tongs or a spatula will come in handy) halfway through.
Serve at once with peanut sauce.
To make the peanut sauce, mix together 2 to 3 heaping tablespoonfuls of peanut butter with the juice of 1/2 lime or lemon. Slowly stir in hot water to make a smooth paste. Season with patis (fish sauce) to achieve the balance that you prefer.
If you want to serve this dish as a snack or an appetizer, divide the meat mixture among 12 to 15 lemongrass stalks.
Cooking time (duration): 30 minutes
Number of servings (yield): 8
Meal type: lunch