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Asian flavors abound in Auroran’s kitchen

Chad Ratsamy gets ready sample plate Tham Mak Hoong popular
Laotian dish made from green papaya.

Chad Ratsamy gets ready to sample a plate of Tham Mak Hoong, a popular Laotian dish made from green papaya.

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Tham Mak Hoong

1/2 clove garlic

1 to 5 Thai Chili Peppers (to taste)

1/2 teaspoon palm or regular sugar

1/2 cup tomatoes, cut in chunks

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon anchovy fish sauce

3 cups shredded green papaya

6 ounces prepared vermicelli rice noodles

Selection of ong choy (water spinach), cabbage leaves or pork rinds

Using a mortar and pestle, crush together garlic and pepper. Add sugar and tomatoes. Continue to stir mixture with a spoon while crushing with pestle. Add fish sauces and lime juice and combine. Add shredded papaya and combine until the papaya takes on the sauce color. Serve vermicelli rice noodles on the side or mix together. Can also be served with water spinach, cabbage leaves or pork rinds.

Updated: April 2, 2013 6:12AM

Chad Ratsamy was born in Thailand and moved to Laos before coming to the United States with her parents when she was 2-years-old. Her husband is Vietnamese so mealtimes in their Aurora home often have a Southeast Asian influence.

“I find that Laotian dishes are more salty and spicy while the dishes from Thailand are more balanced. There is sweet and spicy but the flavors are very balanced,” says Ratsamy who learned to make dishes from both her mother and her mother-in-law.

Some of the ethnic dishes can be challenging to find says Ratsamy, a 37-year-old mother of two daughters.

“Some of the people in my generation do not know how to cook. They might know the ingredients but they don’t know how to put them together to get the right flavors,” she explains.

There are also very few authentic Laotian restaurants in the area. “I think the White Pearl in Elgin is one of the few restaurants around that serve authentic dishes,” she adds.

One very popular Laotian side dish is Tham Mak Hoong. “It is very traditional and when Laotian kids go off to college, they crave this. I have often been recruited to make it for people who can’t find it anywhere ,” says Ratsamy.

The dish requires a green papaya. “It can’t be a ripe papaya. It must be green so the dish is crispy and firm,” she explains. Papayas are usually delivered to a store while they are green but ripen quickly. To find the papaya, Ratsamy has learned the delivery days of several local markets and shops for the green papayas as soon as they get to the store.

Another key to making this dish is having a ceramic mortar and pestle. Tham Mak Hoong means pounded papaya and refers to the process of using the club-shaped pestle to work together the papaya and other ingredients. Another helpful tool is a serrated shredder. Traditionally, Laotians make long cuts into the papaya and then shave off thin strips. A serrated shredder will shave off the strips in one motion making the process easier. The tool can be found in Asian markets.

When shredding the papaya, Ratsamy first peels off the skin and then begins shredding the top pale green layer. “Once you begin to see white, then stop. We only want the pale green part. The seeds and white layer in the middle are too bitter,” she explains.

The recipe requires two types of fish sauce. The first is a regular fish sauce and the second is a very thick fish sauce made from anchovies. Ratsamy’s mother makes a homemade version of this second fish sauce but it can be found in Asian markets.

Adding more peppers will make Tham Mak Hoong much hotter. “It depends upon what you like,” she explains.

The dish is served with vermicelli rice noodles, water spinach, cabbage leaves or pork rinds. The mixture is mixed into the noodles, wrapped into one of the leaves or scooped up with the pork rinds.

“Tham Mak Hoong is eaten any time of the day,” adds Ratsamy. “In Laos, there is no difference in the foods eaten at breakfast, lunch or dinner. We eat any food at any time of the day.”

Ratsamy offers a very mild version of this popular Laotian dish for others to try.

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