A Culinary Trip to the Hmong Kitchen

The Splendid Table

This week on Splendid Table, Lynne Rossetto Kasper took us on a mini culinary escape into Hmong cooking. Among all the Asian cuisines that have taken hold in the United States, that of the Hmong still remains relatively unexplored and unknown - making this brief glimpse all the more fascinating!

We were really interested to learn that part of the reason we don't know more about traditional Hmong food is because the Hmong people didn't have a written language until relatively recently. In other words, the only way you could learn Hmong cooking was by growing up in the culture or convincing a Hmong cook to give you a lesson.

Which is exactly why this new book, Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America, is so fantastic! Authors Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang interviewed dozens of Hmong cooks and compiled the first cookbook documenting their recipes. They describe Hmong cuisine as "simple, earthy, fiery, and fresh," and round out the recipes in the book with anecdotes and lessons on Hmong culture.

Back in Lynne's kitchen, these same authors sliced and diced, preparing the national dish of Laos: Chicken Larb (pictured above). This dish - and, it sounds like, many Hmong dishes - is heavy on the fresh herbs and stretches a little bit of protein into a dish that will feed many. It's served with sticky rice, and Lynne's exclamations as she sampled her portion make us want to make it for ourselves as soon as possible!

While the authors say that many of the recipes have been adapted to the American kitchen, they also recommend finding and using Hmong herbs and vegetables whenever possible. We know that a Hmong farmer used to have a stand at the Copley Square farmer's market in Boston (haven't made it down yet this summer). Do you know of a source for Hmong produce near you? What other experiences have you had with Hmong cuisine?

• Definitely take a minute to listen to the entire interview. You can listen to it and rest of the episode right on the Splendid Table website.

• Also, check out the book, Cooking from the Heart, and more recipes on the author's website.

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(Image: Flickr member Stu_Spivack licensed under Creative Commons)