this is actually a pretty simple dish to make, and it goes great with sticky rice - so it's well worth the effort you'll put into it. really, its just beef (kinda minced) lightly cooked and then mixed with lime, fish sauce, hot peppers, lime leaves, rice powder, green onions, cilantro and mint.
but here is the main issue with penn's recipe: first off, penn starts with 1 pound of extra-lean ground beef. well, laap just doesn't taste as good when made like that. you really should start with some sorta beef steak and chop it up yourself, or it won't seem right. (i actually am not sure that i know the right way to chop up the beef, so i may need a little help with this. thus, any suggestions from this blog's vast readership [6-7 people?] on how this can be best accomplished would be appreciated.)
but after you've have cut up the meat (or bought it ground up,) just cook it in a pan to your liking, (preferably a bit rare,) and then let it cool some before adding in everything. i tried to follow penn's recipe, but it wasn't salty enough for me, so i added a little extra fish sauce, and of course, i added msg. (see the above picture, which was posed just for this blog.)
here's what you add and the amount:
lime juice (she says 2 table spoons for a lb of beef. i would put more than that...
salt and fish sauce (1/2 tsp, 1 and 1/2 respectively... or more.)
hot chilli pepper - as much as you can stand
kalanga powder (you can buy it at the asian store. or just get the fresh kind and use a lot of it.)
lime leafs - finely minced. penn says use two.
i like padek, (a good spoonful or two), but penn says nothing about it.
then a tablespoon of rice powder. (see page 113 for directions on how to do this, or read below.)
the rice powder (khao khoua) is pretty easy to come by: get some uncooked sticky rice (would somebody clarify this: when making it, don't you just use the glutinous rice - not the regular white jasmine rice?) then you'll want to "fry" it in a sauce pan till its rather dark and brown, stirring and shaking it constantly or it will burn real bad. either way, its gonna smoke a lot, so disconnect your fire alarm. then after it's cooled, pound it with your mortar and pestle (khok and sak) till you get a nice powder - kinda grayish brown lookin.
then after mixing all the above, add your herbs: scallion, mint, and Lao cilantro (tui says this is the essential secret to good laap, along with fresh galanga.) its smaller and almost dill-lookin.
i would also point out that with penn's recipe book, she once again shows that she really is making her recipes suitable to the delicate tastes of white people. i mean, she doesn't put anything in there that you'd expect to find in real laap. laap is really a repository for anything and everything from the cow. it's full of innards and squiggly pieces of meat that give it texture and flavor. but i am fine with the omission of all of that. plain beef is fine with me, although there is this one loopy-loops innard piece of the cow that i kinda like, but i don't know exactly what it is, and when eating real Lao laap, i've always been a little hesitant separate it out, hold it up in the air, and ask the cook, "an nii menh nhang?" see the above picture for what laap is kinda supposed to look like.
mine didn't turn out too well though. i used mint growing in the flower box under my living room window, and it gave it a slight dirt/pesticide flavor. additionally, i forgot to soak the sticky rice, so i had to eat my laap with jasmine. not my favorite way to do it, but oh well. stir-fried some vegetables and chicken, and there you go... i got them flowers from the neighbor's front lawn.
i am sure i am missing something here, so feel free to add your comments and suggestions.