Funnily enough, I never actually had mieng kham while I was living in Thailand… I actually discovered this little flavour-bomb at my favourite Thai restaurant in Cairns, and was hooked from the first bite!
It’s basically betel leaf, filled with an array of flavoursome goodies – including toasted coconut, fresh chilli, crushed peanuts, and a whole host of other yummy bits and pieces – embellished with a sweet-sour tamarind dipping sauce. What you do is you pop a little of what you fancy onto the betel leaf, wrap it up, and chomp away – you’ll be blown away by the flavour fireworks going on in your mouth!
This is something I crave when the weather’s hot and tropical, when I don’t want to eat to get full, but just to enjoy a flavour explosion. Here’s how to put it all together…
Flavour: Spicy, tangy, salty & sweet – all the seasons in one bite!
Serves: as many as you want! If you buy a bunch of betel leaves from an Asian market, this will give you enough to serve mieng kham for party nibbles, or as an entree for 6-8 dinner guests.
Tamarind dipping sauce:
- 1 tablespoon fermented soybean paste (I usually use Korean doenjang for this, as it’s what I tend to have in the fridge)
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste (you can get this in a jar, but I prefer to use the dry, sticky stuff in a block, and rehydrate it in a little water – this takes a few minutes, but gives a deeper flavour)
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar (you could substitute with rapadura, or plain raw sugar if you prefer, but palm sugar has a wonderful caramelly flavour that’s perfect for dipping sauces)
- small 1cm x 1cm piece of galangal, minced as finely as you can get it
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- half cup water
- 1 bunch betel leaves (if you can’t get hold of betel leaves, you can substitute with shiso leaves)
- 4 bird’s eye chillies, sliced as finely as you can get them
- small 1cm x 1cm piece of ginger, minced as finely as you can get it
- half cup peanuts, toasted
- half cup dessicated shredded coconut, lightly toasted (I’m not hardcore enough to make this from scratch – I buy it pre-packaged….)
- 1 stalk lemongrass, sliced as finely as you can get it
- 8 kaffir lime leaves, sliced as finely as you can get them
- 1 lime, quartered, and then each quarter finely sliced
- 2 shallots, finely chopped – try to get these as small as 2-3mm chunks (when I’m feeling lazy, I substitute fresh shallots with pre-packaged fried shallots, which adds a great crunch)
To make the tamarind dipping sauce:
- First make sure your tamarind paste is ready. Easy-peasy if you’re using the stuff from a jar – just pop it in a small bowl ready to mix! If you’re using the dried sticky stuff in a block, like I do, cut off a 1 inch x 1 inch chunk, and chop it into small, sticky pieces. Pop the pieces in a bowl, and cover with water (no more than quarter of a cup) to soak. After the tamarind has soaked for about 30 minutes, you can smush it with the back of a teaspoon until you have a thick paste.
- Add the soybean paste, palm sugar, galangal, and soy sauce to your tamarind paste, and stir fiercely until fully incorporated. Add your half cup of water gradually, as needed. You’ll want quite a thick, syrupy sauce so it coats the mieng kham when you dip it, and doesn’t just drip off. But you don’t want your sauce so thick that you struggle to get any on the mieng kham when you dip it!
- Transfer to a pretty little serving bowl, or multiple little dishes, if you’re planning to serve it to dinner guests.
To make the mieng kham:
- Prepare each of your filling ingredients as per the instructions in the ingredients list, and put each ingredient in a separate serving dish.
- Spread the betel leaves out on a platter so your guests can help themselves
- Instruct your guests to pop a tiny amount of each of the ingredients they want (the whole lot is best for a full-on flavour explosion!) onto one betel leaf, and then fold it into a parcel. They can either dip the betel leaf into the tamarind dipping sauce before eating it, or they can put some sauce in with the other ingredients before folding up their parcel – either way works fine.
- Instruct your guests to eat their betel lead whole or in two bites only, and prepare for a flavour explosion!
Alternative serving suggestion: Spread the betel leaves out separately on a large serving platter, and pop a tiny serving of each ingredient into the centre of each leaf. This will look very pretty, and all your guests will have to do is pick up a leaf, and fold it into a parcel before popping it into their mouths 🙂