Jeow is a type of dipping sauce from Laos made with charred vegetables. There are a few different varieties depending on the region including Jeow Bong (Sweet Chili), Jeow Mak Kua (Eggplant), Jeow Mak Pet Dib (Green Chili), Jeow Padaek (Fermented Fish), and Jeow Pahang (Dried Fish). This Jeow Mak Len, Tomato Dipping Sauce, is perfect for summer. Tomatoes, chilies, and onions are grilled until starting to blister and char, then mashed with a mortar and pestle into a sauce. It is seasoned with lime, fish sauce, and cilantro. I served the sauce with grilled pork and sticky rice (Khao Niew). It is also great with steamed or raw vegetables or steamed meat.
If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can also use a blender or food processor and pulse the ingredients into a chunky sauce.
Recipes seem to vary over whether to char the garlic cloves or not. I decided to leave them raw, but add them to the grill/baking sheet if desired. Cherry tomatoes are also often used to make this dip- use about 15 in place of the medium tomatoes. Arrange them on skewers for easy handling on the grill. While grilling, the onions and chilies will char before the tomatoes. Remove them as they finish to allow the remaining vegetables to char.
Two bird’s eye chilies will give this dip a spicy kick. Decrease to 1 for less heat or even bump it up to 3 for extra spice. Removing the seeds will also help decrease the heat level. These small chilies pack quite the punch. On the Scoville scale, it lands in-between the cayenne and habanero. They can be found in the produce section of Asian food markets specializing in Southeast Asian ingredients. Take care when working with the chilies. If needed, wear gloves to keep yourself from accidentally transferring the oil to your eyes or mouth after handling.
Fish sauce (nam pa, nam pla, nuoc mam, patis) is a condiment popular in Southeast Asian cooking. It is created by slowly fermenting fish (generally anchovies) in a salt water mixture, then pressing to produce a thin liquid. It has quite the strong smell, but provides a savory umami flavor. Brands from different countries will vary a bit in taste and quality. Fish sauce is available in most Asian food markets and even some larger grocery stores. Be sure to check the ingredient list first. The good ones should only contain anchovies, salt, and water.
Jeow is generally served with sticky rice/Khao Niew, a sweet glutinous rice (sweet rice, waxy rice). It has a low amylose and high amylopectin content that gives the rice a sticky, chewy texture. The word glutinous refers to the glue-like quality of the rice, but there is actually no gluten present. Khao Niew is prepared a bit differently compared to other types of rice and needs to be soaked for a couple of hours before steaming. It is available in the international/rice section of some larger grocery stores and Asian Food Markets. You can also find it on Amazon: Thai Sticky Rice (Sweet Rice) 5 Lbs or 2 lbs.
Jeow Mak Len (Lao Tomato Dipping Sauce)
Adapted from Southeast Market
3 medium tomatoes
2 shallots, peeled
2 red bird’s eye chilies
3 green onions, divided
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
Arrange the tomatoes, shallots, chilies, and two of the green onions over a grill pan or on a rimmed baking sheet. Cook, turning occasionally, on a heated grill or under a broiler until blistered and charred on all sides (but not completely burnt). Remove the green onions, chilies, and shallots if they become charred before the tomatoes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
Using a large mortar and pestle, mash the garlic cloves into a paste. Remove the stems (and seeds for less heat) from the chilies, chop, and add to the garlic. Chop the shallots and charred green onions, then mash with the garlic and chilies. Roughly chop, and mash the tomatoes with the rest of the vegetables to form a chunky sauce. Mix in the lime juice, fish sauce, and cilantro. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Thinly slice the remaining green onion and sprinkle over the sauce for garnish. Serve with sticky rice, grilled meat, and vegetables.