A recipe for Jeow Mak Len (Lao Tomato Dipping Sauce)! Charred tomatoes, chilies, and onions are mashed into a sauce, then flavored with fish sauce and cilantro for a delicious accompaniment to meat and vegetables.
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This Jeow Mak Len (ແຈ່ວຫມາກເລັ່ນ), Lao 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 smoky and spicy sauce.
I paired the Jeow Mak Len with sticky rice, a mild Lao Pork Sausage from Nok’s Kitchen, and sliced cucumber for a nice refreshing contrast. Garnish the sauce with additional green onions and cilantro if desired.
Looking for more flavor-packed Lao dipping sauces? Check out Jeow Het (Mushroom Dipping Sauce) from Cooking with Lane and Jeow Som (Spicy Dipping Sauce) from Jenuine Cuisine.
A Few Tips
A large mortar and pestle is best for getting the right texture in this sauce. If not available, you can also use a food processor to gently pulse the ingredients to the desired consistency.
For easier turning when cooking, the vegetables can be arranged on bamboo skewers and flipped as they darken. If using bamboo or wooden skewers, soak in water for 20 minutes before using to keep the wood from burning.
Cherry tomatoes are can also be used for the base- swap about 15-20 in place of the medium tomatoes and arrange them on the soaked skewers for easy handling on the grill.
While grilling, the onions, garlic, and chilies will char before the tomatoes. Remove them as they finish to allow the remaining vegetables to cook.
Take care when working with the chilies. If needed, wear gloves to protect your hands and face. Char the chilies outside or in an area with very good ventilation.
Bird’s eye chilies are small, but pack quite the kick. These thin, pointed peppers are green as they grow, then turn red with maturity. Adjust the amount based on personal preference. I kept the seeds in the chilies, but removing them will also decrease the heat level. On the Scoville scale, these chilies land between the cayenne and habanero. They can be found in the produce section of markets with Southeast Asian ingredients.
Fish sauce (nam pa, nam pla) is a condiment 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. It can be found in some larger grocery stores and markets with Southeast Asian ingredients.
Jeow Mak Len is best served with Khao Niew (ເຂົ້າໜຽວ, sticky rice). This sweet glutinous rice (sweet rice, waxy rice) 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 takes a little planning ahead compared to some other rice varieties. It needs to be soaked in water for at least 4 hours (and up to 24- I usually let it soak overnight) before steaming. I have been able to find it in the rice section of some larger grocery stores and markets with Southeast Asian ingredients. It is also on Amazon for a higher price: Sticky Rice Long Grain.
A Dash of Dolly has a wonderful tutorial on how to prepare Khao Niew. If you do not have a traditional steaming basket and aluminum pot set to cook the rice, She Simmers has written a way to prepare it using a splash guard and boiling pot of water. I was able to find the bamboo serving basket (Aep Khao) for the sticky rice at Thai and Laos Market in Anaheim, California.
Looking for more tomato-based recipes?
- Šalša (Croatian Tomato Sauce)
- Farro Salad with Kale and Roasted Tomatoes
- Domatosoupa Me Kritharaki (Greek Tomato Soup with Orzo)
Jeow Mak Len (Lao Tomato Dipping Sauce) Recipe
Adapted from Southeast Market
Jeow Mak Len (Lao Tomato Dipping Sauce)
- 3 medium tomatoes
- 2 small shallots unpeeled
- 4-7 red bird's eye chilies
- 4 garlic cloves unpeeled
- 3 green onions divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (22 milliliters) fish sauce
- Pinch salt
- 1/4 cup cilantro roughly chopped
- Arrange the tomatoes, shallots, chilies, unpeeled garlic cloves 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 garlic, green onions, chilies, and shallots as they become charred before the tomatoes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Using a large mortar and pestle, peel the garlic cloves and mash into a paste.
- Remove the stems (and seeds for less heat) from the chilies, chop, and add to the garlic. Peel the shallots and chop along with the 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 textured sauce. Mix in the fish sauce, salt, and cilantro. Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Thinly slice the remaining green onion and sprinkle over the sauce for garnish along with a few pieces of cilantro.
- Serve with sticky rice, grilled meat, and vegetables.