Miang kham is a dish that I’ve wanted to share on this blog for a long time now.
This one-bite appetizer embodies bold Thai flavors, with spicy ginger and Thai chilis, sour lime segments, nutty toasted peanuts and coconut, and a sweet and salty shrimp paste-based sauce all wrapped together in a slightly bitter leaf. It truly does what an appetizer is meant to do: stimulate every single one of your taste buds and make you want more!
The limiting factor for me in making miang kham has always been finding wild pepper leaves (also known as wild betel leaves or bai cha plu/ชะพลู in Thai).
Although it’s possible to make miang kham with romaine lettuce or even Chinese broccoli leaves in its place, it just isn’t the same as with these special wild pepper leaves. They are tender and fresh, and impart a subtle spicy and somewhat bitter flavor to the dish.
Until a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I had searched everywhere there was to search for these leaves.
Then a good friend of mine accompanied me on a trip to my favorite Oakland markets. Long after I had passed over the fresh produce section, she called me back with a package in her hand, asking “what are these?” One look at the glistening green leaves and I knew she had found what I had been looking for all of these years!
I don’t know if I had been passing over the wild pepper leaves every time I went, or if they were never available when I was shopping in the past.
Whatever the case, I was so incredibly happy that my friend found them! I rushed home with the leaves and spent the rest of the afternoon making miang kham, enjoying some with the boyfriend that night and saving the rest to share with my awesome friend the following day.
Needless to say, if you’re able to get your hands on these wild pepper leaves, this is an appetizer that should be on your “to-make” list! With so many Thai flavors all wrapped up into one bite, it really is the perfect appetizer.
Start by roasting the shrimp paste. Spread it in a thick layer onto the surface of a banana leaf, fold the leaf into a package, and place it in an oven for approximately 10 minutes at 350 degrees. It will be done when the banana leaf is charred. Foil can be used if banana leaves are not available.
While the shrimp paste is roasting, cut the galanga, ginger, shallots, and lemongrass into small pieces. Roast these herbs by placing them in a pan over medium heat on the stove, and occasionally stirring until they are fully dried out and toasted.
Place the roasted herbs in a mortar and pestle and pound until a coarse paste is formed. Then add the roasted shrimp paste and continue to pound until the paste is smooth.
In a small saucepan, heat the paste you have just prepared with fish sauce and palm sugar over medium heat. Continue to cook until a slightly sticky sauce is formed. If it becomes too sticky, water can be added to thin it out.
Once the sauce is ready, stir in chopped toasted peanuts and toasted coconut flakes.
To Make Miang Kham:
Wash the wild pepper leaves and pat dry.
Prepare the peanuts, coconut, and dried shrimp by roasting them separately in a pan over medium heat. Be sure to use raw peanuts and unsweetened coconut flakes, if available, for the best results. Remove these ingredients once they are toasted and let them cool.
Prepare the fresh ingredients by slicing them into small bite-sized pieces. The peppers can be sliced very thinly and the limes should be sliced into wedges with their skin still intact.
To eat this appetizer, take one wild pepper leaf and spread a dollop of sauce in the middle. Then add the rest of the fresh and toasted ingredients to the leaf, wrap it so that they don't fall out, and pop it into your mouth. Enjoy the burst of fresh flavors!