Anyone who has visited this site before must know that I’m a huge fan of SheSimmers.com. Her recipes are fantastic, her photos are gorgeous, and she has a way of writing that’s entertaining and educational at the same time… What’s not to love? So when I read that she was hosting a recipe contest for an easy Thai appetizer, I knew I had to enter.
The boyfriend and I considered all of the Thai appetizers that we know… sai oua pork sausage is one of our absolute favorites, but would probably be too hard to make for this contest, fried pork with garlic would go exceptionally well with beer but we’ve already made that, and so on. We finally decided upon a Northern Thai specialty called nam prik ong (น้ำพริกอ่อง). This is a chili- and tomato- based dip that’s spicy, of course, but also exceptionally fragrant and substantially meaty as well. And it’s from the boyfriend’s home town of Chiang Mai… Perfect!
Fortunately nam prik ong is also really easy to make. You start with some salt and small dried chilis that have been soaked in water and pound them together in a mortar and pestle until you have a somewhat smooth paste. Then you add the other ingredients — garlic, shallots, lemongrass, yellow bean paste, and tomatoes — and keep pounding into the paste. (If you don’t have yellow bean sauce, don’t worry, the dip is still wonderful without it.) After you have a nice paste, you stirfry it with garlic and ground pork and voila your dip is done!
In Chiang Mai, this dip is traditionally served with an assortment of fresh vegetables, crispy fried pork skins, and sometimes even sai oua. Yes, that’s right, three different forms of pork all in one appetizer…. This alone explains so much about the boyfriend’s taste preferences!
For the appetizer contest though, I decided to place smaller bites of nam prik ong onto cool slices of cucumber and then top them with a piece of fried lotus root for a little extra flair. To make this garnish, just slice peeled lotus root into 1/8″ slices with a mandoline and then cut one slice into quarters. Keep the pieces in water until you’re ready to fry them, then pat dry, fry over medium to medium-high heat until just golden, and sprinkle with salt once they’re done.
The fried basil was the boyfriend’s idea. He plucked some of the baby Thai basil leaves from the very fragile plants I’ve been coaxing to grow on my patio and fried them over low heat until just crispy. I wasn’t too happy when he came in with a handful of these delicate leaves, but I have to admit they do add a nice touch to the appetizer…
Since we had an entire lotus root and had only used one tiny slice for the appetizer garnish, I decided to make a batch of lotus root chips for a “Thai-inspired chips and dip” as well. Although it’s not traditional by any means, this was also a delicious way to eat nam prik ong.
This dip is such a versatile and flavorful dip that you’re really only constrained by your own creativity. So try it and see for yourself! Whether you eat it with fresh vegetables and crispy pork skins, as cute little cucumber appetizers, Thai-inspired chips and dip, or however else you can imagine – it’s sure to be absolutely delicious.