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Monday, June 23, 2008

Mieng Kham (Thai Leaf-Wrapped Snack)

Mieng Kham Thai Leaf-Wrapped Snack 1

This isn't technically a citrus recipe, but it does have Meyer lemons in it. :)

Back in January, shortly after I made Bo Nuong La Lot (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaves), I was trying to think of another way to use these oh so fragrant leaves.

La lot (wild betel leaf (piper sarmentosum)) is a bushy carminative plant, helping to cure dysentery or to ease toothaches. It should not be confused with la trau (betel leaves (piper betle)), a climbing vine, which is often chewed with the areca or betel nut and lime.

While Vietnamese clearly distinguish between the two leaves, wild for cooking and non-wild for chewing raw with betel nuts, I'm a little confused by which one is used for mieng kham (Thai leaf-wrapped snack). In Cathy of Gastronomy's photos of her snack in Bangkok, Thailand, I could see clearly that the leaf was the shiny wild betel leaf. But in Cee of Real Thai Recipes, the leaf was duller. She said the plant was almost like a vine, indicating it was betel leaf (the non-wild kind). So I'm still confused! Perhaps either variety may be used for this snack?

This is one of those dishes where the individual components don't seem like much, but combined, it packs a whole lot of flavor. I was too lazy to power up my laptop and was going on memory of the ingredients in the sauce so I mistakenly added tamarind. I liked it so much though that I'm sticking with it. Also, I substituted walnuts for peanuts since I'm not a big fan of the latter. I also used Meyer lemons instead of limes for that slightly sweet sour taste. Since I hardly ever have galangal on hand, I omitted that and used ginger. I replaced the palm sugar with brown sugar. And finally, I toned down the spiciness by replacing the raw chili with dried chili peppers and added that to the sauce instead. Hmm. I'm sure some purist will be appalled with all my adjustments but I thought the end result was still very tasty.

My only complaint? The wild betel leaf was pretty tasteless when eaten raw. I was really disappointed because when I make bo nuong la lot the extraordinary fragrance is just so intoxicating. So if you can't locate any wild betel leaves where you are, I would suggest substituting with butter lettuce or even baby spinach since it's healthier.

 Mieng Kham (Thai Leaf-Wrapped Snack)
Adapted from Cee of Real Thai Recipes

For about 2 dozen wraps, you'll need:
24 wild betel leaves, or butter or Romaine lettuce or baby spinach
1/4 cup dried shrimp
1/4 cup walnuts or peanuts, roasted and chopped
1/4 cup shallots, chopped
1/2 Meyer lemon, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 cup shredded coconut, toasted
2-inch knob ginger, finely julienned

For the sauce, you'll need:
1 shallot, finely minced
1 cup water
2 tblsp brown sugar
2 tsp fish sauce
1/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted
1 tblsp tamarind pulp
1 tsp dried chili pepper

Toast 3/4 cup shredded coconut on medium heat until golden. Measure out 1/2 cup and put that on the serving platter. Save the remaining 1/4 cup toasted coconut for the sauce.

Toast 1/4 cup walnuts or peanuts in the pan, or a toaster oven. Roughly chop the nuts and add them to the serving platter as well.

Finely julienne a 2-inch knob of ginger. Add to serving platter.

Finely chop 1/4 cup shallots. Add to serving platter.

Quarter and thinly slice half a Meyer lemon. Add to serving platter.

Add the dried shrimp to serving platter and set aside.

Now it's time to make the sauce. In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, add 1 finely minced shallot, 1 cup water, 2 tblsp brown sugar, 2 tsp fish sauce, 1/4 cup shredded toasted coconut,
1 tblsp tamarind pulp, and 1 tsp dried chili pepper. Stir until ingredients are mixed and sauce has thickened to your liking. Taste and adjust if necessary. Spoon sauce into a serving bowl.

Wash betel leaves.

Now you're ready to start assembling. If you're making this for a party, let each guest assemble their own wraps.

Mieng Kham Thai Leaf-Wrapped Snack 2

Fold wild betel leaf into a small cone and add any or all of the various ingredients, then spoon a bit of the sauce on top.

Mieng Kham Thai Leaf-Wrapped Snack 1

Fold the top over into a small package and pop the whole thing in your mouth.

Mieng Kham Thai Leaf-Wrapped Snack 3

Mieng kham hits all the flavor notes from the fresh ginger to salty shrimp to sweet coconut to sour lemons to sour-spicy sauce.


I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging, a world-wide food blogging event created by Kalyn's Kitchen celebrating herbs, vegetables, or flowers.

If you'd like to participate, see who's hosting next week. WHB is hosted this week by Kalyn.

1 year ago today, Fu Zhou fried rice, Portuguese baked pork chop, Spanish coffee, and other Hong Kong cafe food at Sika's - Alhambra (Closed).


  1. This dish is addictive. Thanks for the recipe, maybe I will try it at home.

  2. Great entry! I love it when people talk about unusual plants like this for WHB. Never seen this type of leaf, but I wish I could try it.

  3. Definitely intriguing. Now I wonder what the non-wild betel leaf tastes like. Do you suppose it might be more flavourful that Vietnamese prefers them for raw applications?

  4. hi... sorry about the photo, i didn't see the disclaimer but i usually post the link of the photo on my blog...

    nice site here... really cool and yummy... i did what you have mentioned on my blog

    thank you very much

  5. PP,
    Is it the dish that's addictive, or the betel leaves? ;)

    I love introducing new herbs to WHB, but I've mentioned this leaf before in my bo nuong la lot submission back in January. :)

    Eating Club,
    I've heard that the other kind that's eaten with betel nuts and slaked lime can be slightly addictive. I haven't tried it myself though!

    My stripe socks,

  6. Thank you for your recipe; when I make mine I use lettuce as we don't have betal leaves available that I saw; I will check again. I love using a sauce with tamarind, I also toast my fresh coconut and peanuts; I will try walnuts now that you mention them. Thank you!!! I was going to make summer rolls today, now, am dithering which to do in this heat. Oh, we grow galangal here in San Diego, but it freezes well too if you buy it and don't use it all up. I might grate it or mince it ahead of time.

  7. I made mieng kam, too, with the la lot leaves I found at A Dong, but alas, my pictures didn't do MK any justice so I haven't posted them.

    Also, I am rather skeptical about putting lime / lemon with its skin on and chew it, so I cheated by adding lime juice into the sauce. It worked really well and delicious.

    I also made some Malaysian Otak-Otak with the la lot and haven't posted either.

  8. Thank you for such an informative post! I didn't know betel leaves can be eaten as a snack ...

  9. Bobbisox,
    I don't often cook with galangal and the taste is rather unfamiliar to me so I just always omit it. Thanks for the tip about grating it and freezing it. Maybe that'll make me use it more.

    Try Meyer lemons like I did. They're sweeter than regular lemons so the taste won't be as tart. And their thinner skins means less rind taste.

    I think most people are most familiar with betel leaves and betel nuts chewed as a snack. :)

  10. Oh, that looks so good. I was just reading about Thai street food and they talked about a dish like this. Beautiful photos.

  11. Natashya,
    Thanks. I've heard of these wrapped and sold on a stick. Can't beat anything on a stick for street food. :)

  12. Looks awesome -- the perfect amuse bouche.

  13. Jude,
    I can snack on this anytime, with or without a meal. :)

  14. i had it set in my mind to make bo la lot for july 4th, not knowing how much of a pain it is to find la lot in nyc. needless to say, when i eventually did find it, i was so excited i way overbought! now i have tons of leftover leaves i don't want to waste. do you have any other recipes to recommend? preferably something i can whip together fast and easy - last weekend gave me enough of a culinary workout. thanks!

  15. Byform,
    This and bo nuong la lot are the only two recipes I know of. My youngest uncle suggested I julienne the leaves for canh chua ca but when I did that, the aroma didn't really come through. You can try simply stir-frying the leaves with beef. I think that'd make a great filling for a banh mi.

  16. One thing I don't understand: you actually eat the entire lemon slice? Won't the rind be super bitter and overpowering?

  17. Alex,

    I used Meyer lemons which have thinner skins and pith than normal lemons. Plus, I only used one quarter of a slice, so not that much rind actually. You can certainly omit the rind if you don't like it, or can't obtain Meyer lemons.

  18. Yes, whole lime with the skin on and chunks of raw ginger sounds strange, but you really must try it the traditional way to get the full effect. The key is balance. You gotta get your chunk-size and ingredient ratios right. You also use limes with very thin skin and cut both the lime and ginger into teeny-tiny cubes.

    Then, the leaves are rather small, so you only use 1-2 pieces of 1/4" cubed lime and ginger per packet. When combined with the other magical ingredients, it's really quite perfect. At Wat Mongkolratanaram in Berkeley, CA (restaurants don't usually serve, b/c too much prep work), the Mieng-Kom lady adds tiny dried shrimp. The customizable combo of toasted coconut, red onion or shallot, unsalted roasted peanut, dried salted shrimp, thin-skin lime, peeled young ginger and a tiny dollop of that thick, clear sweet herbed fish sauce in a fresh leaf is amazing.

    It goes in your mouth like a salad-based dumpling. You chew the leaf and it feels salady until BAM! the little packet bursts releasing it's tiny, but potent and balanced masala of contents. It mixes with the leaf in your mouth and you're already grabbing for the next one, slightly tweaking the ratios with each bite.

    I use about 2-3 peanuts, 1/2 tsp or so of each of the other ingredients per packet. It's perfect. Millions of Thai grandmas were not wrong on this one! ^_^

  19. Pyrate,
    I love the variety of ingredients in this little snack. Yum! Yum!

  20. The best part about this dish is that it comes on a stick (of course it does!) as street food in Bangkok. Five neat little cone-shaped bites for your enjoyment. So glad to see you're posting more traditional Thai dishes on here. Often times people just end up talking about the same old dishes over and over again.

    Also, congrats on your discovery of the Bhan Khanom Thai (this romanization just *kills* me)! It's definitely a great find. It solves all my home-sick problems.

  21. Wisthai,
    I wish I had the skill to wrap it on a stick! I so want to go to Thailand and experience the street food. I thought this was a traditional Thai dish? Or does everyone just talk about pad Thai? Man, you're making me crave Bhan Khanom Thai. I haven't had a taro corn fritter in forever! I don't think your problem with its Romanization is the same as mine though since it just makes my Vietnamese spellings all screwy.

  22. Just stumbled in this recipe. I was in Thaila two years ago because my family is in Thailand. I tried this snack ( my brother in law loves thus snack). It's la trau not la lot that is used. The lemon piece accompanied the snack is cut very small. It's an acquiring taste snack. Will try again when I go there again soon.

  23. Cooking Addict,
    Oh really? The versions I've seen have only used la lot, or when that can't be found lettuce or gai lan leaves.


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