This recipe appears in the Basics chapter of Real Thai, but we hold a permanent place for it in two other sections of the book: Chapter 2: The North / pahk neua, and Chapter 4: The Northeast / pahk issahn. Originally this is a Lao dish, present within Thai cuisine because so much of the land inside modern Thailand’s borders was once Laos, and is home to many people whose daily life shares much with and is sometimes identical to life in areas of Laos. The word “jaew” in this case means ‘sauce’, and denotes a culinary genre of dipping sauces, condiments, and accompaniments. Jaew are mashed up, ground up, stirred together, cooked or coaxed into a fantastic, distinctive edible flourish, paired with an array of dishes, ordinary and special, simple and complex. This one is unusual in its use of fresh ripe tomatoes, usually cherry tomatoes, or plum or roma tomatoes, widely available all over Thailand and Laos.
The word “makeua” refers to the eggplant family, of which the tomato is a member. You can see the family resemblance if you look at Southeast Asian eggplants growing on the vine, such as makeua poh, the little golf-ball sized eggplants with green-and-white patterned skin. “teht” means ‘not from around here’, ‘foreign’, or ‘outsider’, signifying that while lovingly adopted into Thai gardens and kitchens too long ago to even remember, the tomato originally arrived from other shores, from the West, probably accompanied by the beloved fresh and dried chili peppers imported on Portugese trading ships. Traditionally the components of this marvelous sauce would be grilled or roasted over charcoal. My students used a small wire ‘screen’ on our small charcoal stove, safe from flare ups and from dropping into the fiery coals, but tantalizingly close to their glowing heat. They turned them with tongs as each component blistered and developed deep flavor.
I dry-fry them in my cast-iron skillet, and use serrano or jalapeno chili peppers in lieu of Thai chilies if I can’t find the ideal tiny firecrackers of feisty flavor, prik ki noo or prik ki nok. Once it’s all roasted, you have but to pound, grind, and stir just a little. It’s easy work when the key ingredients have been toasted into a state of blowsy juicy readiness to blend into an amazing amalgam of flavors. This simple jaew goes with neua kem, salty sun-dried beef, accompanied by kao niow, sticky rice, though you’ll see I’ve shown it here with kao jao, plain long grain rice. Those two recipes will be up shortly, but please don’t wait. This sauce goes with….what does it not go with? Okay, ice cream, not so tasty. Chocolate pound cake? No, not really. But the list of things with which it would be fantastic? That list is never-ending. Let’s see, pimento cheese sandwiches, clear soup, grilled salmon, coleslaw…..
( here, Nancie stands up and walks away, mumbling, in direction of kitchen)