Penn Hongthong, the author of Simple Laotian Cooking (Hippocrene, 2003), taught us that charring the vegetables for this dip is the secret to its smoky flavor.
Lao Tomato Dip
Charring the vegetables for this dip gives the dish a smoky flavor.
¾ lb. cherry tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, halved
6 Thai chiles, stemmed
2 shallots, halved
½ red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded
¼ cups chopped cilantro
2 tbsp. fish sauce
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Steamed long beans, cut in segments
Steamed cabbage, cut in wedges
Raw Thai eggplants, quartered
Heat broiler; place a rack 4" from heat source. (Alternately, prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire; place a vegetable grate over the grill top.) Put tomatoes, garlic, chiles, shallots, and bell pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet (or on grill top if grilling). Broil or grill vegetables, turning once, until charred, about 8 minutes. Let cool.
Transfer garlic, chiles, shallots, and bell pepper to a food processor; pulse until chopped. Add tomatoes; pulse until just chunky. Transfer dip to a bowl; stir in cilantro, fish sauce, and salt.
Serve with long beans, cabbage, and eggplant.