To make nam phrik nam phak, the villagers of Ban San Thang Luang, in rural Chiang Rai, take freshly picked yu choy greens and dry them in the sun for a day, ferment them for as many as two nights, and boil them for another hour before finally pounding them with spices and toasted chiles in a mortar and pestle. Those of us living in less tropical climes can approximate the sun-drying process by spreading the greens out onto several racks and placing in a dehydrator or a low oven, stirring occasionally, until they reach the proper dryness.
A spice related to Sichuan peppercorn and prickly ash, makhwaen seeds are commonly used in northern Thailand but tricky to find in the U.S. Christian Leue of New York-based spice purveyor La Boite suggests substituting a mixture of sansho peppercorns and orange zest to approximate their bright, piney, floral fragrance and numbing sensation.
This recipe is adapted from Austin Bush’s The Food of Northern Thailand.
What You Will Need
- 1 1⁄4 lb. yu choy, trimmed, washed, and dried
- 2 tbsp. steamed Thai sticky rice, plus more for serving
- 6 medium dried Thai or arbol chiles, stems removed
- 6 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1⁄4 tsp. MSG (optional)
- 2 tsp. makhwaen, or substitute 1½ tsp. sansho peppercorns plus ¼ tsp. finely grated orange zest
- 2⁄3 oz. (20 g) Thai garlic or 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tbsp. cilantro leaves, minced
- Deep-fried pork rinds, for serving
- At least 3 days before serving, spread the yu choy out and dry in the sun until the greens are wilted and relatively dry but not brittle, about 1 day. Alternatively, spread the greens out on several baking sheets or dehydrator racks and place in a low oven or dehydrator for 8–12 hours. 2. When the greens are adequately dried, rinse them well, squeezing to expel any remaining bitter liquid. Thinly slice the greens, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the rice and just enough water to cover the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and place a small plate on top to keep the rice and greens submerged in the water. Set aside at room temperature until fermented and just tart, 1–2 days.
- Strain the greens, reserving the liquid, and transfer to a cutting board. Mince the greens, then add to a large granite mortar and pestle. Pound and grind the greens to a coarse paste (depending on the size of your mortar, it may be necessary to work in batches.
- Transfer the greens and the reserved liquid to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, about 1 hour. Wipe the mortar and pestle clean and dry and set aside.
- Meanwhile, toast the chiles: In a well-ventilated area, heat a wok over medium-low. Add the chiles and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, swollen, and darker in color, about 10 minutes. (Use a damp paper towel to remove any seeds that fall out of the chiles as you go to minimize burning and smoking.) Transfer the chiles to the mortar and pestle, add the salt and MSG (if using), and pound and grind to a fine powder. Add the garlic, and pound and ground to a fine paste. When the greens are cool enough to handle, transfer them to the mortar and continue pounding and grinding to a uniform paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt as needed. Transfer to a medium bowl, garnish with cilantro, and serve with rice and pork rinds for dipping.