the appetizer:

Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang, includes recipes like Fish Larb (Laj Ntses); Whole Fish Steamed in Banana Leaves (Ntses Cub Xyaw Txuj Lom); and Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy with Pork (Zaub Ntsuag Dawb kib xyaw Nqaij Npuas).



Whole Fish Steamed in Banana Leaves
Ntses Cub Xyaw Txuj Lom

Whole Fish Steamed in Banana Leaves

Makes 4 servings


Co-author Sheng provided this recipe. It calls for many fresh Hmong herbs, such as culantro and Vietnamese coriander, but if you cannot find them all, use whatever you have available. The more you include, the more traditional the dish will taste. If you wish to double or triple the recipe, steam several packets of fish at a time.



  • 1 medium-sized catfish, perch, or striped bass
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon MSG (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dried or fresh sliced galanga root
         (ginger root can be substituted)
  • 1/2 stalk lemongrass (the tender part), minced
  • 3 chili peppers, sliced very thinly on the diagonal
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup green onions, white and green parts, sliced on the diagonal
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped mint
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped Vietnamese coriander (luam laws)
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped culantro
  • 1/4 cup whole kaffir lime leaves
  • 6 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Toasted Sticky Rice Flour (recipe below)
  • 2 or 3 medium-sized banana leaves


Gut, clean, and rinse the fish, or, if purchased, have the butcher clean the fish for you. Pat the fish dry inside and out with paper towels and put it in a glass dish. Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, and MSG (if desired). Chop and slice all of the herbs and vegetables. Wash the banana leaves carefully. With a pair of scissors, trim off any tough, yellow edges. Dry the banana leaves gently with a paper towel, stroking along the grain to avoid tearing. Tear off a 3~foot-long section of heavy-duty wide aluminum foil and lay it on a flat work surface. Put 1 banana leaf on the foil and another leaf on top of the first, with the grains crossing each other. If the leaves are torn or if they are small, use an additional leaf, so the fish can be completely wrapped. Put the fish on the banana leaves. Pile the herbs and vegetables on top of and inside the fish. Sprinkle with the toasted rice flour. Wrap the banana leaves around the fish. Enclose the fish-banana leaf packet in the foil by bringing the long sides up and crimping them together and then folding them over to fit snug. Then bring the two short sides of the foil up and crimp them together on top of the packet. This seal will keep the liquid from dripping out while the fish cooks.

In the bottom part of a large, flat~bottomed steamer, bring several inches of water to boil. Lay the fish packet with the crimped side facing up in the steamer. Cover the pot and steam for 40 minutes.

When the fish is done, remove the packet and place on a serving platter. Carefully open the foil and discard. Open the banana leaves to expose the steamed fish, being careful to keep the sauce on the fish.

Toasted Sticky Rice Flour
Hmoov Nplej Kib

Makes 7/8 cup flour

Rice flour is an ingredient of larb, a traditional Laotian dish. You can buy packages of toasted rice flour in Asian supermarkets, or you can make it at home.

Put 1 cup of uncooked sticky rice in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir constantly until the rice is uniformly browned (about 10 to 15 minutes). If the rice smokes as it is toasted, turn the heat down a little. Remove from the heat and let the rice cool. Grind the browned rice in a clean coffee grinder, or do it by hand using a mortar and pestle. Use the coffee grinder for only a few seconds; do not let the flour become too fine. The finished product should be a slightly grainy powder. Rice flour can be stored in an airtight container for several months.

  • from:
    Cooking from the Heart:
    The Hmong Kitchen in America
  • by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang
  • University of Minnesota Press 2009
  • $29.95 cloth/jacket; 248 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0816653267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-5326-3
  • Recipe reprinted by permission.

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Cooking from the Heart


This page created July 2009

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