LUCY LOR, Onalaska

Hmong Feast

By Kelly Saran, Lina Soblytė and Inga Foley | November 22, 2018

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Lucy Lor:
For me, cooking is like art.

Instead of using ink or, you know, oil to paint a canvas, for me cooking, my pan, that’s my canvas. And then, my ingredients, that’s my ink.

When I think about food in my early childhood, food was a really big deal in the Hmong community. I just chose these recipes because they’re simple, they’re delicious, and in the Hmong cuisine, if you work all day, when you come home, you just want a nice bowl of rice and just something delicious, and pork and collard greens with some peppers, that’ll just do you justice. My parents, their identity back in Thailand, we came here in America in 1992 in September.

My parents used to be physicians. When I was a little kid, I was actually born a boy. The name that my parents gave me is Chia. I always knew that I was more feminine. There was three boys, including me, back then and three girls. So now, I’m part of the girls’ side.

I’m just happy. I’m just very happy. I felt free. Food did help, as my parents, or my family, accepted me more. I could ask about how their day is going. That was my way I could talk to them instead of being angry at them. That was my way to reach out to my parents is through food, cooking for them. Certain foods, I will do it so much different than traditionally how it would be made.

Cooking in my kitchen, it’s like therapy.

Modern Hmong Feast

Lucy Lor provides her recipes for three modern dishes found in a Hmong feast she cooks for her family and community near La Crosse. ‘Modern’ Hmong dishes like these depart from ‘traditional’ Hmong cuisine. They are newer dishes widely embraced by Hmong people, sometimes influenced by other Asian cuisines and often the creation of modern Hmong cooks. Some of them use ingredients that are a direct product of immigration to a new country. For example, in the recipe for Beef Larb, below, few Hmong people tasted Western-style beef before coming to the United States, because typically the only affordable and available red meat in Laos was Water buffalo.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Hmong
Author: Lucy Lor, Onalaska

Ingredients

Beef Larb (Laab) (Beef Salad)

  • 2 lb beef steak
  • 1/2 cup mint, minced
  • 1/2 cup basil, minced
  • 1/2 cup green onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1/2 medium purple onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 pinches sugar
  • 5 whole fresh red chili peppers, minced
  • 1 lime, juiced (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon grass powder
  • 1 package Larb (or Laab) seasonings
  • 1 Tbsp roasted glutenous rice powder

Stewed Fish

  • 1 whole tilapia, cleaned or 2lbs of any fish of your liking
  • 2 Tbsp ginger, minced or thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon grass stem
  • 2 whole tomatoes
  • 4 lime leaves
  • 3 fresh whole chili peppers
  • 2 Tbsp green onions, minced
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, minced
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp MSG or substitute with vegetable soup base (optional)
  • salt to taste

Tofu Peppers

  • 1 14 oz block tofu
  • 3 fresh chili peppers
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, minced (equivalent to a handful)
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 pinch black pepper

Instructions

Beef Larb

  • Brown your steak in a pan both sides and then bake it in the oven for 10 mins, Steak can be cooked to your liking. 
  • Sliced steak into thinly pieces and put in a large mixing bowl. 
  • Add all of the vegetables and then add the seasonings last. 
  • Mixed everything and add anything to your liking. It is ready to eat once everything is mixed.

Stewed Fish

  • In a stock pot fill your water half way and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling add the fish and the lemon grass. 
  • Bring back to a boil and add lime leaves and all the remaining ingredients. 
  • Add additional fish sauce or salt to taste. (Note: fish sauce is already salty). Bring to a boil for 5 mins and take off the stove. It is ready to be served.

Tofu Peppers

  • In a mortar, add the fresh chili peppers and and a pinch of salt and start smashing it and bring to a paste consistency. 
  • Add tofu and start mixing in breaking it apart into almost a paste consistency and add all remaining ingredients. Add any additional of seasonings to your likings. It is ready to be served.

Traditional Hmong Feast

Lucy Lor provides her recipes for three traditional dishes found in a Hmong feast she cooks for her family and community near La Crosse. ‘Traditional’ Hmong recipes like these have deep roots in Hmong culture and closely — but not exactly — replicate what was cooked in Laos. Families in Laos typically used ingredients they farmed or harvested from the wild, and many of those ingredients are not available in America or available in the same way they were found in Laos. Talk to your Hmong neighbor, visit a Hmong farmer at a Wisconsin farmer’s market or take a trip to an Asian grocery store and try one or all of these recipes.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Hmong
Author: Lucy Lor, Onalaska

Ingredients

Stewed Hmong Chicken With Herbs

  • 1 whole Hmong Chicken, about 5 lbs (or substitute with organic chicken.)
  • 1 whole lemongrass stem
  • Hmong Chicken Herbs (or substitute with a second stem of lemongrass) (*Hmong chicken herbs include herbs known to have medicinal properties. Consult your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about whether the ingredient is appropriate for you. They're found at any local Hmong store.)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cooked white rice (optional)

Boiled Pork with Mustard Greens

  • 2 lbs pork
  • 1 large bunch of mustard greens
  • salt and pepper to taste

Hmong Peppers

  • 10 green onions (scallions)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1/2 cup peanuts (optional)
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp fish sauce to taste
  • 1 Tbsp MSG or substitute with vegetable soup base (optional)
  • 1/2 cup fresh whole chili peppers
  • 1 lime, juiced (optional)
  • 1 pinch salt to taste

Instructions

Stewed Hmong Chicken With Herbs

  • Fill a stock pot half way full with water. Add whole chicken and all the herbs into the pot before the water boils.
  • Bring to a boil for 15-20 mins and salt to taste. (If not using Hmong Chicken or if using a chicken larger than 5 lbs, confirm chicken is fully cooked before serving. It could take an additional 20-30 minutes.)
  • Serve broth with herbs and pieces of chicken in individual bowls. Place chicken on a platter and pull off pieces of chicken as you eat. Serve with white rice.

Boiled Pork with Mustard Greens

  • Fill a stock pot half way full with water and add pork into the pot and bring to a boil. 
  • Add 2 teaspoon of salt to taste. Let pork boil for 5 mins and add mustard greens.
  • Let the pot boil for 10 mins, and take it off the stove and it is ready to be served hot. Add additional salt as needed.

Hmong Peppers

  • In a mortar, add peppers and pinch of salt, garlic, smash the chili peppers until it is a paste consistency. Add peanuts, lime, and optional MSG or vegetable soup base. 
  • Add cilantro and green onions and smash it in the mortar until it is evenly grounded, then add fish sauce and a little water to thin it out. Add any additional seasonings of your likings. Ready to be serve.

Tofu peppers, pork and mustard greens, stewed chicken in herbs, Beef Larb, fish stewed, and steamed rice. This is what’s cooking in Lucy Lor’s kitchen.

Lucy’s cooking style is deeply rooted in Hmong culture, a tradition she learned from her mom. “She would walk me through certain recipes. She would tell me that, ‘don’t put too much of this’, ‘this don’t go in there,’ so that’s how I learned to cook,” Lucy recalls.

In 1992, Lucy’s family settled in La Crosse to be near relatives. “When we came here to America, my parents got $600 from the government to feed like a family of eight … But my parents pulled through it,” she shares.

Their lives changed, but food continued to be the center of all family gatherings. “When there’s an event, there’s usually a lot of food. Or when there’s a lot of food, there will be an event,” she explains. As Lucy grew older her love for cooking didn’t change but her physical appearance did.

“When I was a little kid, I was actually born a boy. My legal name, or the name my parents gave me, is Chia … I always knew that I was more feminine,” shares Lucy.

When Lucy went through a physical transition she knew cooking was a way to remain close with her family. “That’s how I connect with my parents … through food,” she says.

It’s that connection through food that Lucy believes will continue to bring communities in La Crosse together.

“So when someone hears the word Hmong, the first thing they think of is eggrolls,” says Lucy. “So that’s how I would think that they would connect as a community — is through eggrolls.”

Lucy holds a fan as she models a traditional gold headdress of embossed leaves and flowers with a matching necklace
Lucy Lor models a traditional ensemble including an ornate headdress.
Lucy's mother and father wear traditional Hmong embroidered textiles and silver necklaces
Lucy's mother and father, seen here, settled in La Crosse in 1992 where they raised a family of eight.

This story is part of Food Traditions, a multimedia project exploring food and culture across Wisconsin.

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Kelly Saran

Kelly Saran is a multimedia producer for the Wisconsin Life project who grew up in Wisconsin and hopes to one day visit all of the large waterfalls around the state.

Lina Soblytė

Lina Soblytė is a Lithuanian videographer and editor for “Wisconsin Life” who loves the outdoors, and she will climb a tree or a roof to get a unique shot.  
Inga Foley

Inga Foley

Inga Foley is a video editor for the “Wisconsin Life” project and enjoys bike riding, gardening and working on her old VW.
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2020-07-01T17:56:24+00:00

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