Katie Chin's larb in Everyday Thai Cooking is not a strictly authentic version. Instead of serving a meat-heavy plate with lettuce on the side, she tosses the (pre-ground) cooked pork with greens and a few extra vegetables. The authenticity police may cry foul. But just because the dish isn't totally authentic (and, let's be clear, the key items in a good larb—roasted rice powder, chiles, fish sauce, lime, and meat—are all there), doesn't make it an unsuccessful dish in any way. In fact, I ate the whole bowl over the course of the day, and enjoyed every single bite of it.
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I don't know what happened on your end over the holidays, but over here not a lot of self-control was exercised. So, at least this week, I'm eating lighter than usual to make up for the craziness of the last few weeks. But I'm far from depriving myself of delicious things, though. This mushroom laab (or lap, most often spelled 'larb') you're looking at right here? Not exactly deprivation.
A variation of the classic Northern thai hot and sour salad made with shimeji mushrooms.
This healthy dish of ground chicken, shallots, mint, and cilantro is full of fresh and hot Southeast Asian flavors. Serve it as a crispy lettuce wrap or over rice. It can be on the table in under 30 minutes.
Usually at Thai places you'll see larb, a ground meat salad of sorts, with ground pork or beef, though larb can be comprised of any number of animal parts. I got this idea for pig ear and liver larb from Zabb Elee, an Isan Thai restaurant in New York.
Pig ears larb. The pig skin soaks up a marinade of fish sauce and lime, and then you get the crunch of the cartilage with every bite.
There are as many recipes for larb, the meat-based sour and spicy salads of Laos, as there are Laotian or Thai cooks in the world, but they all share a few elements in common. Here's my version.
A classic Northern Thai dish, larb is a meat-based salad that exemplifies the hot, sour, pungent, and sweet flavor balance typical of many Thai dishes. Our version uses fried shallots for extra flavor along with toasted rice powder, giving it an intense nuttiness. We found that grinding the meat yourself in a food processor results in a more interesting and varied texture.
The idea of a salad with grilled meat, cilantro, and mint, dressed with a pungent mixture of fish sauce, chiles, sugar, and lime juice, is something I first discovered at a Thai restaurant where I live in Chicago. Known as larb in Thai and Laotian cuisine with variations throughout Asia, it's unlike any style of salad you'd encounter in Western cooking: for one, the dressing has no oil or fat in it whatsoever. Flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks of all time recently, Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries, led me to this rendition.
Chicken breast, beef chuck, pork loin or shoulder, or even firm fish can be substituted for the duck. Toasted glutinous rice powder can be purchased at Thai grocers. Thai red chili powder can be found in Asian grocers, or you can substitute red chili flakes. This dish is extremely hot. You can tone down the heat to suit your taste if desired.