Wednesday, February 7, 2007

For the love of Larb

Larb (n) : Laap or Larp or Laab is a type of Thai/Lao meat salad. It is most often made with chicken, beef, duck or pork , flavored with fish sauce and lime. Larb made with duck, turkey or fish is also popular. The meat can be either raw or cooked; it is minced and mixed with chilli, mint and, optionally, assorted vegetables. Roughly ground toasted rice (kao kua) is also a very important component of the dish. The dish is served at room temperature and usually with a serving of sticky rice.

Laap is the unofficial National Dish of Laos and is also very popular in Thailand.There is also a variant from Northern Thailand which does not use lime or fish sauce, but rather other local condiments for flavor and seasoning. (Thanks Wikipedia!)

(v) : To Larb. To turn into Larb. e.g. "Let's try Larbing some shrimp." Or "We Larbed for dinner tonight." (erm, Thanks Me!)

I have a confession to make.

I tend to be obsessive -- I'll decide that I love something and immerse myself in it completely. I'm willing to repeat eating, listening to, using, or reading that thing for days, weeks, or months. For example, right now I am completely enamored with the acoustic version of One by U2. I play it on repeat 9 or 10 times in a row sometimes. I also am entirely addicted to LOST. I read message boards, gossip about the show to friends, and even *flew* to Hawaii for the weekend with D and M to see the red carpet Season 3 premiere before the episode was shown in the US.

My newest infatuation? Larb.

I was introduced to Larb during the first week of January. I was on a date with The-Man-Who-Hates-Children-So-Much-He-Wants-To-Get-A-Vasectomy (it was our last date, never fear) and we were at a Thai restaurant. We had just gone to the Thai foot massage parlor across the street and had incredibly relaxing foot massages and were starving. We chose a few favorites from the menu, and I decided to try something new -- Larb. I had heard of it before, but never eaten it. This version was made with ground chicken and served with amazing sticky rice and crunchy cabbage. I was hooked from the first bite. The date, however, didn't have such power. The Larb? Perfect.

I made it for the first time a
few weeks ago -- D and M's first taste of the addictive power of the Larb. Since then, I've made it a least 5 more times. D, M, and I can't get enough. This dish is like crack -- or what I assume crack addiction is like. Every time we eat it we exclaim over its freshness, its complexity, its healthiness, and how easy it is too make. Hence the opening of the post -- we have turned it into a verb. "Larbing" and variations thereof, now pepper our conversation. So far we have only Larbed ground turkey--- we keep meaning to try to make it with shrimp or tofu, but the turkey is just so delicious. Larb can be made with any protein that crumbles -- I promise to eventually make a variation and tell you all about it. For now, though, I'll just focus on the current version of my obsession.

This recipe is not entirely authentic. I use rooster sauce instead of traditional Thai chilies and I use three different herbs instead of the usual two. I also use lean ground turkey to make the Larb and often replace the accompanying rice with rice noodles. The basic taste composition is still there though: hot, tangy, spicy, sour, and fragrant.

Oh, and Larb has got to be just about the least photogenic food ever. Believe me when I tell you it tastes a million times better than it looks.

Larb -- serves 3 or 4


--1 lb (approximately) ground extra lean turkey
--2 tablespoons fish sauce
--2 shallots, finely diced
--3 stalks green onions, diced
--1/4 cup lime juice
--1/2 tablespoon rooster sauce (or freshly diced Thai chilies)

--1/2 cup total (combined) Thai purple basil, cilantro, and mint leaves, finely chopped

--2 to 3 tablespoons ground, toasted rice powder*

--raw Napa cabbage leaves, separated. (I recommend Napa cabbage, other cabbages seem to impart too strong of flavor)
--sticky rice (cooked) or rice noodles (cooked) (2 cups worth)


1) In large bowl, combine turkey, shallots, green onions, lime juice, and rooster sauce. Toss to combine.

2) Heat frying pan to medium heat, add turkey mixture and bring to simmer. Do not fry -- just allow meat mixture to poach until cooked through (about 6 minutes).

3) turn off heat, stir in herb mixture and toasted rice powder. Can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold. I tend to eat it warm (mostly because I have no willpower and I can't wait until it cools down)

To serve:

Build wraps out of cabbage leaves by layering the starch (either rice or rice noodles) and Larb into the leaf. Add more rooster sauce if desired.

Eat, with uncontrollable joy. If you're anything like me, you won't be able to stop until you are completely full or you run out Larb. (and you may be forced to make another batch within the week).


As much as I am usually a proponent of drastically changing recipes, this one benefits from sticking the the plan. From experience I warn you, do not add soy sauce or ginger to this. Both completely throw off the balance of flavors.

* Toasted Rice Powder: Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add a handful of Thai long-grain sticky rice (also known as glutinous rice or sweet rice). I used a black Thai sweet rice -- hence the purple hint to my Larb. Toast until dark and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, being careful not to burn it. Transfer to a plate and let cool. Use a spice grinder or food processor to grind the cooled, toasted rice to a fine powder. Keeps for weeks in an airtight container at room temperature. Thanks roots and grubs for the info.

Food porn -- isn't this pile of cabbage leaves pretty? (Note, however, that this isn't Napa. We didn't like this as much--attractive, thought it is. Next time, back to Napa cabbage)

Half eaten wrap, with lots of extra rooster sauce.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Larb lover.... Add finely sliced or diced lemongrass to kick it up that extra notch! Finely chop the white bits from one stalk... It's a key ingredient :-)