If you’ve been to a Thai restaurant, chances are you’ve seen this iconic dish on the menu — and for good reason! It combines the best of sweet and savory elements with textures that run the gamut from soft to crunchy. At its core, larb is a Laos-based meat salad that is then spiked with all sorts of ingredients making it a cinch to prepare — and to customize to your preferences. I used pork, but you can also incorporate beef, chicken, turkey, tofu, or even mushrooms. Add-ins are flexible too, such as lime juice, cilantro, peanuts, chile peppers, fish sauce and other condiments. The more variety you add, the more the resulting flavors will mingle and meld into a truly palate-pleasing experience.
For me, the distinguishing characteristics of larb are the combination of lime juice, fish sauce, and ground toasted rice. The toasted, ground rice can be difficult to make without the right tools – a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder will do. If not, skip the step! It won’t be as authentic of an experience, but will still produce a tasty dish!
- 1 large red onion or 3 shallots, divided per instructions below
- Hot water – between ½ cup – 1 cup
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons jasmine, basmati or long grain white rice
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 pound of local ground pork, chicken, beef (you could even try tofu or mushrooms for my plant based peeps!)
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup lime juice (2-3 limes, juiced)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Crushed red pepper or fresh chilis, sliced, quantity to taste
- 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
- Butterhead lettuce, outer/large leaves removed for cups
- Radishes, chopped
- Pickled jalapeños/peppers and the onions
1. With the onion/shallots – you want half of it sliced for pickles and the other half finely minced to cook with the meat. Prep as so.
2. For the pickles: put the sliced half of the onion in a large bowl. Add the red wine vinegar and salt, and cover with hot water. Set aside.
3. For the larb: place a large cast iron skillet over medium heat and add the rice, swirling to coat it with oil and allow to toast. It should only take a few minutes for the rice to take on a golden, almost brown hue. Remove and grind using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder. You’re aiming for a textured powder-like consistency. Be careful not to over do it with the coffee grinder. Set aside.
4. In the same pan, add the oil. Once it is heated, add the remaining diced onion. Sauté for a few minutes to soften, add the garlic, sauté another minute until fragrant, and season with salt and pepper. Add the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Cook until the meat is no longer pink and cooked through, about 7-8 minutes. Add additional heat, if desired, with crushed red pepper or fresh chilis. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
5. To a small bowl, add the lime juice, fish sauce, and honey. Stir to combine.
6. Set up with lettuce cups and toppings.
7. When the meat has cooled a bit, pour the reserved lime juice/fish sauce on top, combine with chopped cilantro and taste to adjust seasonings. Add more salt, pepper, or heat as needed!
8. Scoop large spoonfuls of larb into lettuce cups, top with pickled onions, radish or other toppings you desire. Serve with steamed rice if you’d like.