As truth would have it, despite its being on pretty much every Thai restaurant menu in North America, the salad known as larb actually originated in Laos, though versions can be found throughout Thailand, particularly in the northern part of the country, as well as in Myanmar and China’s Yunnan province (where there is a significant Lao community). The recipes from which I concocted my version come from highly authentic sources, Bon Appetit magazine and Giada De Laurentiis. Fortunately, I’ve had it a about a gazillion restaurants, so I knew the flavour profile. Also, being in the greater Los Angeles area, I had access to ingredients that may be more difficult to obtain in Dubuque, Des Moines, or Denton.
Rather than the traditional ground beef or chicken, I opted for lamb both because I wanted a break from beef and chicken, and also because the market was having a ground lamb sale. [Incidentally, fish and duck are popular protein options for larb as well, so feel free to try your hand with whatever’s at hand. I may yet take a whack at escargot larb if I ever get the wind up.]
Prep consists of a bunch of chopping, followed by a little sizzle in the pan, followed by dumping said protein on either the trad lettuce (or radicchio or endive) leaf, or piling it on some mixed greens, as I did earlier this evening. It’s a mere 30 minutes from concept to plate, making it a perfect alternative to a rabbit food salad with a burger patty sitting forlornly alongside, and simple to prepare after a long day’s work, presuming you have all the ingredients to hand. For those who don’t have immediate access to fresh whole lemongrass (or who don’t want to work at cutting it into bits so small they don’t appear as wood chips in the salad), many supers in the US (including Kroger and its subsidiaries) carry lemongrass paste in the produce section. It’s a bit pricey, but one tube will take you a long way.
Larb with Ground Lamb
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
Lamb (or other protein)
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (chicken, turkey, beef, or pork may be substituted)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons thinly sliced lemongrass
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped (you can find these at Asian, Middle Eastern, and some Indian markets)
2-3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 small red Thai chile (such as prik kee noo), thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 head iceberg lettuce, or 16 oz. mesclun mix (4 oz. per serving)
1 small bunch cilantro (optional)
Stir all ingredients in a small bowl to blend; set aside.
Lamb (or other protein)
Combine ingredients 2-8 in a food processor, or just chop on cutting board. Season ground meat with salt and place it in a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium–high heat. Add spice mixture and sauté, breaking up meat into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until it begins to turn golden brown and is cooked through, about 6 minutes.
Place mesclun (or a couple of iceberg lettuce leaves) on each plate. Top leaves with meat mixture, dividing evenly. Garnish with cilantro (if desired) and spoon reserved dressing over.