If you’ve ever been to Thailand, you would have noticed that Thai’s salads can be meaty but never cheesy. Most of the vegetable salads or meat and vegetable salads in Thailand would be called “Yum”, but “Larb” is the northeastern and northern style and consists mostly of meat. Consuming larb is considered a sign of wealth in those regions because meat is a comparatively expensive food there.
The history of larb’s origins is somewhat vague. The dish was popular centuries ago among the “Tai”, ethnic people who have they roots in north and northeastern Thailand, as well as some parts of Laos, Burma, and China. I’ve heard someone called larb “Laotian-style salad”. It’s not quite wrong, but to say that larb originated from Laos would be inaccurately narrowing the source.
Though larb can be found throughout this area, the style of preparation varies. The similarity in the variations is they are prepared with spices and meat – mainly pork, beef, chicken, duck, fish or even water buffalo. The meat will be prepared many different ways: chopped or sliced, and some will cook the meat and some won’t.
The spices are also varied mixtures of possibly shallots, mint leaves, cilantro, lemongrass, roasted rice powder, chinese five spices and chili. It’s depends on the ingredients readily available as well as tradition. In the end, regardless of the style of larb, the final yummy mixed is served up with a variety of fresh vegetables.
The recipe I’m making here is Northeastern or “Isan” style which contain roasted rice powder or Khao-Kua (ข้าวคั่ว). This important ingredient is easy to make. You can throw half a cup of rice (preferably sticky rice but any rice would be fine) in the skillet and set it over medium – medium low heat, shaking the skillet or stirring to push the rice grains around every 30 seconds until the rice is golden. Then grind it all up in a coffee grinder. That’s it! If that’s too complicated you can buy it too.
Ground meat of your choice 1 lb. (I used pork mix with bison. For the vegetarians, you can use chopped tofu, or mock meat to substitute. I personally like Yves meatless ground round original the best but use anything you like. It’s your choice.)
Ground toasted rice 1/4 cup
Sliced shallot 1/2 cup
Cut up cilantro 1/2 cup
Cut up green onion or scallion 1/2 cup
Lime juice 1/4 − 1/2 cup
Fish sauce 1/4 − 1/2 cup (For the vegetarians, use shitake flavor soy sauce or just plain salt)
Red chili pepper at your own risk– I only put about a pinch
Mint leaves (I didn’t have them on hand this time, so I leaft them out but it’s nice to add them to the dish.)
1) Add the meat to the skillet or pot.
I used a non-stick pot. If you want to use a regular pot, add a little bit of water in to the pot to prevent the meat from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
2) Cook the meat until it cooked about 80%, then add the sliced shallots and some of the fish sauce.
I would add just 1/4 cup first and taste the mixture before adding more. Once you get the right amount of saltiness, and the meat had cooked through, turn off the heat. You don’t want to cook the rice powder that we’re going to add in the next step or lose the flavor of the lime juice to the heat.
3) Add roasted rice powder, chili powder and lime juice, stir really quick to blend everything together, adjust the taste to your preference, then add the cilantro and scallions.
4) Serve with a mix of raw vegetables like cucumber, long bean, napa cabbage, Thai eggplant or any fresh vegetable you like, and steamed sticky rice.