Thai Larb is one of the most popular dishes in that popular Southeast Asian cuisine.
Steph’s note: This recipe is a collaboration between myself and Mel Joulwan (Well Fed, Well Fed 2, Well Fed Weeknights). For the past two years, our column has appeared in Paleo Magazine, and we feature recipes from around the world.
Back to the Thai Larb with Pork…
But just about the only thing everyone can agree on is that it tastes really, really good. Everything else about this Southeast Asian favorite is up for debate.
First, there’s its origin: Thailand and Laos can both stake a claim, and the friendly disagreement usually seems to lean slightly in favor of northern Thailand.
Second, there’s the name. Though we most commonly see “larb” on Thai restaurant menus in the United States, that’s actually an inexact phonetic translation of a word that can also be spelled laap, laab, and larp. (Not to be confused with LARP, a.k.a. Live-Action Role Playing. Leave your spell book and sword at home!)
The dish also blurs the line between salad, main course, and appetizer. And it raises the questions: Is it best served with rice alongside, with dried rice mixed in, or without rice entirely? Eaten cold, hot, or at room temperature?
The one thing that most everyone seems to agree on, however, is that larb is a treasured, popular dish—in Laos, Thailand, China, and Myanmar, as well as the United States.
Larb is usually prepared with minced or ground meat. Pork is the most popular, but chicken, duck, beef, and even fish are sometimes used, depending on the locale of the cook.
The meat is stir-fried with chile peppers, fish sauce, and lime juice to form tender crumbles. Then the meat is removed from the heat and a handful of freshly-torn herbs—a blend of mint, cilantro, and/or basil—are mixed into the warm meat, the leaves wilting and infusing it with their cool, acerbic notes.
At the table, small bowls of garnishes are passed around so diners can customize their own plates: a little more lime, extra herbs, crushed peanuts, and, sometimes, irresistible chips of fried garlic or shallots.
The ingredients are simple, but when they come together, they create layers of flavor and contrasts that explode on the tongue: hot, cool, salty, crunchy, sour, sweet, chewy.
Thai Larb is commonly served at room temperature—although on a steamy day, a cold plate of larb can be quite appealing.
It’s almost always accompanied by an array of raw vegetables: shredded cabbage, string beans, papaya, or fresh lettuce leaves to wrap around the scoops of meat.
Play around with different combinations and find the Thai Larb variation that you love the most! I think they’d be equally delicious with chicken, too.
Thai Larb with Pork – Mel Joulwan
- 1 loosely packed cup cilantro leaves
- 1 loosely packed cup chopped mint leaves
- 2 limes
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 medium jalapeño
- 1-1/2 lb ground pork
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup cashews
- 2 heads butter lettuce
- 1 large cucumber
- 1 head garlic
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- Crushed cashews, cilantro and mint leaves, lime wedges
Prep the seasonings. Coarsely chop the cilantro and mint. Place the herbs in a medium mixing bowl and squeeze in the juice from the limes. Add the fish sauce, coconut sugar, and pepper. Finely mince the jalapeño and add it to the bowl, then mix all the ingredients with a fork and set aside.
Cook the pork. Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. Crumble the pork into the skillet and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it is just pink, about 3 minutes. While it cooks, peel and crush the garlic cloves, then add them to the pan; continue to cook until the meat is browned and sizzling. Remove the pan from the heat and add the herb mixture. Stir until combined, and set aside to cool a bit.
Make the garlic chips. Very thinly slice the garlic cloves. and toss them with the baking soda until lightly coated. Place the coconut oil in a medium, non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic, and stir-fry until golden brown and beginning to get crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain; the chips get crispier as they cool.
Prep the veggies and garnish. Separate and wash the lettuce leaves, and thinly slice the cucumber. Crush the cashews and wash additional herbs for garnish.
To serve, place lettuce leaves and cucumber slices on individual plates and spoon larb over the top. Garnish with additional cilantro and mint leaves, crushed cashews, garlic chips, and a squeeze of lime juice.
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