Thai-Style Larb with Veggies and Herbs
Larb, or laab, is a Laotian and Thai dish made of minced or ground meat with lots of spicy, sweet, sour and savory flavors. There are tons of different ways to make the dish - Kenji from Serious Eats does a great Pork Larb, whereas this one is more flexible and decidedly inauthentic. Everyone in my family loves it - even my toddler - and it's super easy to customize with the aromatics and herbs and veggies that you've got in the kitchen. I've made it with ground chicken, turkey, pork or beef and whatever else I've got in the house. Regarding the flavorings: you're definitely going to need fish sauce. Otherwise, I consider substitutions and creativity to be fair game. The sour aspect is best from fresh limes, but I've used rice vinegar in a pinch. Usually the sweetness is derived from palm sugar, but I've used brown sugar, regular sugar, honey and maple syrup and all are tasty. Most people would consider fresh chilies to be absolute musts for larb, but my husband and daughter aren't big on the spice so we leave it out. Do what works for you!
Great items to use up here:
- Alliums and aromatics. Shallots and scallions are common, but you could replace or mix with any kind of onion. I like to add garlic too. Remember, even scallions with dry or yellow or slimy pieces can still be used, just pull off the not-so-pretty looking exterior and use the center, as seen below.
- Herbs. If I've got them I'll use basil (Thai basil is even better), cilantro and mint, but will absolutely still make this dish if I only have one of them. It's an excellent way to use up wilted basil, as you can see here, which sat on my counter in a plastic bag for a full week before using.
- Leaves and Other Veggies: Stir in some spinach or kale, wrap the meat in lettuce leaves, saute mushrooms along with the aromatics, or mix in cooked broccoli or edamame with the sauce at the end. There are lots of ways to use up veggies in larb!
The Rough Recipe
Here's What You'll Need:
For the sauce:
- Fish sauce
- Soy sauce
- Fresh lime juice or a mild vinegar
- Sweetener of your choice, such as sugar or honey or maple syrup
- Diced chilis of your choice
The proportions will really depend on your taste and how sweet/spicy/sour/fishy/hot you want the sauce to be. I usually don't measure, or start with about 2 tablespoons of soy and fish sauce and 1 tablespoon lime and a bit less of sugar, then mix and taste. Adjust as desired and keep any extra sauce to pour on your bowl at the end, or to use for another meal.
For the larb:
- Neutral oil
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup diced aromatics, such as shallots and scallions
- Other flavorings such as a few cloves of garlic, or a tablespoon or two of minced chilies or lemongrass (optional)
- 1 pound of ground meat of your choice, such as pork, turkey, beef or chicken
- 1/2 to 1 cup roughly chopped or torn herbs, such as a mix of basil, cilantro (don't forget the cilantro stems!) and mint
- Additional leaves or veggies of your choice (see above - I added both mushrooms and broccoli in the photo at the top)
- Optional additions for serving: starches such as steamed rice or cooked noodles, lettuce for wrapping, and garnishes such as crushed peanuts or cashews, shredded carrots, more herbs or greens, lime wedges, sliced shallots or scallions or chiles, etc. Toasted rice powder is traditionally part of the dish, but I'll be honest - I usually leave it out! And of course as always...you could #putaneggonit.
Once you've mixed your sauce, heat a splash of neutral oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the aromatics and alliums that you're using, plus any veggie that will saute relatively quickly, like mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes, until everything is tender and fragrant, then use a spatula to push the aromatics to the side of the pan.
Add the ground meat and cook, letting it sit on the hot pan to brown without touching for a little while or pressing with your spatula to get some good crispiness if possible, about 6-8 minutes. Stir everything together and add in your herbs as well as any additional veggies you like, such as fresh spinach leaves or cooked broccoli. Pour in most of the sauce and stir until everything is mixed and well coated and your greens have wilted. Add more sauce if you need and taste, then adjust with additional seasonings as needed. I usually like an extra squeeze of lime juice and possibly a pinch of salt or more soy sauce.
Serve over a starch of choice, or wrapped in lettuce leaves, or however you like it!