While we’re on the topic of salad, and non-traditional salads at that, let’s talk about larb. Have you had larb yet? Because, besides the unfortunate-sounding English name, it’s totally worth eating, and then eating again. It’s that kind of good.
For a while, Jeff and I were getting a monthly share of meat from a farm in Marin County that included a few pounds of ground meat every month. It was great at the start – there were lots of burgers and meatballs and some stir-fries (sadly we hadn’t discovered this yet). But then I got bored. I’m not great and making the same things over and over and after months of the same ground meat dishes, I’d had enough. So I went looking for greener pastures; better recipes to use up this monthly allotment of food.
This is the part where I admit that I don’t actually know who first told me about larb, which is essentially a Thai ground meat salad. I do know that Jeff’s uncle’s girlfriend (families are complicated) gave me an excellent recipe for it although at that point I’d already eaten it in several Thai restaurants and made a few attempts at home preparation. Whatever the source (and if it was you, I’m eternally grateful), it was a much-needed suggestion.
Like any good Thai dish, this salad is hot and salty and sour and even a bit sweet. A mix of cooked flavors from the meat and garlic as well as fresh basil and scallion and lime. It’s pretty much as unlike an Italian meatball as ground meat can get. Not that there’s anything wrong with meatballs. But we can all use a change sometimes.
Adapted from Fine Cooking February 2011’s recipe for Turkey Laap
Makes 2-4 servings, along with some chopped lettuce or cabbage or some rice
I love this dish and while what I’ve made here includes beef, larb can really be made with any ground (or shredded meat). I’ve had it with turkey, chicken, shredded duck, and pork. If you use precooked and shredded meat just decrease the time for cooking in a pan to only the few minutes needed to warm up the meat. Then proceed with adding the other ingredients.
1 tsp oil
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chile flake
1 lb ground beef
Juice of 2 limes, divided
Zest of 1 lime
2 tbs + 1 tsp fish sauce, divided
1/4 cup scallions, finely chopped (about 3-4 scallions)
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped (one small bunch or half a medium bunch)
1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped (one small bunch or half a medium bunch) or substitute 2 tsp dried mint (dried herbs are powerful)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Add the oil, ginger, and chile flake to a large frying pan and heat over medium high until the ginger is fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Then add the beef and let it cook, breaking up the pieces into small crumbles – it’s easier to do while it’s cooking than after it’s cooked. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the meat is no longer pink. The add 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and the juice of 1 lime. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and scrape the ground meat into a large bowl.
Immediately add the zest and shallot to the hot mixture and stir to combine.* Let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes so that it’s still warm but not steaming. Add the rest of the fish sauce and lime juice, the scallions, basil, and mint. The omission of salt is intentional – the fish sauce is plenty salty.
At this point the larb is ready to serve with some lettuce or cabbage or on top of rice. You can also keep it in the fridge for about 5 days, just warm it slightly before eating since cold ground beef isn’t particularly appealing.
*The residual heat from the meat will help soften the bite of the shallot just a bit and allow it to mix with the other flavors.