Larb (ลาบ) is sort of like the meat sibling of som tam; They are made from different ingredients, but go incredibly well together.
It’s a staple dish of Thai Isaan food, it’s easy to make, and it’s a brilliant combination of ingredients. A spoon of larb (ลาบ) followed by a ball of fresh sticky rice, is one of the great flavor combinations.
In this blog post, you’ll find an authentic version of larb, like you find in Thailand.
Larb (ลาบ) is a Thai salad, but it’s not a vegetable salad, instead it’s a meat salad. The minced pork is wonderfully seasoned with fish sauce, chili flakes, lime juice, toasted sticky rice to give it some crunchy texture, and a wonderful assortment of fresh herbs to bring it all together.
If you’ve eaten larb (ลาบ), I’m sure you love it, but if you’ve never tried it, you’re in for a real treat!
One of the most essential ingredients in any Thai larb recipe is something known as khao kua (ข้าวคั่ว), or toasted sticky rice.
It’s a really important part of Thai larb as it gives the pork a crunchy bite and a roasted fragrance.
The good news is, you should be able to purchase Thai sticky rice at most Asian supermarkets, and then it’s pretty easy to toast the rice and make it yourself.
You basically just throw the white sticky rice into a medium-low heated pan or wok, and toast it, dry without any oil. Continually mix it so it doesn’t burn.
The rice will start to turn yellow and then turn kind of golden brown. It will also start smelling really good, almost like popcorn.
It took me about 15 minutes or so to get that nice brown color on the sticky rice.
From there, you either need to put the sticky rice in a food processor and grind it into a coarse powder, or bust out your mortar and pestle (this is the way I did it) and pound it.
Then you set the khao kua aside until you mix the larb salad together.
Now when it comes to Thai street food Thai larb is most frequently made with minced pork (larb moo ลาบหมู).
So I decided to make the this Thai larb recipe with minced pork as well, but it’s also very commonly found with minced chicken or minced duck (and minced beef would be tasty too).
You can even make it with fish, or tofu, or mushrooms – all great choices. Anyway, the basic seasoning of Thai larb works well with just about any protein you want to substitute.
Thai larb rarely uses fresh chilies, and instead uses dry ground chili flakes, known as prik bon, to give it some color and heat.
Thai shallots are small about the size of a big grape, but they pack quite a punch – they are very flavorful.
I’ve seen some shallots in other places that look like the size of small lemons, but I don’t think they are quite as pungent as the Thai ones. Anyway, just use your judgement, you could even substitute a strong red onion for the shallots.
As a final tip, the easiest way to make larb, and the way they commonly prepare it on the streets of Thailand, is by cooking the pork in a small saucepan or pot, taking it off the heat, and then mixing in all the other ingredients right into the pot.
(If you can’t see the video, watch it here: http://youtu.be/elcphgkyYLY)
Thai larb recipe (larb moo ลาบหมู)
Time: About 30 minutes or less
Recipe size: This recipe makes one good sized plate / bowl full of larb. So depending on how many dishes you have for a meal, it could be big enough for 1 – 2 people, or shared between 3 – 4 people (if you have a full spread of Thai dishes).
Utensils: Small saucepan
Flavors: Fresh meat based salad, great herb flavors, mix of chili and salty
Eat it with: Larb is a Thai Isaan dish, normally eaten along with a side of Thai green papaya salad (som tam) and a plate of steamed Thai sticky rice.
Like I mention in all my Thai recipes, Thai food is very much a taste-test based cuisine. So please use the ingredients listed in this larb recipe as a guide, but not as exact instruction. You need to taste test to make sure your larb is balanced the way you like it – with the fish sauce, lime juice, chilies, etc.
- About 5 tablespoons of uncooked Thai sticky rice (but for the actual dish I used about 1 heaping tablespoon after we made it into powder – see directions)
- 300 grams (1 pound) minced pork (minced chicken or minced beef will also work well)
- ½ – 1 tablespoon of chili flakes (prik bon)
- ⅛ tablespoon of sugar (just a pinch)
- ½ tablespoon of fish sauce (here’s the fish sauce I use)
- 1 – 2 limes (I used the juice from about 1.5 limes)
- 3 – 4 small shallots (Thai shallots are only about the size of grapes, so if you have bigger shallots just use however much you want)
- A few leaves of Culantro – this is an herb also known as long coriander, it tastes a little like cilantro (if you can’t find any cilantro, don’t worry about it, it’s not a must)
- 3 – 5 spring onions (green onions)
- About 20 leaves or so of fresh mint
- First step is to make the toasted rice (khao kua ข้าวคั่ว).
- Heat a frying pan on low heat, toss in the uncooked Thai sticky rice (no oil). Stir continuously, kind of like you’re roasting peanuts or coffee. Toast the rice until it turns from white to golden yellow, almost to the point where it looks like brown wheat. It will also be very fragrant and smell almost like popcorn. It took me about 15 minutes or so.
- Once the rice is finished toasting, and has cooled off a bit, put it into your stone mortar and pestle. Pound the rice until it turns into a coarse powder (a blender or food processor will also work fine). Put your toasted sticky rice powder in a bowl aside.
- Add 300 grams of minced pork to a small sized saucepan with a handle. Fry the pork, breaking it into small minced pieces, until it’s fully cooked all the way through. For best flavor, leave all the oils that come out (but if you want to be healthier, you can also drain the pork oil, and add in a splash of water instead). Take the pork off the heat.
- Leaving the pork in the same pot, add 1 heaping tablespoon of the toasted rice powder into the pork. Also toss in ½ – 1 tablespoon of chili flakes.
- Add a pinch of sugar, ½ tablespoon of fish sauce, and squeeze in the juice from 1 – 2 limes (I used about 1 ½ full limes, but I like it quite sour).
- Give the pork and the seasoning a quick stir.
- Peel and slice the shallots, finely mince about 5 green onions and a few culantro leaves (if you have them), and just pluck about 20 or so mint leaves off the stem. Throw everything into the saucepan with the pork.
- Give the larb moo a good mix, making sure all the spices and dressing coats the pork.
- Taste test. See if it needs more fish sauce for saltiness, lime juice, or chili flakes. Get it the way you want it.
- Dish it out onto a plate and garnish with more mint leaves, Thai sweet basil, and culantro.
As long as you get all the ingredients together, this Thai larb recipe (larb moo ลาบหมู) is quite simple to make, and it tastes absolutely amazing.