There are some food words that are just so pretty, so evocative of what’s on offer. Tartlet. Soufflé. Quiche. Fondue (And that’s when she realizes all of the examples she picked were French words.) Anyway, to hear one of this dishes named is to want it, and now.
Larb is perhaps not such a word.
Larb, according to Wikipedia, is “a type of Lao meat salad that is regarded as the “unofficial” national dish of Laos.” This is not helping. The phrase meat salad never conjured up anything too enticing for anyone. Unless you are Ron Swanson (of Parks and Rec, in case you’re not an avid fan. For the record, my younger son Charlie quotes Ron Swanson the way some people quote the bible.) In which case the word “salad” would probably be the big turnoff, mitigated only slightly by the happy modifier “meat.”
Am I making you hungry yet?
Also, sautéed ground meat, is not the prettiest of foods to gaze upon. So that’s not going for this dish either. It would have helped if I tossed on some of the slivered scallions and fresh cilantro leaves I had prepared before the photos were taken. Alas.
But oh my goodness, when you take some finely chopped meat (in this case, chicken, though it could be beef or pork or duck or lamb), cook it up with some shallots and lemongrass, and toss it with a dressing of some fish sauce, Sriracha, lime juice, and a bit of sugar, wonderful things happen. And when you wrap it in a lettuce leaf with a spoonful of tender rice and some fresh cilantro….well, let’s just say that the word “larb” becomes on of the prettiest food sounds around.
It’s just plain delicious with that amazing Southeast Asian balance of hot and sweet and sour and salty and just a little bit funky—thank you, fish sauce. If you really like the pungent aroma and flavor of fish sauce, double the amount, and skip the soy sauce.
You can assemble the dish, or let everyone make their own. Pile the meat into the lettuce leaves with plain white rice, or jasmine or basmati, or brown if you lean that way. And don’t forget the scallions and cilantro.
Other Asian-Inspired Recipes:
For the Dressing
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
- 1 tablespoon water
For the Chicken Larb
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh lemongrass
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 8 small romaine lettuce leaves or boston or bibb lettuce
- 1 cup cooked warm rice
- Fresh cilantro leaves and thinly sliced scallions to garnish
- Make the Dressing: in a small bowl, combine the lime juice, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, Sriracha sauce, and water. Set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes until just barely golden. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the chicken and lemon grass and sauté for about 5 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Add the 2 teaspoons fish sauce and season with salt (lightly) and pepper.
- Spoon the chicken mixture into the lettuce cups with some of the rice, and drizzle the dressing over. Top with cilantro leaves and scallions.
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