Saturday, March 16, 2013

Larb (Thai Minced Pork Salad)

Transport yourself to Southeast Asia where you find yourself near the border of northeast Thailand and Laos.  Hunger grips your stomach, the clench tightening as the thought of food travels through your brain.  You enter a village and head immediately to the market.  The market just consists of just a few vendors.  However, there is one stall around which the local people gather.  You politely work your way in to see a vendor cooking a dish of minced meat, nutmeg/black pepper/chile spice blend and fresh herbs.  The aromas are so enticing that you almost miss the fact that the vendor is adding slices of pork liver and pork heart, along with a little pork blood.  As the vendor finished the dish for individual patrons, adding rice and topping it with fried garlic and pork cracklings.  You turn to a local standing next to you and ask what is this dish.  (Remember, you are not actually there, so a translator is not required.)  The local responds, "it is Laab."

Laab is a popular dish throughout Southeast Asia.  The story describes how the Tai Koen prepare this dish in Northeast Thailand.  If you were in Burma (Myanmar), the Shan people prepare Laab with lightly fried minced pork, along with shallots, lemongrass, galangal, sesame seeds, and a roasted chile paste.

I learned about these different variations of Laab in an article published by Naomi Duguid in Saveur.  The article included a recipe by Hong Thaimee of Ngam Restaurant in New York City.  This recipe does not require pork livers or pork blood.  Instead, it is a recreation of a classic Laab that does recreate many of the aromas and flavors one would expect is you were eating this dish in Southeast Asia.  This is definitely a great dish, which I will make again. 

Recipe from Saveur
Serves 2-4

⅓ cup canola oil
3 tbsp. mashed garlic
4 red Thai chiles, stemmed and minced
10 oz. ground pork
1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
2 tbsp. minced mint, plus more to garnish
1 tbsp. minced scallions, plus more to garnish
1 tbsp. minced cilantro, plus more to garnish
2 tsp. fish sauce
Thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, shallots, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes to garnish

1.  Cook the garlic and peppers.  Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and chiles, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. 

2.  Cook the pork and spices.  Add pork, chile flakes, five-spice, nutmeg, salt, pepper, coriander, and cardamom, and cook, stirring, until pork is browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in mint, scallions, cilantro, and fish sauce, and cook until pork is done, about 4 minutes.

3. Finish the dish. Transfer to a large serving bowl, and top with scallions, cilantro, kaffir leaves, lemongrass, shallots, mint, cilantro, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Serve at room temperature.


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