Larb. Doesn’t sound so great in English. I considered titling this “laab” instead, since I’ve seen it like that before and laab just sounds so delightfully ethnic. And don’t you just feel sooo worldly and good about yourself when you eat delightfully ethnic food from oh-aren’t-they-quaint Southeast Asian cultures? It’s almost like being a do-gooder. Larb, on the other hand, sounds like an off-brand lard product, dusty cans of which line the shelves of shitty Tex-Mex restaurant kitchens. It’s not. It’s just a rather wonderfully seasoned herb-y pork-y salad that you’ve probably gotten a dozen times before and it’s all old hat. Yeah yeah, but it’s just so fun to make. So easy and I still am impressed every time I make it, or whatever variation on it. I like being impressed.
I have two furry fleabags in the house. I just knew they’d get fleas. One of them escapes periodically and couldn’t be out for more than like 30 minutes before he comes back crying and flinging himself at the door. Not even 30 minutes most times. And it’s like two times per week maybe. Crap! They do go outside on the second story balcony but, but that can’t be possible for them to get fleas up there, right?! I don’t want to give them medicine wahhhh. I might try flea combing every day for a week or something and see if that helps, along with vacuuming a lot. Blast. Anyone want to come visit?? Hi!!
Now that you’re all nice and appetized, let’s talk food. I’ve had all sorts of Asian food on my mind, alternating with the near obsession with dried chiles I’m currently nurturing, since I discovered that there are apparently some good, real live, genuine, sauce-not-from-a-plastic-tub Chinese restaurants here. Haven’t made it to any yet…nor have I made it to any Korean places. Or Vietnamese. Or shit, what the hell have I been doing? I have been to one Thai place, phew. And I did eat at a couple of those nonsense “Asian street food” restaurants that are oh-so-popular – one in Denver when I was there a couple weekends ago and one here. And I did eat larb at the one here and it was decent, despite some of the absolute worst service I’ve had in ages. Like, not just “oh, sorry I forgot that”, like “________”. Nothing. Hello we’d like to pay you. Well, I didn’t want to, I wanted to walk out. In any case, I want dim sum, I want pho, I want tendon, I want funky fermented shit, I want it all. I want the whooole world!
So here’s the deal on Ingredients That Might Suck to Find (a regularly scheduled program here at the crankiest kitchen) featuring sticky rice, Thai basil, Thai chiles, and palm sugar. Sticky rice or glutinous rice produces the best toasted rice powder. You can buy already-toasted rice powder, but oh you know me. I’m thinking it might be worth forgoing the toasted rice if you can’t find the right kind to toast. I haven’t made it with normal rice before, but I’ve read a bunch of Thai people saying it’s a no-no. Hey, they’re Thai, I’m not. Thai basil is wonderful, but I couldn’t find it and I wasn’t willing to haul ass across town to a Thai market to see if they did. I do hate driving, ya know. Regular basil will absolutely work. Same goes with Thai chiles – I found some, but you can sub other hot chiles like jalapeños or serranos or whatever. Palm sugar shouldn’t be too hard I’d think, in the lil’ ethnic section of the grocer’s. But you could do honey or just omit it. I think it’s nice because it cuts the acidity of the lime juice. So there you have it. Ready to rock. Oh, and if you’re extra fancy, go ahead and do proper minced pork. Like, mince that shit from pork shoulder. You’re way better than me.
I’m not particularly specific in this recipe – on some measurements and on time. I dunno, maybe I was being lazy, maybe I’m tired of super specific recipes. It’s not baking and I think you can eyeball the herbs, you can use commonsense with cooking times of toasting the rice and poaching the pork. The herbs and chiles and fish sauce are pretty much to taste. I know it’s helpful to have some idea of quantities to start with, but feel totally free to play around. I really do toy with the idea of changing up the format of this blog to olde tymey recipe styles. Like, screw this mise en place shit. Who does that anyway? I never do. I just dive right in and it’s usually a little terrifying and hectic and frantic, but that’s my style. And my personality, as it happens. I’ve no problem with listing ingredients at the top of the recipe (or should I start calling them receipts?!) but then each step details what you do with the ingredients. More intuitive I think. We’ll see. Maybe next post I’ll try it.
some ideas from J. Kenji López-Alt and some strange-ish Thai blogs
1/2 cup sticky rice
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 pound ground pork
2 – 3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
3 scallions, sliced
2 – 3 Thai chiles or 1 – 2 jalapeños/serranos, whatever
handful of (Thai) basil leaves, chopped (Thai basil is awesome if you can find it)
handful of cilantro, chopped
small handful of mint leaves, chopped
juice of 2 limes
1 – 2 tablespoons palm sugar (optional)
1. In a dry skillet heated over medium low heat, add the rice and toss around frequently until it’s a golden brown. I kept some raw rice next to the pan for comparison since my eyes start to fool me.
2. Dump the rice in a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Grind until it’s kinda like the texture of almond meal.
3. In the same pan heat the coconut oil over medium low heat. Add the sliced shallots and cook, stirring often, until they’re browned and crispy. Don’t burn them that’s gross! Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
4. To that pan add the pork, 1 tablespoon fish sauce and a like a tablespoon of water. You’re kinda poaching the pork here. Break up the pork and stir around until it’s all cooked through – maybe like 5 – 7 minutes.
5. Add the pork to a medium sized bowl with accumulated juices. Add the toasted rice powder and the remaining ingredients minus the lettuce. Add the fish sauce like a tablespoon at a time, it’s impossible to go back if it’s too salty for your tastes and you’ll be so sad. Mix it all up.