Larb Nua

The recipe below is for a Thai dish called larb nua. This is the first Thai dish I ever had, though it has now been a couple of decades since my brother first took me to the Thai Room on Western for my birthday—back when there were only a few Thai restaurants in Chicago. He ordered, as he was already familiar with the cuisine, and larb was our starter. I loved it, and still do. I have, since then, enjoyed it often, both at the growing number of Thai restaurants over here and during two trips to Thailand.

As is common in Asia, though this is called a salad, lettuce plays only a supporting role. This dish can also be made with ground chicken, in which case it is larb kai. Enjoy.

Larb Nua
(Spicy Thai Beef Salad/Appetizer)

1/4 cup uncooked white rice
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup lime juice*
2 Tbs. Thai fish sauce
1/2 tsp. galangal powder
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
6–8 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tsp. crushed red pepper*
Lettuce (about 1 head iceberg or 3 heads butter lettuce)
Mint sprigs for garnish, if desired

In a small pan, cook the rice over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, until the rice is a nice golden brown, about 4 to 8 minutes. Grind the rice fine in a blender or coffee grinder, and set aside. (Alternatively, if you have a good Asian grocery store, you can just buy toasted ground rice. But this is so easy to make, I don’t bother, since I need so little for this recipe.)

Put the ground beef, lime juice, fish sauce, galangal powder, and onions into a skillet and stir to combine, breaking apart the beef. Still stirring occasionally, to keep beef broken apart, cook this combination over medium-high heat for about 5-7 minutes, or until the beef is cooked.

Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the scallions, cilantro, mint, crushed red pepper, and ground rice. Mix thoroughly so that all the ingredients are well combined.

There are two primary ways for serving this dish. One way is to put down a bed of lettuce leaves and pile the larb on top. The other way is to have the lettuce and larb separate, and spoon larb into individual lettuce leaves and eat them as wraps. The first way is tidier, the second way is more fun. Serves 6–7 as a first course, 3–4 as a meal.

*Notes: Key lime juice is your best choice, as key limes are the same basic lime variety as Southeast Asian limes.

A full tsp. of crushed red pepper makes this pretty fiery—which is authentic, but perhaps not to your taste. If you are unaccustomed to spicy food, you might want to start with 1/2 tsp, or even 1/3 tsp. of the red pepper. You could even leave it out. It will still be delicious.

©2009 Cynthia Clampitt

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Filed under Culture, Food, Recipes, Travel

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