I first came across larb while taking a local cooking class in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Its base is made up of ground meat, often chicken or pork, but variations also include ground duck or mushrooms and toasted, ground rice. It can be served cold or at room temperature with pickled vegetables and large pieces of lettuce that act as wraps for the meat.
I loved the simplicity of the meal: a few ingredients worked together to create a dish that's at once spicy, sweet, salty, and sour.
While doing the course in Thailand, I realized that, in this kind of cooking, there's an unmatched ability to balance flavors without compromising the taste of the individual ingredients. Using very hot chilis, for instance, balances out the pungent fish sauce. And fish sauce might smell pungent, but it adds that important saltiness and umami quality to even the most humdrum of dishes. Finish with acid, especially lime juice, and sprinkle with sugar for even more roundedness.
Many meals in Thailand include variations on these ingredients, so once you have a few staples in your cupboard, you can try your hand at other classic Thai dishes.
Street food vendors in Thailand can whip up a serving of larb in five minutes. Even at home, once you've chopped up all your ingredients, it only takes 10 minutes to cook and you don't need any fancy equipment—just a frying pan and a spoon. Plus, you can use any leftover sauce ingredients and mix them into your next stir-fry meal.
One thing: Feel free to hold back the Thai chili (one packs a serious punch). You can also switch up the kind of meat you use. This version of larb isn’t a traditional one; I’ve added shredded vegetables and like serving it hot over rice, or having it cold in lettuce wraps for lunch the next day.
- 2 teaspoons coconut oil
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 cup finely shredded purple cabbage
- 1 large carrot, shredded
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons finely minced lemongrass
- 1 Thai chili, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1/4 cup lime juice, about 2 large limes
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint
Here, Have Another
What's your favorite Thai dish? Tell us in the comments below.