Friday, 13 January 2012

Larb / Laab / Lahb / Larp / Laap

Don't worry I haven't gone mad. The title of this post does make sense. Larb is a Laotian or Isarn (Northeastern Thai) meat salad that you'll probably have seen on Thai restaurant menus spelled in any of the various ways listed above. It's all down to the difficulties of transliterating Thai or Lao script into the Roman alphabet.

Linguistic challenges aside, laab is a wonderful dish that I've been meaning to try and make for some time. It's got all the best qualities of Thai food, the strong yet balanced tastes, the spice, the freshness, the herbal fragrance. And it's a salad made from meat. Just about any meat can be used by the way, though chicken is most common.

Rather bizarrely it was turkey that spurred me into action. Yes, turkey as in Christmas turkey. Morrison's was selling packs of diced turkey thigh at a ridiculously low price, so I bought some thinking there must be something good I could cook with it. More out of hope than expectation to be honest.

Then I thought about lahb. The turkey meat would work well chopped into very small pieces and cooked very briefly, no chance for it go tough or stringy. The flavour would also suit, meaty enough to standard up to the strong seasoning and still lend something to the dish.

I'm not going to recreate the recipe in full here, because the one I used can be found here on the She Simmers blog which I've found to be an excellent resource for Thai food info and recipes since I discovered it a while back. It was this blog's author who kindly translated the Thai Aroy Dee menu for me.

I deviated a little from the original recipe, using spring onions in place of shallots, the turkey in place of chicken and missing out the galangal powder. Apart from that and halving each ingredient for a smaller batch it was faithful.

I also had a go at making the toasted rice powder, but had to cheat and use basmati rice in place of Thai sticky rice. It was still worth it though, perfectly simple to do and the final dish had a subtle but distinctive nutty flavour in the background.

The resulting salad was a great success. The first taste gives the forward freshness and fragrance of the herbs which then gives way to salty, sour and spicy, all assertive but balanced. The savour of the meat and toasty rice flavour round things out nicely.

I served mine with rice as a main dish, but its probably more commonly served alone as a starter or a side dish, scooped up with lettuce leaves.

I'll make this again and will probably change just one thing. I should have chopped the meat a little bit finer, you don't want mince but some of my chunks were a little too hefty and went a bit chewy as the meat cooled.

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