August 13, 2020 | Updated January 22, 2021
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Larb is not unlike Latin American ceviche in that they are both meat (or fish) salads, and that there are versions of it that change from country to country, cook to cook.
Whether the meat is ground or chopped, cooked or raw all depends on who’s making the larb, which you will also see spelled laap, larp or lahb. The dish is, as you might imagine from those other spellings, pronounced more or less like “lap,” although to my ears it’s more like “lop.”
Larb is a common appetizer in Southeast Asia, and my rendition of it happens to be Hmong. We have a fair number of Hmong immigrants here in Northern California, and if you are unfamiliar with this group, know that they fought on our side in the Vietnam War, and after Saigon fell in the 1970s, we allowed thousands of them to migrate here.
In general terms, Hmong food is more rustic than Vietnamese, which makes sense given that they were a rural people. The Hmong also tend to be very good hunters. Knowing this, I was happy to see lots of wild game recipes in the fantastic cookbook Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America, by Shen Yang, who happens to live here in Sacramento.
This larb recipe is an amalgam of several Hmong recipes: from Yang’s book, my own experiences here in Sacramento, as well as a few other online recipes.
Most of the ingredients are in your local supermarket, except for galangal, a cousin of ginger you can easily find in an Asian market. Use ginger if you can’t find galangal. Larb is really best served fresh, although it will keep a day or so in the fridge.
I used ground javelina that was pretty lean, and you should try to find lean ground meat for your version. A good supermarket alternative would be very lean ground beef, like 10 percent fat or less. This is a great use for 100 percent ground venison, too.
There is one unusual cooking technique for good larb, and that is the ground, toasted rice. It provides a little crunch and heft to an otherwise light salad. Don’t skip it if you can help it, because the ground rice is an integral part of what makes larb larb.
- 1/4 cup jasmine rice
- 3/4 pound lean ground pork
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons minced galangal or ginger
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Zest and juice of a lime
- 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass (optional)
- 1 to 4 small hot chiles, like Thai, sliced thin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 3 green onions, sliced thin
- 1 cup chopped rau ram or cilantro
- 1/3 cup chopped mint
- 1 cup diced cucumber
- Lettuce for wraps
- Sesame oil, for garnish
- Toast the rice in a dry skillet until it turns tan. Grind coarsely in a spice grinder and set aside.
- Saute the ground meat in a frying pan without added oil until it has browned nicely, about 5 minutes, remove from the pan to cool while you chop the vegetables and herbs.
- When you are ready to make the salad, toss all the ingredients together, and serve in lettuce wraps. I like a little drizzle of sesame oil on top.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Whenever we get take out from the local Thai place we get some Laarb. The flavor profile is so unique. Being served on lettuce wraps makes a refreshing light treat as one stuffs their face with potentially spicy meat. My mother also made a version while I was growing up with a hoisin sauce. I decided to set forth and make it myself.
Now, I am making it monthly making slightly different adjustments every time depending on what I have on hand. The first time without the toasted rice, the second time with. It is better with. Today’s version I’ll add Thai chili flakes. Hopefully, I’ll eventually master this recipe and finally achieve a better laarb than my local Thai place makes.
Thanks Hank for this great recipe.
This recipe is amazing! I have made it twice in two days. My very picky husband ate every bite, and went and got seconds! We made a few small changes due to dietary restrictions. I sub ed toasted coconut finely chopped for the rice, and we used coconut amines for the fish sauce. Not really traditional anymore, but so good! My son asked to add chopped shrimp to the pork next time. Happy eating g!
This dish is just ridiculously delicious.
Great warm weather recipe! I used ground pork and drained the excess fat before making the salad. I thought the toasted jasmine rice was a critical part of the dish. It added a lot of flavor and texture. I would grind it a little finer next time.
This one turned out great with mule deer trim meat. Easy to prep and perfect for hit summer nights.
Super. Hank,tu sei il piu grande. Can I recommend you cassoeula,a milan specialtry with pork rinds,sausages salami,pork feet skin,hears,and cabbage.,pancetta.It is servide with polenta or quinoa. Cheers from Vancouver Island.
Super delicious! It was too hot and I was too lazy to grind the rice powder so I bought it at the Asian grocer. It’s called Khua Khao which is the Thai coarse variety and Thinh Saigon which is the fine powder.
Made this for the first time last night, I was looking for a something to do with a pound of ground lamb I had in the fridge. This is a simple and quick mea, perfect for a last minute weeknight meal. The Family loved it! However, I received a lot of negative feedback from my 12 year old twin boys on the texture of the toasted rice. I told them once their palate matures they will appreciate it!
This dish is a the definition of a flavor bomb. We enjoyed it as a light Sunday supper (it’s hot in South Texas!). Light, yet filling. Balanced. Refreshing. Memorable. Delicious doesn’t begin to do justice to the recipe.
I’m curious about the toasted and ground rice. It brought great texture to the dish, is that its only purpose? I wouldn’t leave it out – it just seemed right that it was there. I’m asking because I might’ve overground it, fearing it’d be too crunchy. Of course, I may have not prepared it properly, and I am all about getting it right. This dish is simply too delicious to have a question mark.
Bonnie: So glad you liked the recipe! As for the rice, I am honestly not sure. I know it adds good texture, but it could also add a little nutritional heft to the dish while keeping it light. I’ll ask some of my Hmong friends.
Because I’m the curious type, I spoke with a few of my Asian friends about the powdered rice and the general consensus is that it’s added for texture. They also told me that the toasted ground rice is available at most Asian markets in the spice section because it’s a staple in many recipes such as this because it draws watery wetness away from the dish while maintaining a moist texture.
You can bet we’ll be making this dish again and again, experimenting with different types of mince. We had a tiny bit left over which we snacked on a few days later. The leftovers were divine!
This recipe is a staple in my house. One of the first ways I convinced my wife that venison was delicious. And something she requests regularly. Highly recommend!
Larb is one of my favorite comfort foods. I like to throw some basil in there if I have it. Most other online recipes for this break it down into a million steps, I like that this is short and sweet!
You don’t add the ground rice back to the meat while it’s cooking? I think I’ve seen larb made that way as well. 🙂 Larb is nice during this hot weather.
Linda: No, I add it when I toss the salad. But that seems like it would be every bit as good!