Larb is Lovely

Larb Gai (chicken larb)                       
Like tonight, when I feel a bit flabby, shabby, or worn down from too much food, too much wine, too much travel, or not enough sleep, I crave something zesty and refreshing. Larb fits the bill nicely, pretty much a guilt-free, protein-rich salad complex with flavors. With a small bowl of some kind of Thai-style soup (usually tom kha gai), I feel satisfied but not weighed down with a lot of starches or sugars.
This is a slightly westernized version of larb {also, laab or laap}, a very popular Thai and Laotion dish of minced meat cooked with spices, fresh herbs, fish sauce, and lime juice. It’s usually served room temperature as a sort of salad, sometimes on a bed of greens or sometimes tossed with cut lettuce, cabbage, or green beans. It can be made of pork, chicken, beef, duck, or fish. It’s a versatile dish good for many occasions as it can be personalized for whatever your mood strikes. I like it warm, spicy, heavy on the herbs, a bit like a lettuce cup. Try this recipe and feel free to personalize it as you see fit.
I use a wok or a heavy-bottomed sauté pan for this. Also, this recipe is only mildly spicy. Normally I add three or four minced Thai chilies (the scary little ones). If you like heat, this is your path to glory.
Ingredients:                                                   makes enough for two, with leftovers
1 pound minced chicken (a mixture of dark and white meat is more flavorful)
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
juice of 2 limes
Roasted rice, fish sauce, lemongrass,
ginger, garlic, lime, fresh herbs.

¼ cut chopped shallots
1 teaspoon minced ginger          
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced lemongrass
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon white pepper 
½ teaspoon ground chili flakes
a pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons ground toasted rice
¼ cup crushed peanuts
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
¼ cup minced fresh mint leaf
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
3 tablespoons minced scallions
3 tablespoons fried red onions
1 head of romaine lettuce, sliced cucumbers, 
and lime wedges for garnish.

Notes on special ingredients:
Ground toasted rice might be hard to find, but track it down online or at your local Asian market, if you can. It’s an essential component – adds flavor and an ineffable crunch to the proceedings that you won’t get without it. Try making your own if you want. Basically it’s cooked white rice that is dried out and then pounded into submission with a mortar and pestle.
Fried red onions are a common Vietnamese and Thai grocery product that come in a little can. A bit like those French’s onions you put on top of green bean casserole (come to think of it, those might make a decent substitute).
How to cook it…
Pour juice of ½ a lime over ground chicken. Let sit in marinade for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, eat a wok or sauté pan or skillet over high heat until smoking. Add peanut oil and add slightly marinated meat. Heat chicken until mostly cooked and then add shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, salt, pepper, chili powder, and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated and the ground chicken is fully cooked and getting a little brown and crispy in areas. Add peanuts, ground rice, chopped herbs, fish sauce, chopped scallions, and fried red onions. Heat for a couple more minutes over high heat. Turn off heat, add the remaining lime juice and stir everything together.
Arrange romaine leaves and other garnishes on a plate. Top with warm larb. Eat. Drink some beer with it. Happy larbing!

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