Larb Gai is the national dish of Laos. However, it is a very popular dish in Thailand, especially in the Isaan region, which is the Eastern and North Eastern section of Thailand, where it borders Cambodia and Laos.
Larb is simply a cold meat salad with fresh herbs. In some parts of the country, the meat is not even cooked. The use of lime is so heavy that it ‘cooks’ the meat in that way. However, most restaurants outside of the Isaan region in Thailand will serve you cooked meat.
What I love about Isaan food is its freshness. Many of the dishes are simple cold salads with herbs. They take hardly any time to make, are packed full of intense flavors, and are very healthy for you. Cold meat salads are high in protein, essential fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Vegetarian? No problem! I make this dish using minced tofu or tempeh! Featured on this blog is minced chicken because we learned the special techniques of this dish recently at a Thai Cooking School on the island of Koh Lanta.
This dish has a variety of cooking options in addition to my recipe below, you can also add toasted rice, mushrooms or other vegetables. Traditionally it is served with sticky rice and fresh raw vegetables, but it is perfect on it’s own without those components as well.
You can be very casual with your ingredients. I would recommend 2 cups of meat for every 1 cup of herbs, shallots, and spices combined.
What You Need: (Makes 2 Dishes)
Meat: Chicken, Pork, Beef, Duck, Tofu, Tempeh, Mushrooms, etc. the choice is up to you – roughly 2 cups
3-4 Medium Shallots
2-3 Cloves of Garlic
1/4 cup Chopped Cilantro
1/4 cup Chopped Thai Parsley if available
1/4 cup Chopped Spring Onion
1/4 cup Chopped Lemongrass if available
1/4 cup Mint (to place on top)
Cooking Oil (preferably Coconut)
1/2 cup Vegetable or Chicken Broth to deglaze
Spices: Traditionally Thai’s would use ‘Nam Prik Larb’, which translates to ‘Spicy Larb Sauce’ a seasoning paste specifically for Larb dishes. A basic recipe you could get by with is chili powder, salt, and pepper. However, if you have chili powder, coriander seeds, black and white pepper, star anise, clove, and cumin seed already at home, you can create your own ‘Nam Prik Larb’ (recipe below)
1. To create ‘Nam Prik Larb’ : Dry roast the whole spices chili, coriander seeds, black and white pepper, star anise, clove, and cumin seeds. This releases their flavor first. Then crush or grind the spices finely (or start here if your spices are already ground) and saute with oil. This should create a thick paste. Depending on how spicy you like your dish, you could add anywhere from a 1 -3 tablespoons.
– If you don’t want to make this paste, you can simply use chili powder, salt, and pepper –
2. In a wok or frying pan, put a few tablespoons of oil and saute your chopped garlic and lemongrass. Do not burn.
3. Add the meat or meat replacement. Use a large wooden spoon to mix and mince the meat as it cooks. Do not leave it whole. You want it to be as broken up as possible, and cook until well done. Add the broth during this process to deglaze as necessary.
4. Take the meat, garlic, and lemongrass mixture off the heat and place into a separate bowl to begin cooling.
5. Add your spices or your Nak Prik Larb paste. Mix thoroughly.
6. Add your chopped shallots, cilantro, Thai parsley (if available), and spring onion.
7. Squeeze fresh lime or add lime juice to taste (probably 1 full lime)
8. Add fish sauce (be careful, a little goes a long way – probably 1 tablespoon is plenty)
9. Top with fresh mint. Serve with raw vegetables or sticky rice.
10. Enjoy your Larb Salad, the national dish of Laos!