Thai Larb with Quick Pickle


Lemongrass scented Thai larb equals summer on a lettuce leaf. photo Nancy Duran

Continuing on the theme of midweek meals, here’s an example of a quick cook dish I served all the time when I lived in Australia. Thai food is everywhere Down Under and the essential ingredients used in Thai cooking (think lemongrass, kaffir lime, and galangal) can be found in basically every supermarket in every suburb throughout the country. While that’s not quite the case here in the United States, I can sometimes get my hands on a few of these ingredients. And when I do, I like to take a little culinary trip down memory lane.

As it turns out, my local market sells lemongrass quite frequently. It’s usually discreetly tucked in amid the lemons and limes, and I often walk past it. Last week, however, as the weather warmed up and summer food was on my mind, I happened upon the last couple stalks from a recent shipment. The universe seemed to be telling me that a tropical Thai dinner was in order. Thus, larb.

Larb is a quick and simple dish of ground pork, chicken, or turkey that can be flavored with a variety of Thai aromatics. I use lemongrass, garlic, brown sugar, fish sauce, and lime. The result is surprisingly complex and wonderfully refreshing. Served with quick pickled cucumbers or carrots, this dish is, quite simply, the height of summer brightness. I like to pile the whole gorgeous mess into butter lettuce leaves, which provide a lovely crunchy texture.

Serves 4

Quick Pickle
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 large English cucumber, quartered and thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler*

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, tender inside finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons lime juice
Fresh cilantro, butter lettuce leaves, chopped small red chile, and steamed rice for serving

  1. First, get the cucumbers pickling. In a medium glass bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, and sugar. Add the cucumber slices and stir to coat all over. Let them sit while you make the larb, giving them a stir every once in a while.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the turkey, lemongrass, and garlic. Using your hands, mix until well combined.
  3. In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the turkey mixture and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 7 -9 minutes. Add the sugar, fish sauce, and stock. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the liquid is almost, but not quite evaporated, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice.
  4. Serve the larb with the quick pickle, fresh cilantro, rice, and chopped chile all packed into lettuce leaves.

*When peeling the cucumber, peel lengthwise all around the seeded core, turning the cucumber as you go. When I have peeled down to the seed core, I generally stop and discard the off cuts as the seeds are a bit bitter. It’s also very difficult to peel when the stability of the core is compromised.

Nutritional analysis based on 4 servings (does not include cilantro, butter lettuce leaves, chopped small red chile, and steamed rice for serving):
Calories 380, Fat 21g, Sodium 905mg, Carbohydrate 16g, Fiber 0g, Sugar 4g, Protein 32 g

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