It’s true. I love Larb, Laarb, Lap.
A few years ago, I went to visit my little brother while he was living and working in Cambodia. It was right after I finished graduate school so I had some serious time on my hands: it’s very strange to go from 100 mph to 0 in 1 day so I got out of town for about 5 weeks.
Early within the first week, I came down with “the traveler’s bug”. My brother nursed me to health and I was on the mend. We knew it couldn’t be anything more than a really really bad bought because I got better on my own.
Once “healed”, we took the bus up from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and found ourselves a lovely little room. That first morning we met our Tuk Tuk driver for the week, whom we referred to as “Bu” (Uncle). We roamed through the Angkor Temples in awe and amazement. My stomach hadn’t been “right” since I’d been sick, but suddenly it was very wrong. I hobbled back to the Tuk Tuk, where Bu proceeded to lift my shirt and attempt to rub Tiger Balm on me.
My brother suggested he take us to a clinic instead. Diagnosis: parasites. It happens. It’s curable. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world. The worst part was that in this wonderfully new (to me) cuisine, nothing had been easy to eat since the beginning. No real solid meals for me. Nothing raw. Nothing strong. You know the drill.
A few days later I was on my way to Laos while my brother travelled back to the city for work. My first night in Vientiane I sat outside and ordered a hotpot on the street. You know, the kind where they bring you the fire, the pot of soup, and all of those delightful accoutrements. I boiled the crap out of it. No risks for me please. My noodles became soggy, the herbs unrecognizable, and the vegetables, well…mush. Still, it hit the spot.
Days passed and oh so many adventures later, I found myself at a small cafe in a tiny town. Their speciality? Larb: the “unofficial” dish of Laos. I cannot pass up local faire so I did it. I ordered fried mulberry leaves with honey (although I wasn’t completely sure that’s what it was until I looked it up later) and pork and green bean larb. The green beans were barely cooked. I didn’t care. The need to try it outweighed the memory of the pain.
It was my first solid meal. I will never forget where I sat at the table. Or how, with my new friends, we were the only foreigners in the area. How the waitress looked at me shocked that I would want such a foreign food. Or how she and the half of the kitchen came out to watch me take my first bite. But most of all, I will never forget how amazing that first bite was. And the next and the next.
This dish is also commonly found in Thailand and there are variations in other Southeast Asian countries. For my Thai dinner night I decided to make this specific larb. Green Bean and Pork Larb. I’ve made a beef larb in the past, but oh the pork and green beans.
Enjoy. It’s simple, crisp, delicious, and works any season.
Pork and Green Bean Larb
5 ounces green beans
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup fish sauce
2-3 Tablespoons palm sugar
2 small shallots, thinly sliced into half crescents
juice of 2 limes
1/2 a medium sized red onion, sliced very thinly
1-2 thai chili, seeds removed, sliced
1 cup packed cilantro or about 1/2 a large bunch (stems and all), roughly chopped
3-4 Tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup toasted rice*
1/2 cup peanuts, toasted and chopped
Blanch the green beans: boil a pot of water and throw beans in. Boil for just 1-2 minutes. Drain immediately and rinse with ice water (or throw a bunch of ice on top of them). Once cool, chop green beans into 1/2-1 inch pieces. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet and brown the ground pork. Pour 2 Tablespoons water and 2 Tablespoons of the fish sauce over the pork as it’s cooking. Stir frequently, breaking up the pork as you go. When the pork is just moments away from being cooked through, add the shallots. Turn off the heat.
In a small bowl, combine the chili (add 1/2 a chili to 2 whole chilies depending on your heat tolerance), 2 Tablespoons hot water, juice of 1 lime, 2 Tablespoons of the palm sugar, and 4 Tablespoons of fish sauce. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Place the pork in a bowl, add the green beans, the sliced red onion, the mint and cilantro (reserving some cilantro for garnish). Pour the sauce evenly over the pork. Taste the dish and add the additional sugar, lime, and/or fish sauce.
*While the dish is marinating, prepare the toasted rice. You can buy toasted rice or you can experiment as I did. Preheat the oven to 400. Using sweet or sticky rice (UNcooked), place dry in a small skillet. Place in the oven for 45-60 minutes, tossing 1-2 times total. The rice is done when it’s nice and browned and you can eat it and it doesn’t taste raw. Grind the rice using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder.
Layer the bottom of a serving dish with lettuce. Spoon the pork mixture onto the lettuce. Pour any remaining liquid back over the pork (or reserve for your rice the next day). Pile on the toasted peanuts and the toasted rice. Eat immediately at room temperature.
Slap-dash Next Week Larb
So… a few days later I wanted more. I had ground turkey in the freezer. I defrosted it on the skillet cooking it in water and fish sauce, as above. When cooked, I threw it in a bowl with 1-2 tablespoons additional fish sauce, a sprinkling of regular sugar, juice of 1 lime, a ton of cilantro, and some red onion. I ate it over rice for lunch the next couple of days. Slap dash. It was perfect for lunch but the flavors weren’t quite as complex and I don’t know if I’d serve this version to my friends!