This may be the best thing I’ve eaten in months. Perfect for a summer night because it’s served at room temperature, and quick to prepare (30-40 minutes if you cooked your rice in advance). Make it when you want something light yet spicy and fragrant, with lots of herbs and vegetables. It’s versatile and great as a leftover (see future posts). The cost is less than $20 (if you already have fish sauce) and the recipe made almost 3.5 pounds of larb as written. I used 2 onions, a one-pound bunch of broccoli rabe, just one pound of pork, and 2 cups of cooked rice. Broccoli rabe (Rapini) is not the same thing as broccolini, although you can also add that chopped up, however, you do need some coarse leafy greens. Rabe and pork is a good combination, but substitute at will.
Meals from Southeast Asia seem especially suited to the months of July and August. They are often filled with the juice of lime, a refreshing taste in the summer heat.
What is larb, and why I modified the traditional recipe:
Larb is a meat salad with chili, garlic, and lime juice from the Isan region of northeast Thailand bordering Laos. Larb is the unofficial dish of Laos and is eaten in many parts of the world, particularly Thailand. Thai food uses lots of basil. Our version also includes mint, cilantro, and a big helping of broccoli rabe thereby making it a greener dish. It also uses whole black rice instead of the raw white sticky rice ground into to a powder that’s in traditional larb. This swap out increases both nutrients and flavor. Louisiana State University Chemistry Professor Zhimin Xu (Department of Food Science and Agriculture) estimates the number of antioxidants in black rice bran is at least as great as that of blueberries. In restaurants, larb is spooned into lettuce cups and served with extra limes on the side.
Sources for the ingredients I used are listed below.
Leftovers: Because I try to stretch meals into two whenever possible and lessen the serving of meat, I often add extra vegetables and always several cups of cooked black rice. The rice then becomes infused with the flavors of the meat and spices. When served cold, it’s often hard to distinguish the black rice from the pork, and a little bit goes a long way. Leftovers can be spooned into lettuce wraps, sprinkled onto cold salads, be joined up with entirely different veggies as a spicy protein accent, mixed into a skillet of eggs, or be the filling for a taco (appalling, right?) when that’s all you’ve got and someone comes in the door hungry at 8pm. I’ve done them all.
Attribution: Many thanks to the Vietnamese friend of my friend who shared the base recipe for this dish with us, and now you.
My Ingredient Sourcing:
HERBS AND VEGETABLES
Trader Joe’s sells 4 ounce containers of organic basil, and they have bags of limes and garlic. You can find little herb packages of mint and cilantro in the refrigerated section, too. Try to get your greens fresh and not in bags if possible; broccoli rabe keeps quite well and Ballard Market always has big bunches.
FISH AND GARLIC CHILI SAUCES
Every kitchen should have a few jars of these long-lasting flavor enhancers, both of which need refrigeration after opening:
Fish Sauce–I buy Red Boat at PCC or Ballard Market for $8.00–it’s a mild, light colored,100% pure first-press sauce with only two ingredients, fresh black anchovies and salt. I and have also purchased Thai Kitchen–it’s $4.00 less but made with anchovy extract and a bit of sugar. Both are gluten-free.
Garlic Chili Sauce– I use Huy Fong, the rooster people whose Sriracha sauce probably sits in your refrigerator. FYI garlic chili sauce has the same ingredients as Sriracha only more texture because it’s unblended. You don’t need to buy big jars; my 8 oz. jar was under $2.00.
If you have access to Pure Country Pork (4.99 a pound for ground pork, from Euphrata, WA; no corn feed, the most humane and environmentally sensitive pig farming in the country) buy it for this dish. I always keep several one-pound packages in the freezer. It’s sold here in the Seattle area at PCC Natural Markets. Many stores (Ballard Market and Town & Country Markets) sell Niman Ranch pork that is also raised humanely and sustainably on midwest farms. Try to buy pork that was raised with care–pigs are smart animals. Save time and buy an extra pound for your freezer.
You can use ground chicken with this dish, but do buy dark meat. If you have a Cuisinart you can grind boneless skinless thighs in about 1 min (on-off pulse method, cut them in half first). My free-range local chicken was $5.49 a pound for the thighs.
Cook the black rice.
This step may be done long in advance or started 40 minutes before you begin browning your meat and onions. The rice is added to the meat pan in the last 3-4 minutes of browning.
Use two parts water to one part rice. No need to rinse. Bring to boil, then cover with secure lid and the reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes. Turn heat off and let sit in pan for 10 minutes if with the lid on if you have the time.
Add your pork or chicken to a very large sauté pan or skillet and turn heat to medium. Peel and chop two onions add them on top of the pork. If you are using ground chicken you may need to add several tablespoons of oil to the pan as you begin to brown the meat.
Once the meat is almost finished browning, add two cups of cooked black rice to the pan and continue cooking, stirring the rice to incorporate into the juices in the pan. Add the chili garlic paste, the fish sauce, and the pressed or minced garlic at this time, too. Continue cooking until the meat is done.
Prep your herbs by removing the leaves from the basil stems, and cutting or tearing in half. Remove the mint leaves from the stems and roll leaves together like making a cigar and cut horizontally across the leaves making fine strips (called julienne). Remove stems from cilantro and give the leaves a coarse chop or keep them whole (I give coarse chop).
Juice your limes, but reserve 1 or 2 for serving alongside the dish in cut up pieces.
If you are adding the optional veggies, put the broccolini in the meat pan about 3 minutes ahead of the other greens. Bok choy can be added then, too. Baby bok choy can be added with the greens depending on how you like it cooked.
Give your broccoli rabe or coarse leafy greens a rinse and a rough chop. Remove the bottom several inches of stem. Add the greens on top of the meat and rice mixture (they will reduce significantly) along with the herbs, and let them cook down for a few minutes, and pour the lime juice on top and stir in. Remove the contents from the pan as soon as you’ve mixed in the lime juice, so your greens don’t completely disappear. It’s ready.
Garnish with grated carrot, if desired. Serve with cut lime pieces.
This dish is also great packed up as a to-go meal.