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Cooking Class: Classic Thai Salad

Photo: Randy Mayor
Larb is a highly seasoned, popular salad from Thailand. Atlanta chef Keith Schroeder unlocks its secrets.

Larb, the popular Thai salad of highly seasoned ground meat and herbs, offers cooks who like to go big a real opportunity to do so. In the main recipe, pan-toasted rice adds welcome crunch and depth of flavor. Piquant, salty, funky, tart, and sweet flavors all harmonize to near-addictive perfection. Pay attention to measurements here, as careful consideration was given to balance. Lime can be spiked after tasting if you like your food brighter (but only after tasting), and feel free to ramp up the chiles if you like a less restrained salad. The Isaan people of Northern Thailand would smile upon you. For a playful, zero-percent-authentic interpretation, try the Yucatán variation.

 

 

 

Ingredients & Why:                                                                   
2 tablespoons jasmine rice, uncooked — For crunch. You'll see.
Cooking spray 
2 ounces ground pork — For some fat and additional flavor.
1 cup button mushrooms, minced — To bulk up the meat mixture and balance the sweet, acid, and spice with some earthiness.
3/4 pound ground turkey — The main substance.
3 cloves garlic — Essential in this style of larb.                                        
1 tablespoon sugar — To facilitate mashing the garlic and lend sweetness against the punchy heat of the dish.
3 tablespoons fresh Key or Mexican lime juice — These limes simply taste different. Persian limes sold in supermarkets have their place, but not here. We need boldness.
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce — For salt and to offer depth of flavor.
4 shallots, very thinly sliced — For welcome pungency.
3 Thai bird chiles, minced — The right kind of chile for larb.
1 bunch fresh mint leaves, torn — This is critical, its freshness absolutely incredible against the fish sauce and toasted rice.
1 bunch Thai basil leaves, torn — Movement two of this herb symphony.
1/2 bunch cilantro — Ties the herbs in one big, flavorful knot.
2 cups napa (Chinese) cabbage, thinly sliced — Its ruffled texture traps liquids beautifully.
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced — Now we're building the "salad."
1/2 cup green beans, diagonally sliced in half — Crunch.
1 large cucumber, peeled and julienne-cut — Relief from the heat.
1 teaspoon dried crushed Thai-style chiles or gochugaru —Toasty capsaicin punch. As the salad is mixed, the dried chile rehydrates and announces its presence forcefully.
2 Key limes, cut into wedges — For a dose of freshness, à la minute

View Recipe: Isaan-Inspired Larb