Thai Laab Moo

Laab — or larb on many Americanized menus — is one of my favorite Thai dishes.  So imagine my surprise finding out while in Southeast Asia a few weeks back that it’s actually Laotian — the national dish of Laos, in fact.  I didn’t make it to Laos on this trip, so our intrepid readers will just have to accept this as my Thai entry.  A ground meat salad with tangy dressing and lots of fresh herbs, you can make this with ground pork (or “moo” … counterintuitive, I know) as I do here; I’ve also used ground chicken, turkey, and lamb in the past — and seen it made with ground beef.  It’s quick and easy to whip up, hard to mess up, delicious, and presents impressively for guests who don’t mind finger food (i.e. any guest you would or should have on a boat).

Thai Laab Moo (Pork)

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4 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup lime juice (about 3 limes)
3 tablespoons lemon juice (one large lemon)
2 tablespoons Thai chili sauce
Rind of one large lemon
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 small red onion
3 shallots
1 jalapeno chile
1-1/2 pounds ground pork
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro or basil leaves
Romaine or butter lettuce to serve

To start, make your dressing by combining the lime and lemon juices, fish sauce, honey, chili sauce, and lemon zest if you are using it.  Confession: any self-respecting larb or other Thai dish includes lemongrass, but the rampant bushes of it that grow everywhere down here in Louisiana all froze viciously over this unusual winter and haven’t come back yet, and my local grocery didn’t have it.  If you can get a stalk of fresh lemongrass or even the pureed kind they sell in a tube in the produce section, you can omit the lemon zest here; if you’re using the tube puree, add about a tablespoon of it to the dressing now (if using the fresh, you will add it in the next step).  Whisk this all together.

Chop the onion, shallots and hot pepper and sautee in the coconut oil until translucent and softened.  If you are lucky enough to have fresh lemongrass, add it to this sautee; to use, trim the coarse green/brown tops away from the white bulb on the bottom and trim the end (sort of like you would a green onion).  Peel away a few dry outer layers from the bulb and finely mince the inner portion for about a tablespoon of minced root.  You can obviously use vegetable, peanut, or even olive oil here, but I was pleasantly surprised how the coconut oil added a vaguely tropical flavor and smelled like vacation.

Add the ground pork (or as noted above, turkey, chicken, lamb or even beef will work — same quantities) and sautee just until there are no distinct pink chunks, breaking it up as much as you can while it cooks.

Stir in the dressing and let this simmer for 3-5 minutes over low-medium heat to get the flavors going.  It does remain a dressing, though — you’re not waiting for it to thicken or reduce.

Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped mint and cilantro/basil — I used cilantro here.  Don’t skimp on the mint, though!  It’s key to the dish.

If you have a “pirate monkey sitting on a banana leaf” serving platter, this clearly is the time to use it.

Arrange the lettuce leaves around the platter.

Top with the meat mixture and pour all the dressing over the top. You can chill the meat, serve it at room temperature, or even serve it a bit warm (best not to go hot or it will wilt the lettuce too much).  Sprinkle with a few more fresh herbs.

To serve, just let people scoop the deliciously tangy meat into a lettuce leaf, wrap, and eat.

Happy Year of the Dog from Upward Wing!

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