Larp (larb gai) is a classic Thai/Laos chicken salad, packed with delicious lemongrass, lime, cilantro and chili. Healthy, flavorful & great for a picnic or lunch box.
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I suspect it's not particularly normal to take a cooking lesson on your honeymoon, especially on your own while your new husband relaxes at the hotel, but I did.
You see, even though I hadn't started this blog at that point, I still loved food and we had been loving the food in Laos in particular. I couldn't really pass up the opportunity to learn some dishes first-hand. And my husband was happy enough to enjoy the results of my cooking that I brought back at lunchtime when we finished.
One of the things I learned was larp, which he was very glad to help me eat, as with all the other times we had it on our trip.
What is Laos food like?
Laos cuisine is influenced by it's history, as is true of most countries. Much of it is similar to Northern Thai food (which used to be part of Laos so arguably it is really Laos food). You'll also find some French influence, especially in bread, from former colonial times.
Sticky rice is a staple in the region, alongside curries, some spicy sauces and lots of fresh flavors from lemongrass, cilantro and lime.
Luang Prabang salad (Laos salad) is a great example of using these flavors, as is the classic dish larp. All perfect to enjoy in the serene surroundings (well, until fireworks are set off).
Is it larp or larb gai?
Given the interconnected history, it's not surprising some dishes are in both Laos and Thai cooking. If you've ever seen larb gai on a Thai menu, it's basically the same as what we saw written as larp in Laos.
Larp is generally considered the national dish of Laos. It's a great introduction to the food as it showcases the fresh flavors, it's relatively light but with that bit of spice.
The dish was generally translated as "Laos chicken salad" but it's unlike any chicken salad you are likely to have had before or since.
Tips for making larp/larb gai
I have adapted the recipe I was shown at my cooking class (at Tamnak Lao in Luang Prabang) to make it a little simpler but retaining the flavors and style. Many recipes I have seen for the Thai version start with ready-ground meat, but we were shown using a whole chicken breast to start.
I know it can be a pain to mince the chicken yourself, but I really would recommend it as it keeps it nice and lean. Bought ground chicken/mince just isn't quite the same. One thing I would say - don't worry if the chicken looks like it gets wetter before it dries out, it's just moisture coming out of the chicken. It does get there!
If you can get fresh lemongrass, it is more authentic but it can be a little tricky to cut it small enough. Having also made it with pureed lemongrass, that works pretty well too.
One other thing that is a bit unusual is the toasted rice flour. This doesn't mean the rice flour you may be familiar with which is an off-white. Toasted rice flour is a pale brown as the raw rice is toasted first before grinding.
I generally make my own, as I also do for nam tok, Thai beef salad ('waterfall beef') since it is a small quantity and I struggle to find it. It's fairly easy to toast the grains as you chop other things up.
Otherwise, it's pretty easy as you just cook up the chicken, chop things up and mix it all together. This dish differs from many Thai/Laos dishes as it uses dried rather than fresh chili.
See how it all comes together in the short video
How to serve this salad
This chicken salad goes really well with green papaya or mango salad to make it more of a meal or for a mixed appetizer. These days, there's a bit of a trend to serve it in smaller amounts on lettuce as lettuce wraps.
On our honeymoon, the lettuce was more just for decoration with a larger amount on top. We got it a couple times with spring rolls and some beers for a delicious lunch. Really, whatever you prefer!
It's such a tasty dish, full of fresh flavors from lime, lemongrass and cilantro but with a kick of spice. It's great on a warm day, and works well for a picnic or lunch box as it doesn't wilt.
I know I am looking forward to making larp/larb gai a few times in the coming months, especially as the weather warms up. But really, any excuse for this tasty Laos chicken salad is a good one, whatever the weather.
Try these other less than typical salads:
- Vietnamese chicken salad
- Calamari salad with fennel and avocado
- Fruit, herb and feta Israeli couscous salad
- Plus get more ideas in the lunch recipes archives.
Larp (larb gai, Thai/Laos chicken salad)
- 2 tbsp rice sticky or long grain
- 1 lb chicken breast 450g
- 1 ½ limes
- ¼ cup chicken stock 60ml
- 2 shallots or ½ red onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 handful arugula rocket, large
- ¾ oz cilantro/coriander 20g, 1 small box
- 3 tbsp lemongrass either 3tbsp puree of 2-3 stems fresh
- ½ tsp chili powder or more, to taste
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- ¼ tsp salt
- Put the uncooked rice in a dry skillet and toast until gently golden brown, moving round a bit now and then so that it cooks evenly. Once toasted, grind as fine as you can to a flour with a pestle and mortar or spice grinder. You can do this ahead of time, and in larger quantities as suits.
- Trim the chicken of any fat then mince it - easiest shopping in to slices, dicing then chopping further.
- Put the chicken, the juice of ½ lime and the stock in a hot wok or skillet/frying pan and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, stirring regularly.
- Meanwhile, dice the shallot/onion small, finely dice the the garlic, chop up the arugula/rocket, cilantro/coriander (can just chop off the stems below the lower leaves and chop the rest) and dice the white part of the lemongrass finely if using fresh.
- Mix the cooked chicken with the shallot/onion, garlic, arugula, cilantro, lemongrass, chili powder, fish sauce, salt and the juice and zest of a lime. Stir in the toasted rice flour and serve.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
Try these other tastes of the tropics:
To start/on the side -
- Chicken and Lemongrass Sugarcane Skewers by Jane's Adventures in Dinner
- Coconut crusted Tofu with Spicy Mango Cucumber Topping by Soni's Food
- Thai Sweet Chili Sauce by Magnolia Days
To drink -
For main -
- Bali Spicy Grilled Fish - Ikan Bakar Jimbaran by Food Lust People Love
- Grilled Swordfish with Pineapple Salsa by Cooking Chat
- Kalua Pig by Palatable Pastime
- Mango Barbecued Pork Chops by A Kitchen Hoor's Adventures
- Catibias o Cativias (Dominican Yucca Empanadas) by The Petit Gourmet
- Whole Roasted Bream with a Ginger-Tamarind Sauce by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
To finish -
- Double Ginger Cookies by Pies and Plots
- Majarete Ice Cream by Sew You Think You Can Cook
- Mini Mango Cheesecakes by The Freshman Cook
- Ube Panna Cotta by The Joyful Foodie