Pork larb (larb moo) is an easy and tasty version of the Thai/Lao salad packed with fresh herbs, lime, lemongrass and other bright flavors. Enjoy as a light lunch or snack in lettuce wraps or add sides to make it the star of a meal.
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If you are not familiar with larb (also written as larp, laab or laap, the latter being closer to how it is pronounced), then it's definitely a dish to get to know. While you would generally refer to it as a salad, it's very different from most salads you are likely to have had.
Larb's main ingredient is meat, and the only real greens are a few herbs. But this is a dish packed with flavor, and you'll soon learn to love it. You can make it with a range of meats (chicken larp is a favorite), each with a slightly different flavor as a result, but that same freshness.
Where is larb from?
Larb is generally considered a Laotian dish, though it is often thought of as Thai as well. This is because the Northeastern region of Thailand (Isan) was at one point the same country as Laos. So dishes like this are found in both countries, sometimes very similar or other times with slight differences.
Papaya salad is a classic example - Laos papaya salad tends to be simpler but with stronger flavors in the dressing, such as fermented fish sauce, padaek. The Thai version is a bit milder, sometimes sweeter, with more additions like peanuts, beans and sometimes shrimp.
Larb is relatively similar between the two countries, though it is also a dish you can adjust to taste. Add more herbs, or vary the ones you use, increase or decrease the spice level. You will find some versions a little more sauce-like, but we had more of the drier kind in Laos and that's what I tend to prefer and have shared here.
Ingredients in pork larp
This might seem like quite a list at first, but most ingredients are pretty readily available. And apart from a bit of chopping, they come together pretty quickly.
- Pork - while you can start with a whole piece of meat, it's generally easiest to use ground pork (pork mince) as the base here. You can drain excess fat after you cook the meat before mixing with the other ingredients.
- Ground toasted rice - also called toasted rice powder. This is a key ingredient in any larb and really adds to the texture of the dish. You can buy this or make your own (see below).
- Fish sauce - a classic ingredient in the region and in most salads, it adds a slightly sour, umami depth.
- Lime juice - also common in most salads in the region, lime adds freshness and helps keep the salad moist.
- Lemongrass - another popular ingredient, this adds another fresh element. Traditionally, you finely chop fresh lemongrass, but I also sometimes cheat and use ready-prepared to make things quicker.
- Fresh cilantro and mint - both herbs add the 'green' in this salad as well as lovely fresh flavor. Ideally, if you can get culantro rather than cilantro, which is similar but a little different in flavor, this is more traditional. But cilantro works well, too, and is what I learned to use in Laos.
- Shallots - this adds a bit more depth of flavor as well as more 'bulk'.
- Chili - if you are familiar with salads from the region, a little heat is no surprise! You can dial it up or down, but some is definitely great in there.
Other more optional ingredients are garlic for extra flavor and sugar to balance out the tart flavors (more common in Thai versions). Personally I add some garlic but not sugar, but you can adjust to taste.
Top tip: making toasted rice powder
Toasted rice powder is in a number of Thai and Lao dishes and adds a wonderful, unique texture, as well as a subtle flavor. It's easy to make at home and you can either make just what you need for this dish, or make a larger batch and store for another time - just store it at room temperature, sealed and dry.
Use a dry skillet/frying pan to toast the rice - don't use any oil or other fat - and shake gently now and then to help it toast on all sides. It should start to become fragrant and gently brown. Then crush it with a pestle and mortar or, less traditionally, a spice grinder. Traditionally, you use sticky rice for this, but you can also use jasmine rice.
You can serve this dish in a few different ways - sometimes you'll find it as a dish on it's own, that you can then combine with other salads (like papaya salad) or steamed vegetables like green beans for a light meal. You could also have some steamed jasmine rice or sticky rice on the side.
Alternatively, you can make it more of a filling for lettuce cups (similar to how you might serve san choy bow). In all cases, you typically serve it at room temperature. It travels well, and so we sometimes take it as part of a picnic lunch.
If you have any leftovers, store them in the fridge and it will keep for a day or two. The herbs will be less vibrant but otherwise it keeps very well. You could always add a few additional fresh herbs to brighten it up before serving.
Pork larb is a lovely variation on the larb/laap style of Asian salad. The combination of rich pork with fresh herbs and bright citrus flavors is lighter than you might think at first, yet so satisfying too. Great for summer lunches or any excuse.
Try these other Southeast Asian salads:
- Thai pomelo salad (super fresh, light and easy to make)
- Urap sayur (a lovely Indonesian salad/side of steamed vegetables with a spicy-sour coconut topping)
- Waterfall beef salad (nam tok, another meaty Thai salad but this one uses strips of seared steak)
- Luang Prabang/ Laos salad (a simple green salad with an unusual but tasty egg-based dressing)
- Plus get more Southeast Asian recipes and lunch recipes in the archives.
- 2 tablespoon rice ideally glutinous rice (sticky) but otherwise jasmine
- 2 shallots or ½ red onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 6 tablespoon cilantro coriander (approx weight in metric)
- 6 tablespoon mint (approx weight in metric)
- 2 tablespoon lemongrass either pre-prepared puree of from around 2 stems fresh
- 1 lb ground pork pork mince
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- ¼ cup lime juice (¼ cup is approx 2 limes)
- 2 red chilis or more/less, to taste (can also use chili powder instead)
- Warm a skillet/frying pan over medium heat, without any oil. Add the rice 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 coarse flour with a pestle and mortar or spice grinder. You can do this ahead of time, and in larger quantities as suits.
- Cut the shallot/onion into thin, half moon or smaller slices if larger. Finely dice the garlic (or you can finely grate it), chop up the cilantro and mint, and chop and mince the white part of the lemongrass finely if using fresh.
- Warm a skillet/frying pan over a medium heat (you could use the same one as for the rice if big enough) - non stick is best and doesn't need oil, or else if not, you probably want to add a little oil as it heats. Add the ground pork and cook it through, stirring regularly to cook all sides and break up the meat.
- Remove the pork from the skillet and place in a bowl, straining the excess fat off the meat as you go (discard the fat).
- Add the toasted rice powder, shallot/onion, garlic, cilantro, mint, lemongrass, chili, fish sauce and lime juice to the pork and mix everything well. Serve at room temperature.
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