Several years ago I visited my cousins in South Georgia, the heart of peanut country. It was in the early fall and I had my car windows rolled down to enjoy the evening breeze. Suddenly, the fragrant scent of soil filled the night air. I instantly realized I was traveling next to a freshly dug field of peanuts. It was one of the most powerful moments, my senses being flooded by the aroma of rich earth. Peanuts grow below the ground, not on a tree like pecans or walnuts. They are very high in moisture when harvested, so they are tilled and allowed to stay in the field for several days to dry out. Georgia is the number one peanut-producing state in the United States, accounting for approximately 49 percent of the crop’s national acreage and production.
Larb is a Southeast Asian salad from Laos and Thailand and is most often made with ground pork and traditionally garnished with peanuts. The South isn’t exactly known for its Thai food, but one Atlanta family is developing an outsize reputation for this cuisine. Charlie and Nan Niyomkul own Nan Thai Fine Dining and Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro; their daughter Dee Dee and her husband opened Tuk Tuk, rated as one of the top Thai restaurants in the United States. This recipe was inspired by Tuk Tuk’s larb kai prepared with minced chicken and cabbage.
Secrets of the Southern Table by Virginia Willis
1. Place the chicken in a small saucepan. Add cold water to cover (about 2 cups). Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook gently, breaking up the chicken with a wooden spoon as it cooks, until the chicken is opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. (Skim the foam that rises to the top while cooking. It’s simply coagulated protein and doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the chicken.)
2. Remove the chicken from the heat and drain well, reserving the cooking liquid for another use. (You can use it as a light stock to cook with or even season it and sip it.) Transfer the well-drained chicken to a medium bowl and set aside to cool just slightly.
3. Add the mint, cilantro, peanuts, lime juice, fish sauce, chiles, shallots, green onions, carrot, and ginger. Stir to combine. To serve, spoon a few tablespoons or so of the larb into a cabbage leaf, fold the cabbage leaf somewhat like a taco, and eat.
CHICKEN LARB WITH GEORGIA PEANUTS is excerpted from SECRETS OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE © 2018 by Virginia Willis. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.