Chicken Larb (Laotian Chicken and Herb Salad)
Laj Nqaij Qaib
Light, healthy, and full of flavor—nothing can beat chicken larb for a simple but elegant meal with friends on a warm summer evening. This version is easy to make and the ingredients can be found in almost any grocery store.
Use only fresh, blemish-free herbs. Chop and slice them by hand, because a food processor will bruise them. Loosely pack the herbs into the measuring cup. Although you can use ground chicken or turkey, chopping the meat yourself gives the dish a finer, more desirable texture.
2 whole boneless chicken breasts or 3 pounds ground chicken or turkey
Juice of 2 large limes, plus 1 lime for garnish
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 stalk minced lemongrass, (tough outer leaves, root, and top several inches removed before mincing)
3 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 small hot chili peppers, minced, or 1 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons Toasted Sticky Rice Flour
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 heaping cup chopped fresh mint
1 heaping cup chopped cilantro
Several additional stems of mint and cilantro, for garnish
1 bunch green onions, green part chopped, white part sliced diagonally
1/2 cup chopped Thai basil
1 large head leaf lettuce (16 leaves, for wrappers)
On a large, clean chopping board, chop the chicken with a heavy knife or cleaver. As you chop the chicken, fold it over on itself. Continue to fold and chop until the meat is very finely chopped. Put the meat in a large bowl and squeeze the lime juice over it. Add the rice wine. Cook the chicken mixture in a nonstick skillet (don't use any oil) over medium-high heat, tossing and stirring constantly just until the meat turns white.
Return the mixture with any accumulated juice to the bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature. While the chicken cools, prepare the fresh herbs. Add the ginger (or galanga), lemongrass, lemon peel, chili peppers (or crushed chili flakes), garlic, fish sauce, salt, white pepper, and rice flour to the cooled mixture.
Break apart the chicken bouillon cube and sprinkle it on top. Toss the ingredients together until they are well mixed. Then add the mint, cilantro, green onions, and Thai basil. Gently toss everything together.
Break lettuce leaves away from the head, and wash and dry them. Scoop 1/4 cup of larb onto each lettuce leaf and arrange the leaves on a large platter. Garnish with mint and cilantro sprigs and wedges of lime.
Diners pick up a lettuce leaf and roll it up to eat. Serve larb with cool sticky rice.
[Related: Read their interview with Lynne, and check out their recipes for Hot Chili Condiment and Everyday Rice.]
From Cooking From the Heart: the Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter, Sheng Yang Copyright © 2009 University Of Minnesota Press.
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