I’ve often waxed poetic about my affection for Thai food. The harmonic combination of sour, salty, sweet, and spicy is like no other cuisine. I also admire the Thai love affair with street food: full of bright fresh flavors, crisp veggies, and quickly grilled or seared meats, and easy to eat with your hands. My favorite!
Minced meat plays a big role in Thai cuisine. One of their most famous minced meat dishes is a “salad” called larb. This isn’t the traditional salad of chilled veggies that most of us across the pond might be envisioning. Larb is a salad that features meat, served warm, nestled within crisp lettuce leaves, and often served as part of a spread with raw condiments, such as green papaya salad.
So call larb what you want. I’ll just call it delicious.
For this recipe, I thought I’d try my hand at preparing my own version of larb, one that uses less-refined ingredients, especially for the sugar I see too often in other adapted recipes. I know enough about Thai cuisine to know that coconut sugar is much more traditional, and palm sugar even more so (if you can find a reputable source).
But even these options aren’t ideal if you want to limit your sugar consumption. The meat in larb highlights a fine balance of flavors, and it needs just a touch of sweetness to taste authentic. Feel free to use a little dash of low-glycemic sweetener, such as stevia or inositol, instead.
Here’s where I really break tradition: One of the most customary ingredients in larb is toasted Thai sticky rice. This is essentially sweet sticky rice, dry-cooked until golden, then ground to a coarse powder and stirred into the meat. It provides a toasty undernote and crunch, but I’ve never really found that it makes a substantial difference. At least I’ve never missed it, and I had no trouble removing one more step. Purists may balk, but delicious food is delicious food. And for a dish to be healthy, we don’t do white rice on my street!
You may serve this as a hearty meal for one or two or as part of a more substantial spread for a larger group along with an array of garnishes. Allow each guest to spoon the meat mixture into lettuce leaves, then add minced cucumber, fresh herbs, spicy mayo, and other condiments of your choosing.
Thai Style Minced Pork Salad with Spicy Mayo
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15–20 minutes
¼ cup homemade or quality store-bought mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sriracha or other hot sauce of choice, to taste
1 lb. minced pork
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
½ tablespoon fish sauce
½–2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (remember, the mayo is spicy)
¼ teaspoon coconut sugar, inositol, or other sweetener of choice, or 1 pinch stevia
Juice of 1 large lime and another lime, quartered (for serving)
1 small cucumber, diced
Large lettuce leaves (any type), to serve
1 small handful cilantro, roughly chopped
1 small handful mint leaves, roughly chopped
- Combine mayonnaise and hot sauce. Set aside in fridge.
- Cook pork in a large, shallow pan or wok until no longer pink. Add shallot, garlic, and green onion. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add fish sauce, crushed red pepper, coconut sugar or sweetener choice, and lime juice.
- Cook for a couple of minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more lime juice, red pepper, fish sauce, or sweetener to your preference. If mixture seems dry, add a splash of water and simmer for a minute or two.
- While mixture cooks, dice cucumber and set aside in a bowl. Peel away large leaves of lettuce, wash, shake dry, and set aside on a plate. Chop herbs. Add about half the herbs to the meat mixture and stir through. Set aside remaining herbs in small bowls
- To serve: Arrange meat mixture, lettuce leaves, chopped cucumber, herbs, lime wedges, and spicy mayo on serving table. Spoon hot meat mixture into leaves and garnish with your choice of condiments.
Image from Briana Goodall.