I’m still working my way through my favourite recipes from last year’s travels. While I know I will never have the patience to make a true Vietnamese Pho Ga or figure out the balance of salt and sweet in a proper Phad Thai, I love this little Laotian recipe. Luang Prabang will long remain one of my favourite places on earth, nestled in a valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, the sleepy town is famed for it’s heritage, beauty and chilled out vibe. After visiting several of the 33 gilded wat temples, trekked the UNESCO recognised natural beauty and experienced the vibrant street markets, relaxing riverside with fabulous food was the ideal evening.
Laotian food tends to be wonderfully simple. Even the higher end hotels will provide simple breakfasts of eggs, sweet breads and tropical fruits with strong black coffee, as opposed to the international feasts often seen in Thailand. But even then that was very different from a traditional Lao breakfast, which is primarily sticky rice. In fact, the Lao eat more sticky rice than any other people in the world. Sticky rice is considered the essence of what it means to be Lao. Hence this staple provides the base for most meals, accompanied by ample fresh herbs, fiery chilli and citrus flavours usually dry, without many sauces. Larb is the perfect example, with plenty of lime, fish sauce, fresh herbs and onion to offset the salty flavour of the minced meat.
Ingredients (to serve 4 at least)
- 750g lean minced chicken or turkey
- 100ml lime juice
- 50ml fish sauce (nam pla)
- 1/2 tbsp sugar or honey
- 1 large fresh chilli, thinly sliced
- 1.5 tsp bouillon powder in 2 tbsp hot water (stock)
- 2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
- 1 small handful chopped coriander
- 1 small handful fresh mint (or 1 tbsp mint sauce)
- 1 inch piece of cucumber, sliced into tiny batons
- 2 sliced spring onions
- ‘Thai-style’ sticky rice – around 50g per person
First, chop everything up and have it ready for cooking as this recipe cooks fast and is best served very fresh. Start cooking the rice according to packet instructions, either steaming or I recommend a rice cooker with equal rice to water plus a splash of rice vinegar and a pinch of sugar.
For the chicken, place a large wok or frying pan over a high heat and and add the stock. Bring to boil to reduce by half then add the mince. Stir welt remove any lumps, then allow to boil away any liquid. Cook until the liquid has reduced and the meat has browned, then add the red onion for one minute to soften but not cook. Turn off the heat.
In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, fresh lime juice, sugar/honey and spring onion then pour over the hot mince and onion. Stir well, then add the fresh herbs and cucumber. Serve immediately on a small bed of sticky rice.