This herby, fragrant, beloved Thai salad (laab or larb) makes a complete meal with rice and a fried egg on top. Although this version uses pork (‘moo’ in Thai), you can use chicken, beef, or minced mushrooms if you prefer. The flavor comes from fresh herbs, lime juice, and spice from chili powder. As we have done in adapting this recipe to our tastes, start with this basic recipe and shift as you go. We like it spicy with lots of lime.
Early last week I was in Prachinburi, two and half hours’ drive to the east of Bangkok, near Cambodia. It is a vast, elegant province of rice fields and quiet communities in which it was easy to imagine that neighbors might have known neighbors for generations.
We made our way back towards Bangkok at the end of the day, driving past night markets full of food and families, circles of children hatching schemes, and people gathered outdoors to watch the evening traffic and gossip.
I am now, more than two years into our stay in Thailand, familiar with this sensation of the day closing under the hazy orange glow of a tropical sun. It is a time of day that feels the same, I would imagine, in many parts of the world. A time when we slow down and turn our thoughts toward more personal pursuits.
Driving across the country on my return from Prachinburi, I felt the simultaneous sense of newness and familiarity that comes on so often here. There is a balance in our lives these days that allows us to hold tight to our traditions while embracing something entirely new. I feel it as I watch Frank at the stovetop making laab moo with as much ease as he once assembled a turkey sandwich.
These experiences have become a fundamental part of who we are. I imagine that years from now, pieces of this life we lived in Thailand will be an inextricable part of the lives of our children as well. They will never think twice when they smell the familiar aroma of lemongrass and mint while Frank makes laab.
Experiencing a different culture, whether for a few days or months or years, makes you understand that there are more things in common in all our lives than different. We all let down our guard a bit as the light in the sky shifts to dusk.
We all pick up bits and pieces from everyday experience and assemble them into our life’s story.
Laab Moo (Thai Salad with Pork, Herbs, and Lime)
- 1 pound (460g) ground pork
- 1 cup cilantro leaves
- 2 green onions (scallions)
- 15 mint leaves
- 1 clove shallot, finely chopped
- 2 stalks lemongrass, just the bottom 2 inches, outer leaves removed and discarded
- 3 kaffir lime leaves, very thinly sliced
- 1 Tablespoon toasted rice powder
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
- juice squeezed from 1 and 1/2 limes
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (adjust for preferred spice)
- 1 cup cooked white rice
- 4 fried eggs
- lime wedges
- Transfer the pork to a medium saucepan or wok. Heat the pan, with the pork, slowly over medium heat until the pork begins to sizzle. Cook the pork, stirring to break it up into small pieces, until just cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Strain off excess liquid. Transfer pork to a mixing bowl and allow to cool.
- While the pork cools, finely chop the cilantro, green onions, mint and shallot. Thinly slice the lemongrass stalks and kaffir lime leaves.
- Stir cilantro, green onions, mint, shallot, lemongrass, kaffir leaves, toasted rice powder, fish sauce, and lime juice into pork. Add crushed red pepper, to taste, and stir.
- Taste the laab and adjust the seasoning to your liking. We often add an extra pinch of salt, lime juice and / or red pepper flakes after the initial seasoning.
- Serve immediately with rice, a fried egg and a few extra lime wedges.
Love laab? Check out our version with chicken.