A Thai fusion larb salad, here with red California grapes. The salad sits on a bed of jasmine rice (photo © Grapes From California).
 Larb can be mixed in a bowl or served in separate ingredients on a plate (photo CC BY 2.0).
 Fusion: larb in lettuce cups (photo © SunBasket).
 Ground chicken (above), beef or pork are typically used. Duck, fish and mushrooms can be substituted (photo © Good Eggs).
 While any color of grapes will supply the flavor, red grapes bring color to a “beige” dish (photo © Good Eggs).
 If you don’t like the conventional green cabbage, you can substitute the milder bok choy, Chinese cabbage (photo © Good Eggs).
Do you like the dishes of Southeast Asia for their lively mix of flavors—chiles, cilantro, lime, mint, peanuts and rice vinegar?
Then a larb salad might be just up your alley.
WHAT IS LARB?
Larb, also spelled laap, larp, lahb or laab, is a Thai or Laotian ground meat salad.
Vegan versions are made with mushrooms (portabellas have a meaty flavor). We’ve seen American vegan recipes that use minced beets, carrots or other root vegetables.
The meat can be served raw or cooked; the dish is served at room temperature.
Pork larb is the unofficial national dish of Laos, and larb is popular in the Isan region of northeast Thailand, where the majority of the population is of Lao ethnicity.
Chicken is more common in other areas of Thailand.
Variations of larb also appear in the Yunnan province of China and in parts of Myanmar.
How To Pronounce “Larb”
The Thai word isn’t actually pronounced “larb,” but “laaaap,” with the pitch of the voice falling during the vowel sound.
Don’t pronounce the “r.” The “b” at the end is more like an unvoiced “p.”
Larb is most often made with beef, chicken, duck, fish, mushrooms or pork. The meat can be either raw or cooked.
The meat is minced and mixed with chiles, mint and assorted vegetables.
Toasted sticky rice powder, khao khoua, is also a very important component of the dish—but isn’t in this recipe, since few of us would have other uses for it.
Other traditional ingredients include fish sauce, fresh other herbs, lime juice and fish sauce*.
Typical sides are sticky rice and raw or fresh vegetables.
Some recipes substitute lettuce for the cabbage.
As is true everywhere, different regions incorporate local spices and other ingredients, to create their own variations on the dish.
RECIPE: CHICKEN LARB WITH GRAPES
This recipe (photo #1) is based on classic larb ingredients: ground chicken seasoned with chiles, cilantro, lime, mint and fish sauce.
Grapes From California, the consumer website of the California Table Grape Commission, made this recipe more accessible for American cooks:
White rice substitutes for sticky rice the difference).
Grapes and red onion added for color.
The grapes and onion introduce sweet and pungent notes that complement the citrusy herbs, the heat from the chiles and the savory umami of the fish sauce.
Instead of serving larb on a bed of rice, you can serve the rice on the side for a deconstructed look (photo #2).
You can switch the white rice for another grain—for example, if you prefer brown rice or quinoa.
Instead of mixing with cabbage, you can use the meat filling for lettuce wraps, or as an entrée salad on a bed of Asian greens.
Other possible variations:
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cups halved red grapes (photo #4)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground chicken (photo #3)
1-2 Thai chiles, thinly sliced (substitute the less hot serrano chiles)
2 teaspoons fish sauce*
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint leaves
4 cups steamed jasmine rice
2 cups shredded green cabbage (photo #5—for color, we substituted red cabbage†)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped roasted and salted peanuts
Prep time is 20 minutes, cook time is 10 minutes.
Ingredients For 4 Servings
1. COMBINE the combine onion, grapes and rice vinegar; in medium bowl set aside.
2. HEAT the oil in a large skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until just cooked through, about 6-7 minutes.
3. SEASON the chicken with salt and pepper. Stir in the chilies, fish sauce, lime juice, cilantro and mint.
4. DIVIDE the rice between four plates and top with the chicken, cabbage, marinated onions and grapes; sprinkle with peanuts.
*Use whatever fish sauce you have (except for Worcestershire). There are different types of fish sauce, each country combining its own types of fish and seasonings. For example: Bagoóng in the Philippines, colatura di alici in Italy, naam plaa and pla-ra in Thailand, nuoc mam in Vietnam, padaek in Laos, and Worcestershire sauce in the U.K.
†Red cabbage contains 10 times more antioxidant vitamins than green cabbage. These are cancer-fighting flavonoids.