Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fresh Herb and "Chicken" Larb with Sweet Mango Sticky Rice (E.A.T. World: Laos)

It's been great to see E.A.T. World taking off across the blogs, and I've enjoyed travelling with everyone!  Our ongoing mission: to explore new food worlds, to seek out new ingredients and new recipes, to boldly go where I almost certainly have not gone before.  Like Laos!
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My alphabet soup approach to E.A.T. World brings us back to southeast Asia, for an introduction to larb, sometimes called the "national dish" of Laos.  Larb (or laap, larp, laab, or lob...it's one of those words with a slippery spelling as translated to English) is a salad of meat, fresh herbs, lime juice, hot peppers, and an abundance of fresh flavors.

This recipe comes from Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America.  The Hmong are an ethnic group from mountainous regions of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and southern China, and the authors of Cooking from the Heart say nobody makes a better larb than Hmong cooks.  I've been curious about Hmong cooking and culture since getting to know some awesome Hmong students in a summer program a few years ago - there is a large Hmong population in Minnesota, especially in the Twin Cities.  This cookbook nicely combines recipes with information about Hmong tradition and culture in Laos and America. 

Vegan Chik'n strips from Morningstar Farms are the meat substitute here, although nicely marinated or seasoned tempeh, seitan, or extra firm tofu would be really good too.  The flavors in this salad are so bold that whatever protein you use will be instantly infused with larby goodness and taste spectacular.  Promise. 

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Regarding all those flavors, this salad is a showcase for a few ingredients I've never used before - Sichuan peppercorns, roasted rice powder, and galangal.  Sichuan peppercorns can be tricky to find because they are quite often not labelled as Sichuan peppercorns, rather "dried pepper corn" like the packet above, or other variations on that theme.  If you're not sure, ask the folks are your local Asian market, like I did.  They have a light citrus scent, and a reputation for causing mild numbness on the tongue.  I toasted these and ground them before adding to the larb, and used a fairly generous amount.  The effect, and I mean this in the most complimentary way, is a little what licking a battery must feel like.  My whole mouth felt all tingly and sparkly after a few larb lettuce rolls.  Really worth checking out, if you haven't tried Sichuan peppercorns before.

Regarding battery-licking, I'm sure you can find a lot of videos of kids doing that on Youtube, if you want to make yourself wish the Internet was never invented.
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Above, from left to right:  Galangal, lemongrass, mint, culantro, and green onions.
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Besides the process of collecting and chopping all of the ingredients, larb is pretty straight-forward to make.  The Chik'n strips were marinated and lightly sauteed in rice wine and lime juice.  To this, I added all kinds of good stuff:  lots of fresh mint and cilantro leaves, fresh culantro, green onions, a red jalapeno pepper, lemon zest, galangal, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, white pepper, more lime juice, and lemongrass.  A few spoonfuls of roasted rice powder, pictured earlier, is added at the end.  It adds a crumbly, sticky texture, and a distinctive and pleasing smell.  You can make your own rice powder too, but it's really cheap to buy.
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Once everything is tossed together, the preferred way to eat larb is in lettuce wraps.  They're really onto something here, as the cool and crisp lettuce wrap is the perfect contrast to the chaotic jumble of flavors inside.  Chaotic might be exactly the wrong word though, because all of these flavors come together in what might be better described as a chorus in perfect harmony.  My ability to come up with a metaphor to describe what larb tastes like ends here, so I can only recommend you try it yourself sometime.  I used butter lettuce, but Boston or good old iceberg lettuce would be fine too.

I'm not reprinting the entire recipe from Cooking from the Heart here, since I'm hesitant to copy recipes out of cookbooks without permission.  There are a lot of larb recipes online, so google away...every one is a little different, so you can adapt to your tastes.
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To settle things down after larb, here's a simple dessert of sweetened sticky rice with coconut milk and mango, also from Cooking from the Heart.  I'm new to sticky rice too, and I screwed this up by overcooking the rice.  It ended up as sweet sticky rice porridge, still pretty tasty, though the rice was supposed to hold together in a neat ball on the plate.  Whatever :)


Trinity (of haiku tofu) said...

Holy cow that sticky rice and mango looks fantastic. And the larb look so fresh and delicious, makes me long for the light eating of summer. I'm loving your E.A.T. adventure! Can't wait to give larb a shot!

Theresa said...

There is a thai place here that does a killer tofu laab salad, I am so in love with it. And your sticky rice looks great! When I was in Thailand a few years ago I ate so much Kau-neow Mamuang, it was the first thing I learned to translate and one of the few bits of thai language I still remember.

Tiffany said...

I love the E.A.T. World concept. Everything here looks fantastic! Larb sounds tasty and is not something I've had before, so I'll have to try it sometime.

Mihl said...

I recently saw a documentary on TV about the training of Hmong by the CIA for the "secret war" in Laos. I hadn't heard about the Hmong before. It's really funny how you have never heard about certain things and then they pop up everywhere.

I really love mango sticky rice and the larb looks awesome, too.

two vegan boys said...

Wow. This looks so good. You have some serious cooking skills.

kmouse said...

That larb is beautiful! It is also a popular dish in Thai cuisine. I'll have to try this version.

Jenn Shagrin said...

Thanks, Mike! I too remember my last fast food experience at a not-to-be-named location. I went vegetarian, decided against it, ate some fast food and went right back to veggie again. Maybe I should thank the restaurant for pushing me in the right direction :)

This larb looks so delicious and refreshing!

River - The Crafty Kook said...

You are so adventurous with your cooking! Thank you for the trip to Laos and the delicious (tongue numbing!) food. I have never eaten Sichuan peppercorns, or licked a battery, but now I am curious... about the peppercorns, not the batteries! :D

The larb looks awesome, I love that it's wrapped in lettuce leaves. And the rice/mango dessert looks beautiful! Sign me up for a couple of larb wraps and some sticky rice goodness, please! :)

I used to love those Morningstar Farms Chik'n strips until they changed the recipe and it ruined it for me. Now they have the regular Chik'n strips and the Chik'n strips "made with natural ingredients". It's confusing and I'm not even sure which one I like (if any!) anymore. Also, they added milk and eggs to their veggie crumbles that used to be my favorite! GRRR!! Why did they have to mess with something that was already good?

Casey said...

I love how you introduce all your recipes with a little bit of history. It makes for an interesting read and I am learning so much about other cultures and the way they eat. This recipe is definitely one I will have to try!

The Voracious Vegan said...

This looks fantastic, I love all the fresh, bright flavors and herbs. What a beautiful dish.

Honeymoon bed breakfast said...

This dessert is simply inspiring and everyone should try it at least once in their lives however its test is not precisely the same as the once I eaten at restaurant, moreover it explains the basic technique on how to make it.

Best Regards,

M. Acai said...

I love these concept it is really different from others and i like the taste of these dish.I also fall in love with your E.A.T.

somchai said...

Interesting that you chose what is by definition a meat dish, to adapt to vegan.

Laap typicaly not only uses meat but many bits we in the west throw away, skin sliced thin, liver, intestines, and innards for flavor, and I guess if there's one thing that would define Lao laap from it's Thai cousins it would be padek, the fermented chunks of fish that have been left to rot in a clay bowl for a year or longer.

Laap is by definition a food that is overpoweringly strong in it's earthy meat.

An unusual choice to adapt to vegan food.

Carissa said...

All of this looks SO good!

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