The boyfriend: “Hey, I have a great idea!”
Me: “Oh yeah?”
The boyfriend: “Yeah! We should start a Thai food blog!”
Me: “Oh, okay…”
It sounded like a good idea, a fun project to keep me busy outside of work, so sure, why not? Clearly, I had no idea of what I was signing on to do at the time! However, I also didn’t realize how many positive things would come out of this quick decision.
One of the most obvious positives of learning to cook Thai food at home is that it has helped to demystify this cuisine for me (at least a little bit). Prior to starting on this food journey, the boyfriend would introduce me to a random Thai dish and I’d love it, but have no idea of what was in it or how it was made.
Larb (pronounced laab) was one of those dishes. I was presented with a plate of luke-warm ground meat with some chopped herbs, dried chilis, and a good amount of what looked like grits mixed into it. As I eyed it suspiciously, the boyfriend said, “Just try it… it’s good.” And as this was towards the beginning of our relationship and I was aiming to please, I did just as he said — and was very pleasantly surprised! This unfamiliar salad made of ground meat was absolutely delicious!
Although I was hooked on larb after that first taste, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was that made the dish so delicious. But now that I have a better idea of what this cuisine is about, I also have a better sense of what makes larb so good.
At its core, this Thai salad really is just a mixture of ground meat and herbs, which doesn’t sound terribly appealing on its own. But I’ve learned that it’s the other flavors – the salty, sour, and spicy components – that make this dish so delicious. The lime juice hits your mouth with a burst of sourness, followed by fish sauce with all of its umami-filled saltiness, and finally the chilis with their lingering punch of heat. And then you feel the pleasant texture of what turns out to be toasted rice powder, not grits, combined with the meat and herbs and oh, it really does make for such a delightful taste!
I’m so pleased to have figured out what’s in this salad and how to make it, that it makes very frequent appearances on my dinner menu. I tend to make my larb with a lean cut of ground chicken, but a fattier cut of pork is more common in Thailand. To my lean meat, I sometimes add in coarsely-chopped beech mushrooms that mimic the slipperiness of the fat which would be found in the traditional Thai dish without the guilt, which is a variation that the boyfriend and I both love.
But if the boyfriend hadn’t suggested (and I so easily agreed to) starting this blog, larb may very well have remained a mystery to me. I’m really glad that’s not the case… and I’m pretty sure that he is too!