When the boyfriend thinks of larb, he envisions eating it with a handful of warm sticky rice. This is, after all, how it is generally eaten in Thailand.
When I first learned about larb, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really associate it with anything. But as I learned more about this wonderful Thai salad, I definitely agree that it goes quite well with sticky rice. This belly-filling carbohydrate helps to transform the light and fresh salad into more of a meal. And when served with other components of a Thai meal like grilled chicken (gai yang) and green papaya salad (som tam), it works really well.
But as I’ve recently learned, larb also goes really well with a simple leaf of lettuce. It works in completely the opposite way as sticky rice, by playing up the lightness of the salad and turning it into a refreshing little bite-sized appetizer. The crispiness of the lettuce leaf balances the soft texture of the ground meat; the coolness of the lettuce counteracts the heat of the roasted chili flakes. It makes for a perfect little starting bite at parties and other gatherings.
Around here, I have to admit, larb generally ends up being served with a container of warm sticky rice as well as a plate of cool, crisp lettuce leaves. And somehow, this works too.
Chop your chicken finely with a sharp knife or food processor until it's ground.
Prepare your herbs by slicing the shallots and chopping the cilantro and mint.
Prepare your toasted rice by heating uncooked sticky rice on medium heat until it turns golden brown. Take off of heat and grind with mortar and pestle, or better yet, a coffee grinder until the rice particles are medium to fine in texture.
Heat a pan to high heat. Add 2 Tablespoons of water (it should sizzle immediately) and then add the ground chicken. Cook until it's done and then transfer to a serving dish.
Add the fish sauce and lime juice to the cooked chicken, starting with 1 Tablespoon of each and adjusting as needed according to your tastes. Then add the herbs, toasted rice, and chili flakes and mix everything together.
Place a spoonful of the warm larb in a piece of cool butter leaf lettuce and enjoy!