Have you ever had larb? No, no, not lard. That’s pork fat. I mean larb. Sometimes it’s spelled laab or laap. It’s a kind of meat salad eaten in Laos and northern Thailand..It’s light, bright, and fiery hot–almost incandescently so–due to hot chilies. And it’s kind of sour due to citrus. It’s absolutely delicious. This Incandescent Lao Salad is not larb. It was, however, inspired by it. It’s light, bright, citrusy sour, and incandescently fiery.
Like Eating the Sun
Like eating the sun. I’ve heard this metaphor here and there. It’s like an homage to photosynthesis, conjuring ideas of warm sunny summer, and fresh vegetables chock full of the life giving bounty of the sun. In the case of this Incandescent Lao Salad this isn’t what I mean. Not at all. The metaphor I have in mind is more like putting a tiny piece of a star in your mouth. Yes, a star, like that ball of plasma at the center of our solar system.
This is a metaphor, mind you. You couldn’t actually do this. The surface of our sun is somewhere around 5,778 Kelvin (5,505 °C, 9,941 °F). Your oven doesn’t go that high. Not by a damn long shot. If it did it would probably burn your whole town down and melt a hole to the center of the earth. That’d pretty much be the end of your soufflet. Don’t quote me on this. I’m speculating. I’m not an astrophysicist. I’m a humanities guy with a vivid imagination.
A forkful of sun probably wouldn’t be quite as hot as the surface or our sun. Then again, that doesn’t make the metaphor any more practicable, mind you. It would still surely liquify your fork. Or maybe your fork would turn into a gas, I don’t know. I just know it wouldn’t be good. And if you somehow managed to put that bite of star in your mouth it would surely incinerate your entire head instantaneously. Poof! Vaporized in flames. Well that’s exactly what it feels like to eat Incandescent Lao Salad–at least if you’re bold with the chilies. And you know what? In the dead of winter, when it’s cold and gray outside, it burns in all the right ways.
I just ate an Incandescent Lao Salad with three whole serrano chilies in it. I didn’t remove the seeds or the inner membrane (where most of the heat is hiding). My nose is running. My eyes are watery (I dare not rub them). It’s summertime in my kitchen. I’m in pain but in a good way. This salad makes me happy.
Incandescent Lao Salad is not Larb
Larb can be made with pretty much any kind of meat. Chicken, beef, and pork are pretty common. It’s usually minced fairly finely, and can be served raw or cooked. They key things that make larb larb–is that it’s seasoned with lime juice and fish sauce, which gives it a wonderful salty-umami-sour favor. It’s also usually mixed with toasted rice, firey hot chilies, and intensely flavorful herbs, like mint and basil. It might be mixed with various vegetables as well (which is what lead me to Incandescent Lao Salad).
What you end up with is an intensely flavored meat dish that strikes the perfect balance of sour, salty, and spicy hot.
For this Incandescent Lao Salad I simply harnessed those flavors into a sliced carrot and cabbage salad with lots and lots of fresh herbs (I use mint, basil, and cilantro). You can use regular green cabbage if you like (I sometimes do), but purple cabbage makes for a gorgeous presentation. Also, purple foods like red cabbage (yes, ‘red’ cabbage is purple–go figure!) are full of phytonutrients called flavonoids, which are apparently good for you. They reputedly have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
I add the olive oil mainly for two reasons. First, this is an incredibly low fat salad. Ground turkey doesn’t have much fat, and that’s really the only fat source. I like a little more fat. Second, the oil is a vehicle for carrying flavors–including the heat. So if you don’t like the fiery chili heat to linger on your poor tongue, you could leave off the olive oil.
In all seriousness, if you’re not a fan of ridiculously hot food you can certainly cut back on the chilies to suit your taste. Still, the virtue of this salad is that it’s really all in your face with intensity. It’s bright and colorful, it’s intensely flavorful, and it’s hot! It’s a perfect salad for snapping out of the winter doldrums. Try it. I double-dog dare you. There. You’ve been double-dog dared!
- ½ pound Ground Turkey
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- ½ Red Onion, cut into thin strips
- 1 - 3 Serrano Chili Peppers cut into thin disks (adjust to taste)
- ¼ Cup Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
- 3 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- ½ Small Red Cabbage, thinly shredded into strips
- 1 Large Carrot, cut into julienne strips
- 1 Small Bunch of Fresh Mint Leaves, stems removed, coarsely chopped
- 1 Small Bunch of Fresh Basil Leaves, stems removed, coarsely chopped
- 1 Small Bunch of Fresh Cilantro Leaves, stems removed, coarsely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- ½ Cup Peanuts, coarsely chopped
- Cook the ground turkey in a non-stick skillet, breaking it up into tiny pieces, until just cooked through. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, place the onions and chili peppers in a bowl and add the lime juice and fish sauce. Coat everything well (the acid will “cook” the onion so it’s not so strong tasting). Set aside to marinade for 10 - 15 minutes.
- Add all of the remaining ingredints except for the olive oil and the peanuts to a large bowl. Add the cooked turkey and the onion mixture. Mix well.
- Drizzle the olive oil on top and serve with chopped peanuts.