Larb (or laap) is a Laotian dish traditionally made with minced meat (either raw or cooked) mixed with lots of chilli, lime juice, fish sauce, herbs, ground toasted rice and other aromatics. It is often very, very spicy and was one of our favourite dishes to eat with a side of sticky rice when we were travelling in Northern Thailand and Laos. Somehow I find eating really spicy food in tropical climes makes you feel cooler, especially if you have a cold beer to sip alongside.
This is our vegetarian version of the dish, using mushrooms instead of meat and replacing the fish sauce with soy. We developed this recipe for our Return to Asia Supper Club and served it as a side alongside Laotian Festival BBQed Chicken, Hue-Style Aubergine, Spicy Carrot Som Tam-style Salad and Sticky Rice. But it would definitely make a great veggie main course served with rice.
The most important thing when making the recipe is to fry the mushroom in batches, don’t crowd the pan as the mushrooms will stew and you want them golden, soft and slightly crisp – not watery and grey. You also really do need the toasted rice powder for flavour and texture (all the instructions on how to make it are in the recipe).
Serves 6 as a side, 3-4 as a main
20g sticky rice, roasted and ground
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or more as needed)
500g mixed mushrooms, sliced
2 red chillies, finely chopped (or lots more to taste)
2 inch piece galangal or ginger, finely chopped
2 sticks lemongrass, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce or fish sauce if you don’t need it to be vegetarian
1 Lime, juice only
80g Cos-style lettuce, sliced
30g coriander, chopped
20g mint, chopped
Heat a frying pan over medium heat and dry roast the uncooked sticky rice for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned, tossing it occasionally. (Add a dried chilli, a stick of lemongrass or a couple of lime leaves for a more fragrant flavour). Remove from the heat. Allow to cool (and remove the aromatics if using them). Pound the toasted rice in a pestle and mortar or whizz up in a spice grinder, but not too fine – you want it a bit crunchy
Chop the mushrooms into 1 cm cubes. Finely chop the chilli, galangal/ginger, lemongrass, garlic and shallots.
Heat up the sunflower oil in a large frying pan or wok over a high heat. Cook the mushrooms in batches, (you don’t want to crowd the pan as they will stew rather than fry), until soft and golden brown. Use more oil if needed. Take the mushrooms out of the pan and set aside. Heat a little more oil over a medium heat and stir fry the aromatics (chilli, galangal, lemongrass, garlic and shallots) for a few minutes until softening and releasing their smell.
Add the mushrooms back into the pan, season with most of the soy sauce and cook for a few minutes.
Once cooked, take off the heat and allow to cool.
Once cool, mix together with the lettuce and herbs and stir through the rice powder. Season with lime juice and adjust the soy sauce to taste.