Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Laab, Larb, Lahb...(and summer rolls)

This is the name of a Thai "meat salad" type dish. I was first introduced to the idea on eGullet, a web-based forum for all things food-related. They love laab-larb-lahb on eGullet - there is a whole discussion thread (many pages long) focused just on this one dish. After reading this passionate discussion, I ordered some lahb gai (chicken lahb) from Sri Thai (the restaurant just down the street) to see what all the fuss was about.

Lahb is delicious! The base is meat - chicken, beef, or pork - that's been ground or minced very finely, then cooked. The meat is then dressed with the usual Thai suspects (lime juice, fish sauce, hot chilis, a bit of sugar) and tossed with much cilantro, mint, and garlic. It's served on lettuce leaves (very pretty!) and alongside many fresh veggies, designed to cut some of the potent heat from the bird's eye chilis. I reccomend using cabbage leaves to scoop up this delicacy.

Anyhoo, as I really enjoyed Sri Thai's version of lahb, I decided I should make it at home. I used a recipe from Kasma Loha-Unchit's website. She has written two very good thorough books explaining Thai food (you can find them on her website). They are great books, and although they contain recipes, they also contain lots more information about ingredients, techniques, and culture - enough that I would call them more "books about Thai food" than mere cookbooks. Fun to read, too.

The lahb I made was ok. It was tasty, but I was not wild about it. The flavors seemed...muddled is all I can think of. Or maybe it was just not Sri Thai's lahb. From the eGullet thread, though, I have gathered that there is no hard and fast way to make this dish, and many individual preferences for how it should taste (not to mention many individual spellings! Gotta love transliteration). The key is the dressing, the "four flavors" (salty, hot, sour, sweet) and getting those balanced correctly. Kasma's recipe calls for the chef to use her own taste and adjust the flavors accordingly - I don't think I did that as well as I could have - I mean, I've just started to figure out how to salt things properly, and that's only one flavor!

Well, in any case, it was good - just not GREAT. I was surprised to find that I liked Sri Thai's version better - I'll have to order it again and see how I can improve my own version of lahb gai. You can bet I will be making this again. It's good on the protein, but there's little-to-no fat, lots of good-for-you seasonings (it's great if you've got a cold or congestion - you'll just sweat it right out), and encourages the consumption of many fresh vegetables. I just need a couple of good sharp Martin Yan-style cleavers to mince the meat next time...my dull knives take forever! I would buy ground meat, but it's usually fattier than I'd like for this dish, I think.

Now, summer rolls - these are SUMMER rolls, not egg rolls, and so they are not fried but enclosed in rice paper wraps. Good, and quick, now that I've learned some technique. We made the traditional Viet Namese summer rolls (carrot, pork, bean sprouts, etc.) to go with our lahb on Saturday. I couldn't believe it - they sell rice paper wraps at King Soopers! Amazing what you can buy at the corner grocery these days. Anyhow, summer rolls are quick eats if you have leftover fillings sitting around in your fridge. Otherwise, the prep takes a bit of time...slicing and grating, etc.

My favorite summer rolls were actually an experiment made the next day. I had a little bit of leftover pork, and also some leftover cooked kale and garlic. I thought, "hey, pork and greens are a trad. southern thing, aren't they?". Minced up the pork, drained the pot likker off the greens, soaked a rice paper wrap, and...VOY-LAH, as they say in the non-Francophone west, a delicious Asian Soul Food delicacy. It was even tastier than I had hoped!


At 8:18 PM, Blogger lindaweaverfamily said...

Vegetables are great, but the Heart Start Defibrillator is better (At saving your life, that is ;) ).


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