Monday, August 4, 2008

"Salad" with a funny name

Thailand has a funny idea of what constitutes a salad, honestly. The ones in my Thai cookbook involve rice, noodles, eggplant. seafood, pomelos, pork, beef and mushrooms, to name a few, but only a few even have lettuce, and only as a base or garnish, not as a major feature. Larp is no exception, as it calls for salad greens and mint leaves only as a garnish, and no other vegetables of significance. I first had it in Boston, as a takeaway from an extremely good restaurant called Brown Sugar Cafe - my friend D advised me that it was very spicy, so I was reluctant to try it, but I did anyway and enjoyed it. So when I found it in my magical blue cookbook, I couldn't resist making it for dinner (even though it has no vegetables in it).

Larp is a dish from Northern Thailand and is traditionally made with ground chicken, but I subbed in ground turkey because I find it has more flavour in and of itself. Combined with many aromatics - lemongrass, lime juice and leaves, chilies, fish sauce, coriander - it explodes with an unusual and exotic deliciousness. This is not "easy" Thai food, but more of a challenge to the taste buds, especially if you use all 4 chilies it calls for. (I cut that back to 2, and it was quite lively.)

We ate this at room temperature, accompanied by a side of quickly stir-fried sliced bell peppers and sweet onions. I couldn't think of a more authentic thing to have with this that involved lots of veggies, and I must say, it was very good indeed. Maybe next time I'll make another Thai "salad" to go with it. One involving squid, or maybe eggplants.

Turkey Larp

1 pound ground turkey
1 stalk lemongrass, woody upper stalk and tough base removed, leaving the fat part of the bottom, minced
2 lime leaves, minced
2 red chilies, seeded and minced
4 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp roasted ground rice*
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
salad greens and mint leaves to garnish

*To make the roasted ground rice, cook rice in a dry frying pan, shaking frequently, until golden brown, then grind to powder in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

In a large nonstick frying pan, cook the ground turkey over medium heat until browned and cooked through, breaking up into small bits. Drain off any excess fat; place in a bowl and combine with all other ingredients except garnishes. Toss to mix; allow to cool to room temperature. Garnish and serve with lime wedges for squeezing.

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