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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Comfort Food

So the old back has not been doing very well for the last few days, and meals around here have been low-impact affairs centered around foods you can put between slices of store-bought sandwich bread. But tonight, aches be damned, I wanted something more interesting, so I made this Isan (northeastern) Thai dish from an old Saveur (June/July 2003), and it's making me very happy! It's a room-temperature larb—spicy and salty, with cooling mint. And very lime-y, thanks to the big bag of extra-juicy limes Clare brought over when she and her kids came to play on Saturday. (More about that fun day—Okrapalooza—later, I hope.) The original recipe called for minced grilled catfish, but I just thawed some lean ground pork and cooked it in a skillet until there were lots of crisp bits. I made the same dish earlier this summer with chopped leftover roast chicken, which was fine, but not as good as the pork, texture-wise.

This may actually be the best thing I've ever made, and it's one of the easiest very good Thai dishes I know of. The recipe as published was called Laab Pla Duk (Minced Grilled Catfish Salad), but with ground pork it seems more like what's commonly called larb gai* on menus.
Larb (?)

Adapted from Saveur
Serves 2 to 4

1 pound lean ground pork
1 tablespoon rice (jasmine would be best, but I used brown rice)
6 to 10 dried red chiles (I used 6 chiles de arbol, but the original specifies 10 Thai chiles)
Juice of 3 limes
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
4 kaffir lime leaves, very thinly sliced
About 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
About 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (or use culantro or saw-tooth cilantro—mine died when we went out of town and it wasn't watered)
5 shallots, thinly sliced

In a heavy skillet, cook the pork over medium-high heat until no pink remains; drain if it gives off a lot of fat. Cook for about 5 minutes longer, until crisp and well-browned in places, breaking up the meat with a spoon. Transfer to a colander and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in a dry pan over medium heat, toast the rice until golden brown, then transfer to a spice grinder and let cool a bit. Grind to a coarse powder and put in a large bowl. Return the pan to medium heat and add the chiles; toast until blackened in spots, then transfer to the spice grinder, coarsely chop, and add to the rice.

Add all the remaining ingredients and the pork and toss to combine. Taste and add more lime juice or fish sauce if necessary—it should be very tangy and salty. Serve at room temperature.
This, incidentally, is our newly red table, which we've decided we like in the kitchen, even though it's in a weird position right next to the desk. The bug and I have our breakfast here now, and have a pretty bouquet of matching red spider lilies on it. In the evenings, I sit at the table and flip through magazines or something while Mr. Chalmers sits kind of opposite me at the desk (which he calls the computer lab) and we engage in veep speculation. The bug wanders in and out, as do the dogs.

*Edit: Larb gai, of course, being made with chicken, not pork.

1 comment:

clare said...

i will totally try this ..it looks fantastic...as does your red table...i am thinking it was foresight to paint it such a great backdrop color for foods! i am so sorry your back is hurting!!!!