Winter is the perfect time for a little bit of culinary self-care, but what’s your go-to comfort food? Is it an alarmingly large plate of carb-laden noodles? A sizeable tub of chocolate-swirled ice cream? A pizza smothered with every topping imaginable? When we think of the meals we find most comforting, we usually call to mind foods that are less than healthy. But in Laos, the ultimate comfort food is one that nourishes both the body and the soul – and it’s easy to make in your very own kitchen.
Larb is the unofficial national dish of Laos, and it brings together a symphony of classic Lao flavours. It’s often described as a ‘meat salad’, but larb looks nothing like the sad pile of leaves you might force down on some austere detox diet.
Rather, it’s a dish loaded with chicken, beef or pork that has been punched up with lime juice, fish sauce, chilli, toasted ground rice and lots of fresh herbs. In Laos and Thailand, the meat is sometimes served raw, with the acid from the lime juice gently ‘cooking’ the meat.
You’re more likely to find the cooked version at your favourite Lao restaurant in Chelmsford: in this preparation, the meat is cooked with garlic, ginger and lemongrass for maximum flavour. Served in lettuce leafs and eaten with sticky rice, it’s a fresh, vibrant comfort food that’s perfect for a quick weeknight meal.
At Banana Tree, we love making deliciously authentic dishes with traditional Lao ingredients. From the subtle heat of our Chilli, Ginger and Basil Stir Fry to our slightly sweet, tangy Spicy Green Papaya Salad, Lao flavours provide the foundation for many of our dishes, and we can’t wait for you to try them all. But for those evenings when you want to whip up a moreish, mood-lifting dinner at home, give this recipe for Pork Larb a go. It might just replace ice cream and pizza as your ultimate comfort food!
Pork Larb, inspired by Banana Tree
For the larb
2 Tbsp. uncooked sticky rice
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 knob of ginger, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
500g pork mince
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Fresh chopped herbs (Thai basil, mint, coriander)
Cooked sticky rice
Gem lettuce leaves
Make the toasted rice powder:
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the rice until lightly browned and golden. Grind into a fine powder in a food processor or spice grinder and set aside.
Make the larb:
Heat the oil in the skillet. Add the garlic, lemongrass, shallots, ginger and chilli and cook until golden and fragrant. Add the pork mince and cook, breaking it up as you stir, until the pork is cooked through (add a bit of water to the pan if the pork starts to stick). Transfer the cooked pork to a large bowl and let cool for five minutes.
Add the sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, herbs and toasted rice powder to the cooked pork and toss well. Serve by spooning some of the pork mixture into lettuce leaves, with lime wedges and sticky rice alongside.