Follow Your Food: Thai Chicken Larb

In my last post I talked about how food is a vehicle to connect with culture outside of our own, and did a recipe on Thai Red Curry to bring some eastern flavor into our Kitchen, and the curry was just awesome. Also, this time of year there is a lot of fresh, brassicas growing, which means cooking dishes with sharp mustard flavors and Asian origin. So, naturally, this time around I wanted to continue the Thai trend. It is also the advent of regional spring lettuce season. Crisp, turgid lettuce leaves provide the perfect vessel for wrapping up a lot of flavor without soaking in juices. Now, I am not opposed to wiping my plate clean with a hearty piece chunk of baguette; but for the sake of the spring, the juicier, the better!

The lettuce I am using comes from this week’s produce box. These mixed varieties of romaine and red leaf come from James of Radicle Roots Farm, which is a sustainable market garden located just 12 miles outside of Bend. Their philosophy is simple, “healthy soil grows healthy food, which is the underlying principal for cultivating a reciprocally sustainable agrarian system. As first generation farmers, their goal is to bring vibrant energy and a passion for future generations to our local food system. I will write more about James and Radicle Roots at a later date, once I can get out to the farm with him and dig into his operation. But for now, let his lettuce speak as a testament to their quality care and fresh produce.

I was talking with James this Tuesday when he came by to drop off his produce for the week, and inspired me on the idea of using his lettuce as a wrap. So I set off to find a good recipe for lettuce wraps, and found one that incorporates Thai Larb (or Laap).  Larb is the national dish of Laos and has been incorporated into the culinary  tradition northern Thailand where there ay many people of Laotian descent. It combines raw or cooked minced meat, spices, mint, basil and is often served on lettuce leaves. It is traditionally a spicy dish, where spice adds complexity into the flavor of a dish. Southeast Asian meals derive their spice from capsicum chilis, cumin, garlic, and ginger. The watery lettuce leaves counterbalance the heat, and cool your palate at the end of a bite. This provides a rather refreshing physical experience to dining on a warm, sunny day. Since it is not quite pepper season in the high desert, I brought in spice with red chili flakes, garlic from Groundwork Organics and ginger from Bob at Tumalo Fish and Vegetable Farm. And because it is the aforementioned spring brassica season, I chopped up some of Windflower Farms asian greens to add some mustardy zest into the mix.

I pulled my recipe from one I found by Williams Sonoma. Due to what I had in the pantry, and what is available seasonally, I made some adjustments. No doubt it is good with or without amending the original format.

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tbs soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs rice vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar, since that is what is in my pantry)
  • 2 Tbs Asian sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs Asian fish sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and light green portions
  • 1 1/2 Tbs peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (I would also recommend finding a red thai chili to cook in)
  • 1 1/4 lb ground chicken (I used chicken thighs, which I diced up myself)
  • Lettuce leaves for serving
  • Bean sprouts and fresh cilantro and basil leaves for serving
    • I did not have either the basil or the sprouts, but I did add in sliced hakurei turnips from Windflower Farm as a garnish, which was spot on

Cooking Directions:

  1. In a bowl, stir together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice. Set aside.
  2. In a wok or large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the green onions, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add half the soy sauce mixture and cook 1 minute more.
  3. In a wok or large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the green onions, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add half the soy sauce mixture and cook 1 minute more.
  4. To serve, spoon about 3 Tbs. of the chicken mixture into a lettuce leaf, top with bean sprouts, cilantro and basil, and wrap the lettuce around the filling. But that is just the recommended serving style. To do this family style, I put all of the add ons on a few plates and allowed for self serve. Put the the remaining soy sauce mixture alongside in a small bowl for dipping

This dish is just amazing, and I cant even imagine how much better it would be if I had some basil, bean sprouts and thai chilis on hand…

 

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