Thai time with pork larb

PORK LARB: It takes less than 10 minutes, making it a winner in any busy household, and it is filled with flavour.
MICHAEL BRADLEY
PORK LARB: It takes less than 10 minutes, making it a winner in any busy household, and it is filled with flavour.

This week's recipe is rather light on ingredients from the garden. It is, however, the perfect meal whatever the temperature and wherever you are in the country. It hints of warmer climes, yet is soothing and warming, falling perfectly into the comfort-food genre.

It has a strange-sounding name, larb or lap, but it has become my undisputed hero in the world of Thai food. Very roughly translated, larb means "meat salad" and is usually served at room temperature. It can be made with chicken, pork, fish or duck mince. Technically from Laos, larb seems to have been absorbed into Thai food from this neighbouring culture. In Thailand it is part of Isan culture (northeastern Thailand), which has its own cuisine of the same name.

On a recent trip to Thailand, I was lucky enough to be taught how to make this dish by a fantastic chef at the hotel where we were staying. His larb is lightly flavoured and has a secret and surprising ingredient of crushed, toasted raw rice. It takes less than 10 minutes, making it a winner in any busy household, and it is filled with flavour. Because it is usually served at room temperature there is no need to worry if you get distracted and leave it on the bench for a bit. This comes in handy when you are making a selection of Thai style dishes to share. To be fair I don't usually serve other dishes at home with this, but if you want to be very authentic, serve with one or two other dishes to share, such as steamed greens drizzled in oyster sauce or a green curry.

Keep watching out for limes at a good price. They are a few months away at best price, but are heading in the right direction. If you need lime juice out of season, look for pasteurised 100 per cent New Zealand lime juice in the chiller at specialty food stores. Add lime juice only at the end of cooking, as boiling makes it bitter and it can curdle cream and imitation coconut milk.

Pork larb

1 1/2 T uncooked jasmine rice
1 T oil (peanut, soy or canola)
500g free-range pork mince
1 1/2 T fish sauce
1 1/2T freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 T sugar
1 chilli, chopped
Half a small cucumber
1 small bunch coriander
1 spring onion, chopped
Handful of mint leaves or Thai basil leaves
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Cooked rice to serve, preferably sticky rice

1. In a dry frying pan, toast the rice until it is opaque and browned. Add it to a pestle and mortar or crush it with a rolling pin.

2. Heat the oil in a pan and add the mince. Cook while stirring until the meat is no longer pink in the middle, but not brown on the outside, about five to seven minutes.

3. Stir in the toasted rice. Combine the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar, then stir through the hot mince.

4. Serve with chopped chilli, sliced cucumber, coriander, spring onion, mint, lettuce and rice.

Preparation time: five minutes.

Cooking time: seven to 10 minutes.

Serves: four.

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Sunday Star Times