I was surprised to find myself fall in love with salads while vacationing in Thailand. Yes, salads. I thought I would be eating noodle dishes galore, but I found the most delicious salads almost everywhere we went.
The salads are not what you would typically expect from an American salad … lettuce, toppings, etc. Instead, larb (or laab) dishes were made with some type of minced meat, vegetables, fresh herbs, and chili peppers. What I loved about the salads was the contrast in flavor and brightness of each dish. Whether it was pork, chicken, or fresh fish, the soft and succulent meat contrasted so nicely with the sweetness and acidity of fish sauce, chili peppers, and lime juice. Then add the earthy sparkle of fresh herbs and the crunch of peanuts … yes! One bite of a Thai salad encapsulates so many of my favorite flavors and textures.
And to top it off, these dishes are very easy to put together on a busy weeknight (score!), healthy, and feel light and bright on the tummy. I’m not exactly sure what that means to you, but they make me feel light even when I eat a huge plate. Does that make sense? Try it and you will see. You can also easily substitute the pork for chicken, turkey, fish, tempeh … you get the picture. I usually serve with Boston lettuce leaves to wrap. In Thailand they were often served with a side of rice and raw vegetables. Yum. yum. yum.
- 2 limes, 1 juiced and 1 cut into wedges for serving
- 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha (chile sauce), or to taste
- Olive/vegetable oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 small shallots, minced
- 1 large jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeded and minced
- 2 pounds ground pork
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup chopped mint
- 1/2 cup chopped basil
- 1 cup chopped salted peanuts
- 1 large head Boston or other leafy lettuce, separated into leaves
- In a small bowl, whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar and the Sriracha.
- In a large skillet, heat a splash of olive oil or vegetable oil until hot. Add the garlic, shallots, and pepper and cook until tender and fragrant, a minute or two. Add the pork and cook on medium-high heat, stirring to break up the meat, until no pink remains, about 7 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and drain any liquid. Place the pork in a large bowl and stir in the lime juice mixture. Let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the fresh herbs and peanuts. Taste and add fresh ground S/P if needed. You can adjust heat by adding more Sriracha or peppers.
- Serve with lime and lettuce leaves. Scoop the pork salad into lettuce leaves, squeeze with lime, fold, bite … and enjoy!