Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Thai Pork Salad (Larb Moo)

Thai cuisine as it is most often proffered here in the States seems to be composed mostly of soupy curries in rainbow hues -- redolent in their coconut milk and spices -- and of the old standby Tom Yum Goong, a lemongrass and galangal flavored broth with shrimp and lime leaves. Alas, good those these dishes no doubt are, Thai restaurants do themselves a disservice (in much the same way as American "Chinese" restaurants) by not offering up a larger array of dishes from such a complex and aromatic cuisine.

Having spent close to 6 years in Southeast Asia, I often crave the sort of food that could commonly be had for less than $1 on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, or Bangkok. Fortunately, I have access to the very best source for authentic recipes in existence -- my housekeeper Nong. While Nong is not a gourmet cook, and should be let near the kitchen only with supervision, when she keeps it simple she can produce Bangkok street food par excellence. I try to tinker with her recipes very little... the tastes are simple, yet sublime, and impart the quintessence of Thai cuisine -- a marriage of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy that explodes on the taste buds and causes a gentle sweat.

Thai Pork Salad (Larb Moo)


1 lb. lean ground or minced pork
4 tbs Thai fish sauce (Nam Pla)
2 tbs roasted rice powder*
1 tbs roasted chili flakes (for three star hot -- more or less to taste)
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp palm sugar (substitute brown if you can't find palm)
3-4 spigs fresh spearmint, chopped
2-3 shallots (Thai red shallots are best, but French shallots or even red onion will do in a pinch), thinly sliced
½" galangal**, minced (optional)
2 small Thai chillies (Prik Kee Noo), thinly sliced (optional)
2 Kaffir lime leaves, jullianed (optional)

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the ground pork for approx. 5 mins.
  2. Meanwhile, chop and add the rest of the ingredients to a bowl, mixing with a whisk to get all the flavors good and happy.
  3. Strain the pork, toss with the dressing, and serve with steamed jasmine rice.

* To make roasted rice powder, take about a ¼ cup of uncooked rice and heat it in a dry pan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Once the rice has turned toasty brown, blend in a food processor or mortar and pestle into a coarse powder.

** Galangal is sometimes referred to as blue ginger. It can be substituted with young fresh ginger, but the taste is quite different. Look for galangal, along with Thai chillies, authentic jasmine rice, palm sugar, and fish sauce in your local Asian market, or in better supermarkets (though you'll probably pay more for less).