Fish Larb is a bright fresh salad of lightly blanched fish and fresh green herbs mixed with lime juice, lemongrass, fish sauce, shallots and chilis. Everything is mixed together to achieve a magic balance of sour, sweet, salty, hot (spicy) and bitter.
Fish Larb is definitely my favorite traditional dish from Laos. I talked to many chefs about how to make it on my recent trip there. Now I’m preparing it at home.
Larb or laab is a Laotian salad considered to be the “unofficial” national dish of Laos. It can be made with meat, chicken or fish which can be cooked or raw.
The word, larb is pronounced with a short A sound, as in l-a-a-b. There is a myth that the word “lab” (laab) means “luck” in the Laotian language, but other sources say the word actually comes from an older word meaning “to chop finely.”
Traditionally a little bit of roasted, ground rice is added to bind it all together (recipe included). The ground roasted rice gives the salad a crunchy bite and a nutty fragrance. It’s usually made with roasted sticky rice but I used the jasmine rice I had on hand. If you’re strictly paleo, or if you don’t want to use rice, coarsely ground almonds work nicely.
In some traditional Lao restaurants they serve Larb with raw beef, but never to tourists. I stuck with Fish Larb. It was made with all types of river fish like Mekong River Fish.
Here I make it with cod but it can be made with any firm white fish. I like cod because it’s available wild, not farmed. You can substitute tofu, beef, chicken or anything you like for the fish.
Mint and other herbs feature strongly in the dish. There were many herbs in Laos I never saw before. Here at home, I use watercress, cilantro and mint. Scallions are also included. I use a little more herbs than the traditional recipe. I like lots of greens. You can adjust it to your taste.
The herbs in this salad are packed with nutrients. I especially love watercress. It’s a superfood that contains more essential nutrients than kale. Cilantro is a natural detoxifier. Mint improves digestion since it increases bile secretion and encourages bile flow. Fish Larb will make you feel light and energized.
Before you cook the fish prepare the dressing. The lemongrass gives the dressing a unique Lao taste. Use only the white part of the lemongrass. Slice it very thin and then keep chopping until it’s finely minced.
In the dressing, you can use a chili powder called Prik Bon or fresh Thai Bird Chilis. They are available in many Asian markets or Whole Foods. I didn’t have any of those. I used the dried Thai Chilis I keep on hand. I love their flavor. I removed the seeds (so it wouldn’t be too hot) and chopped the dried chili.
Mix the lime juice with the lemongrass, thinly sliced shallots, ginger, garlic, fish sauce and chilis. Let it sit while you prepare the herbs and fish.
To cook the fish, boil a small pot of water with a few pieces of lemongrass to give it flavor. I used a tablespoon of left over lemongrass paste from the Fish Amok I made last week. Add sliced fish to the water. Turn off the flame and let it cook for 3-4 minutes until done. Drain the fish.
Add the dressing and roasted rice to the herbs and toss. Gently mix in the fish being careful not to break it up too much.
Larb should be eaten right away and served at room temperature, the fish will be a little warm. YUM!
Don’t let it sit around too long or it will get soggy.
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A bright fresh dish of lightly blanched fish and fresh green herbs mixed with lime juice, lemongrass, fish sauce, shallots, chilis. Everything is mixed together to achieve a magic balance of sour, sweet, salty, hot (spicy) and bitter.
- ¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon lemongrass, white parts only, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons shallots, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup scallions, green part only, thinly sliced
- ¼ teaspoon Celtic sea salt
- 1–2 red Thai bird chilis, or dried Thai chilis, seeds removed, chopped or Prik Bon chili powder
- 3 cups watercress, whole leaves, coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup cilantro, fresh, whole leaves, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 lb white fish, cod or tilapia, sliced
- 1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2” pieces
- 1 ½ tablespoons ground roasted rice (See Note) (optional)
- In a small bowl, mix together lime juice, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, shallots, salt and chili. Let sit.
- Put watercress, cilantro and mint into a medium bowl.
- In a small saucepan, boil 3 inches of water with 1 stalk lemongrass, place the fish into the boiling water, turn off the heat. Let sit 3-4 minutes until fish is cooked.
- Toss greens with lime-lemongrass dressing and roasted rice (if using).
- Add fish and mix gently.
- Serve immediately.
To Make Roasted Ground Rice: Put 1 ½ tablespoons of uncooked rice (sticky rice if available) in a skillet over medium heat. Stir constantly until the rice is uniformly browned (about 8-10 minutes). If the rice smokes as it is toasting, turn the heat down a little. Remove from the heat and let the rice cool. Grind the roasted rice in a clean coffee grinder, or do it by hand using a mortar and pestle. Use the coffee grinder for only a few seconds; do not let the flour become too fine. The finished product should be a slightly grainy powder. Rice flour can be stored in an airtight container for several months.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Category: Healthy, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Paleo Option
- Cuisine: Asian
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