I love to travel and, with very few exceptions, I would love to visit every country in the world. However, I feel my failure to visit Laos is one of the saddest of my missed opportunities. When I was travelling in Asia, pre-kids, I managed to get to Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia – why didn’t I go to Laos? (Or Vietnam, for that matter?) I hope I will indeed get there one day.
My failure to visit Laos means I don’t know a lot about Lao food. However, since I don’t believe there’s a Lao restaurant in town, never mind one that can cater for gluten-free and low-FODMAP, I figure the only way to learn is to try. So I picked what the interwebs said was one of the defining dishes of Laos and decided to try to make it.
There were, of course, plenty of wildly varying recipes for laap, AKA larb, which is, to the best of my understanding, a warm minced meat dish served with both fresh vegetables and sticky rice. Does that make it a particularly hearty salad? Or a main served with a side of veg? I decided to cover both bases and served both the laap and the sticky rice on a base of salad. Though most recipes call only for lettuce and cucumber, I decided to add bean sprouts, partly to add extra crunch and partly because I had some kicking around. I can’t guarantee it was authentic but it was delicious.
It seems you can use just about any meat for laap (not fish or shellfish) but pork and chicken seemed the most common. I was intrigued by a recipe I saw for duck laap but decided it would be too much work to try to mince duck myself and I don’t know where I’d buy pre-minced duck meat. I decided to go for turkey with the thought it might be a little more robust-tasting than chicken and lower in fat than pork.
Most of the recipes I saw also called for khao khua, which is glutinous rice toasted and ground into a powder. Being lazy and lacking a decent grinder, I decided to simply toast sweet rice flour (mochiko) until it was a light golden colour. It did indeed impart the nutty, aromatic flavour the recipes talked about, as well as providing slight thickening, so I figure it did the job.
As for the sticky rice, I normally make it in a pot much as I would other types of rice. However, almost all the Lao and Thai recipes I saw (laap is also eaten in Thailand) called for the sticky rice to be steamed. This produces a better texture, many websites argued. I tried it, and have now been converted. Every grain was the perfect texture, with no gluey bits where condensation from the pot lid dripped down, and no brown bits on the bottom. Who knew? It does, however, call for a bit of foresight – the rice needs a long soaking before steaming.
- 1 heaping tablespoon sweet rice/glutinous rice/sticky rice/mochiko flour
- 500 g minced turkey
- Approx. 1-inch piece ginger, minced
- Small bunch of chives, minced
- Small bunch of coriander leaves, minced
- Small bunch of mint leaves, minced
- 1/2 sweet red pepper or 1-2 red birdseye chilis, minced
- 1/2 – 1 lime
- Salt to taste and/or fish sauce to taste
- Crushed, dried chilli pepper flakes, to taste (if not using fresh birdseye chilis)
- Lettuce or salad leaves
- Cucumber, sliced
- Bean sprouts, optional
- Sticky rice (see below for cooking instructions)
- Toast sweet rice flour in a dry frying pan, stirring frequently, until you have achieved an even golden colour. Set aside.
- In a pan or wok on medium heat (not too high, as you need to maintain some moisture in this dish), stir-fry the turkey until cooked through. Add the ginger and red pepper and/or red chilli peppers and stir in just enough to incorporate. If the mixture is dry add a little hot water.
- Turn off the heat and add the herbs, lime juice, salt and/or fish sauce, chilli pepper flakes (if using), and toasted rice flour. Stir just enough to blend the flavours.
- Serve with greens, cucumber, bean sprouts, and sticky rice.
- Rinse desired quantity of sticky rice (AKA glutinous rice, AKA sweet rice) in water several times until water runs clear or almost clear.
- Soak rice in water for at least six and up to 24 hours.
- Line a steamer with cheesecloth or a clean tea towel. Steam rice over an inch or so of boiling water (not enough to touch rice) for about 20 minutes, with lid closed. Flip rice over and steam for a further five minutes or so, until rice is evenly steamed, with a sticky but not mushy texture and no hard bits.