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These Pork Larb Lettuce Cups are super flavorful, and a delicious change to the same ‘ol lettuce cups!I’ll admit – even as a food blogger – I find many Asian recipes very intimidating to make. I didn’t grow up cooking with any of the more ‘exotic-to-me’ ingredients called for in many Asian recipes. But those ingredients totally make the dishes so delicious! Over the years, Jack and I have started to cook with a few classic ingredients often used in Asian cuisine. And over time, we’ve both become more comfortable cooking with those ingredients and understanding how they can be added to enhance the flavor of a recipe. In fact, many of the recipes we share here on A Family Feast include them too – and I think everyone should have a small collection of ingredients such fish sauce and garlic chili paste (among others) in their kitchen! A few weeks ago, I saw a dish called Larb being cooked on the show Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives on the Food Network. As I watched the dish being prepared, I realized that we already had most of the ingredients on hand to make these Pork Larb Lettuce Cups at home. So – I immediately (and easily) convinced Jack that we should try making it. Larb is essentially a meat salad (we used ground pork but it is also made with chicken, beef, duck, or fish) cooked in a super flavorful sauce that is a little spicy and a little sweet. Fresh mint is a predominant ingredient, as well other herbs, seasonings and vegetables. It is regarded as the ‘unofficial’ national dish of Laos, and it is also popular in the Isan region of Thailand. The unique twist in this dish is that sweet Asian sticky rice is toasted and crushed – then sprinkled in with and on top of the meat mixture – lending a wonderful toasted flavor and texture to the Larb that is unlike anything I’ve ever had before. Larb is traditionally served as a salad, but we made ours into Pork Larb Lettuce Cups. I think you’ll absolutely love the flavors in these Pork Larb Lettuce Cups! And who knows – maybe you’ll start venturing farther out into the world of Asian cuisine too! P.S. See our notes in the recipe below for more information about this dish.
½ cup sweet sticky Asian rice
2 pounds pork shoulder, coarsely ground, see notes below recipe
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup red onions sliced thin and cut in half
¼ cup fresh lime juice (about 1–2 limes)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon coconut sugar
1–2 tablespoons garlic chili sauce, depending on how hot you like it
12 fresh basil leaves (if large, cut in half)
30 fresh mint leaves
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, no stems
1 green onion sliced
2 heads Boston lettuce
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
2 cups shredded or thinly spiralized carrots
In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, place dry sweet rice and cook and toss for 10-15 minutes until golden and toasted. Remove from pan to a platter to cool. Be careful not to scorch.
Once cool, place in a small food processor and grind to a fine grain, about the size of a sesame seed. Set aside.
In a large sauce pan or pot (this is how it is traditionally cooked), place ground pork with no additional oils or fats. Cook to brown, about 10 minutes.
Add the vegetable stock and simmer on medium to evaporate for 15 minutes.
Add onion and cook for two minutes.
Add 4 tablespoons of the ground browned rice, and set the rest of the ground rice aside for garnish.
Remove from heat and let sit for one minute then stir in lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic chili sauce, basil, mint, cilantro and green onions. Stir to combine and serve in lettuce cups with shredded red cabbage and carrots.
Sprinkle the remaining ground rice over each portion.
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A few notes about ingredients:
Sweet rice is found in Asian markets, on line and in many well-stocked supermarkets. On its own, it cooks up sticky and is served with many Asian dishes.
To achieve the best texture, try to avoid pre-ground pork. Either grind it yourself at home if you have a stand mixer, or ask your butcher to coarsely grind it for you.
This dish typically uses an Asian shallot which can only be found in Asian markets. Instead red onion is a good substitute.
The original recipe we saw on television called for palm nectar which you can find online here, but we substituted coconut sugar (which is made from the same coconut palm) in our recipe. If that is not available, use granulated sugar.
Thai basil is usually found only available in Asian markets and has a strong flavor. We increased the amount using regular Italian basil which is less pungent.
In Laos where this dish originated, a local cilantro is used and is similar to the cilantro we can buy in the United States.
The traditional dish is served at room temperature but we preferred it warm.
Lastly, this meal is typically served as a salad or as an entrée with sweet sticky rice on the side. We opted to serve it in lettuce cups with red cabbage and shredded carrots to mimic the recipe we saw on television.