Laab (also spelled laap or larb) is a Thai meat-based salad that combines flavorful ground meat and fresh vegetables, served in lettuce cups. This is typically served with sticky rice, but we will often make rice noodles to go with them instead if we are looking for a quick-cooking dinner. You could leave the rice or noodles out if you follow a grain-free diet, however, and just add more vegetables to the filling.
Laab has become a staple at our house, as it is comes together quickly and easily, creates a nice vessel for organ meats, and is seriously just so delicious. This is probably the most-requested meal from my partner, which I would say is a glowing review! If you love Thai flavors like ginger, fish sauce, and fresh herbs like cilantro and mint, I encourage you to give this one a try. You get a meal that is full of fresh vegetables, as well as protein and healthy fats, plus it is easy to serve to a crowd and they can make their own lettuce cups. If you have nice lettuce leaves available you can serve the meat-and-veggie mixture in those, or try the filling in napa cabbage leaves during the cooler months when lettuce isn't in season. We have also made this filling and put it into spring rolls or mixed it with rice noodles to make a pack-able lunch as well. Another modification is that, if you don't eat pork, you could make this with ground chicken instead, using chicken, beef, or lamb organs. Feel free to make this to suit your dietary needs; it will still be delicious.
The addition of organ meats is certainly optional here, but I would encourage you to try and add them in if possible. Organ meats are more nutrient-dense than muscle meat, providing more vitamins and minerals in your meal than when just cooking with muscle meat alone. Liver is high in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, as well as vitamins B12 and B6, choline, iron and folate. Some of these nutrients can be difficult to get, even in a "whole food-based" diet, unless adding in liver or other organs 1-2 times per week. Hearts are also very nutritious, offering the antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), known for benefiting heart and brain health, but with few dietary sources. Chicken hearts, chopped into small pieces, work great in this recipe. With all of the flavors and textures, you can hardly tell they are in there, which may be preferable for family or friends who want to eat organ meats but aren't huge fans of the taste and texture. Liver or other organs chopped or ground will also incorporate well into the seasoned ground meat, and is such an easy way to get your 1-2 weekly doses of organs. Using organic and/or pasture-raised sources of organs is important, both to avoid hormone and antibiotic-laden conventional meat, but also to ensure a higher nutrient content and better quality of life for the animals used for their meat. Check with your local health food store or local farmers to purchase high-quality organ meats, as they are likely not available at conventional grocery stores.
Pork Laab with Organ Meats
For the meat filling:
2 Tbs coconut oil
1 small red onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1" fresh ginger, minced
2 tsp toasted rice powder, optional--available at Asian grocery stores or online
1 lb ground pastured pork
4 ounces chopped hearts or liver
1-2 tsp Sriracha hot sauce, or substitute red chili flakes to taste
1 1/2 tsp fish sauce (I use Red Boat brand)
2 Tbs lime juice
For the vegetable mixture:
4 cups shredded cabbage
2 medium carrots, grated
4 scallions, sliced
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
~1 tsp fish sauce
2 Tbs lime juice
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped
Garnishes: extra chopped fresh cilantro, sliced scallions, lime wedges, and chopped peanuts
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Fish sauce or organic soy sauce
Sticky white rice or cooked rice noodles
Butter lettuce leaves or cabbage leaves
In a medium skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat. When melted and hot, add in the onions. Saute 5-8 minutes until softened and beginning to brown, stirring regularly. Add the garlic, ginger, and toasted rice powder (if using) and cook for 3-5 more minutes.
Add the ground pork and chopped organ meats to the pan. Break up the meat as best you can, so it can cook evenly and begin to brown. Cook, stirring regularly, until all of the pink is gone, about 10-12 minutes. Then, continue to let the meat cook without stirring often to allow the meat to brown and crisp.
Add the hot sauce, fish sauce and lime juice to the browned pork, letting the liquid de-glaze the pan and stirring to get all of the crispy meat bits off the bottom of the pan.
Remove pan from the heat and set aside until ready to add to the vegetable mixture.
While the meat is cooking, prepare the vegetable mixture and lettuce cups.
Combine the cabbage, carrots, scallions, cilantro, and mint in a large mixing bowl. Wash and dry the lettuce or cabbage leaves for serving, then set aside.
When then pork is cooked, add to the cabbage mixture. Season with the rest of the fish sauce and lime juice, to taste, then stir to combine. Toss in peanuts just before serving to keep them crunchy.
Serve with cooked rice or rice noodles in prepared lettuce cups, garnishing with extra herbs, peanuts, and sauces as desired.
The meat and veggie filling can be made ahead of time, but is best when served fresh and warm. Leftover filling will keep for several days in the fridge, and makes great leftovers mixed in with rice or noodles for a quick salad to bring for your lunch!
Brine & Broth
I am a gut health-focused nutritionist and online health coach based in Southwest Wisconsin. My recipes and philosophies center around traditional, nutrient-dense foods that support robust gut health.