May 21st, 2010
If you read my other post from today, you already know that I wasn’t able to spend much time in the kitchen this week. So this recipe was a lifesaver.
I’ve been craving Thai food, but didn’t want to use my busy week as an excuse to order take out. (Confession: we did get Mexican food delivered last night—after the day I had, it was necessary! But I digress…) Pad Thai is pretty easy, but felt boring. Another favorite, Panang Curry, was too intensive. As I ran through my usual Thai food orders, I remembered Larb, a ridiculously flavorful ground chicken salad. Perfect!
I’ve made Larb several times before, but not in years. I learned how to make it in a Thai cooking class and recalled needing roasted rice powder (available in most asian grocery stores). I didn’t have any on hand and, though you can make it yourself, I didn’t want to take the time. I needed this dish to be as low impact as possible, even if not perfectly authentic. A quick search for a recipe made without the rice powder turned up this gem at Epicurious.
Though this recipe gets you off the hook for rice powder, it does require fish sauce, chili garlic sauce and lemongrass, all of which may be equally obscure. But, in my opinion, these three ingredients are more all purpose than the rice powder and, thus, worth the trouble.
The fish and chili garlic sauce will come in handy for a lot of Asian cooking and both keep for long time. You might be able to find both in your regular grocery store. If not, a local asian food market will definitely carry them. As for the lemongrass, you only need one large stalk so, once you find it, you’ll use it up.
Because of it’s nuanced flavor, lemongrass is a hard one to substitute. Though it won’t be quite the same, if you really can’t find lemongrass, try using lemon zest (about 1/2 tsp for each 3” of lemon grass) or a combo of lemon zest and ginger (about 1/2 Tbsp for each 3” of lemon grass).
If you’ve never worked with lemongrass before, cut off the end of the bulb and peel away the tough outermost leaves. Then cut off the green, almost grass-like stem. You only want to use the bottom few inches of the stalk, the bulb-like yellow portion.
Though it takes a little planning to have the ingredients for this on hand, it’s so worth it. Totally delicious. The kids loved it (both of them!). And it takes, at most, 30 minutes including prep. It’s a perfect meal to plan for a night you know you’ll be busy or running late.
Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps, barely adapted from Bon Appetit
(can be adapted for kids 8+ mos)*
2/3 c fresh lime juice
1/3 c fish sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp chili-garlic sauce
3/4 c chicken broth
1 1/2 lbs ground chicken
1 c thinly sliced green onions
3/4 c thinly sliced shallots
3 Tbsp minced fresh lemongrass
1 Tbsp thinly sliced Thai or serrano chilies (you can substitute jalapenos in a pinch), seeds and veins removed for minimal heat
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 c chopped fresh mint
2 small heads Boston lettuce, separated into leaves
chopped cashews, for garnish, optional
1. Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Set aside.
2. Bring broth to simmer in large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken. Simmer until cooked through, breaking up meat with spoon, about 8 minutes. Add green onions and next 3 ingredients. Stir until vegetables are tender and most of liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes.
3. Remove from heat. Stir in sauce from step 1, cilantro and mint. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into lettuce leaves and garnish with cashews; serve.
*Note: I fed this to my 7-month-old with no problem. If you share my approach to feeding first time eaters, you can do the same. (Skip the cashews until you’ve introduced other nuts and know that your child does not have an allergy.) Otherwise, I’ve recommended this for when meat is traditionally introduced, at 8 months. If you are taking a very conservative approach, you may want to hold off on this for as long as 12 months since lime juice is primary ingredient (more on the traditional thinking on feeding citrus to babies). As for the spicing, we found this to be super mild. If you’re worried, reduce the amount of chili sauce and peppers.