Having never travelled to Asia physically, I can always go there in spirit when I cook. Be it Chinese, Indian, Thai, Malaysian, wherever; once you start preparing Asian food, the smells, sights and sounds in the kitchen transport me to a mystical foreign place.
This recipe is one of my favourites. Very simple to make and nowadays the ingredients readily available in supermarkets. Unlike 30 or so years ago when you had to go to an Asian store at the Central Market. Mind you, that was far more fun.
I first had Laab in the late 1980’s at the Salopian Inn in McLaren Vale when Russel Jeavons was chef. It was in the menu as “Kangaroo Laab”. I had no idea what it was, all I saw was “Kangaroo”. So I ordered it.
When it came to the table, I thought they had delivered the wrong dish. “Excuse me, what’s this?”, I quizzed. I need not have asked. After the first mouthful, a literal explosion of south-east asian flavours began making love with my taste buds.
So what was it? Serendipity.
Ingredients: (serves 2 for main, 4 for starters)
250g Minced Pork
4 Tablespoons Rice
1 Spanish (purple) Onion
4 Spring Onions
1 stalk Lemongrass
1 teaspoon shredded/finely grated Ginger
1/4 cup chopped Coriander
1/4 cup chopped Mint
1/4 cup chopped Basil
4 Tablespoons Lime juice
3 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Raw Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Chilli Powder
Fresh Red Chilli
Lettuce for serving, any variety that you can form “cups”
Finely slice the spanish onion, and chop the spring onions diagonally into 1 centimetre lengths and put into a large mixing bowl. Only use the 5 centimetre piece of the lemongrass at the root end. Peel off the harsh outer layers and bash with a pestle, then chop finely and add to the bowl. Add the chopped herbs and ginger.
Put a frying pan on a medium heat and add the uncooked rice, nothing else. Stir frequently until the rice takes on a golden brown colour. Some might pop so keep your face out of the pan. Set aside, and when cool, grind the rice in a spice/coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle. Don’t grind to a powder; the rice has to have a little texture to absorb the liquid ingredients.
Break up the minced pork. You can cook this 2 different ways. Either dry fry in frying pan, breaking up the mince as you go and set aside to cool. Or you can put the mince into a large sieve and plunge it into a large pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds, stirring the mince constantly with a wooden spoon. remove from the water, let this drain and cool.
Mix the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and chilli powder in a jug for the dressing. If you are using fresh red chillies, prepare as many as you like in any fashion that you like. You can remove the seeds and membranes for less heat. Chop coarsely.
Add the ground rice, pork, dressing and chilli to the onion and herb mixture. Toss the mix until it is blended well. Take whole leaves to form “cups” from the lettuce and spoon the mixture in. Place them on a serving platter. Garnish with any of the herbs and the flowers on them and/or whole split red chillies.
The Nutritional Information is for the starter serve, that is, a quarter serve.