Thai salads are Asia’s way of telling us Americans that we’re doing salads all wrong. Totally, completely and universally wrong. Forget your blue cheese crumbles and your oil-soaked, flavor-killing ranch dressings, guys. Put away the bacon bits, hide your cubed deli turkey, and please, for the love of all that is good and merciful, throw away those dried cranberries. In the salad world, Thais are making our big salads look like amateur hour.
It’s not that Thai salads, like the Thai ground chicken salad (called larb gai) I’m going to show you today, are mysteriously complex. They’re actually very simple, with defined, powerful flavors that make you forget that you’re supposed to be eating healthy. We have Thai salad night every few weeks or so to remind ourselves that zesty, filling food can also be decidedly healthier than the other foods we normally eat. During our Whole30 fiasco, we ate Thai salads nearly every other day (in case you’re just tuning in, Whole30 is the month-long restrictive elimination diet that prohibits dairy, soy, grains, refined sugar and joy. Sadly, it’s also really effective. Read more about it here).
But anyway, back to the Thai ground chicken salad (larb gai) — this salad is so easy to make that you’ll be wondering why you haven’t been doing it already.
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When we lived in Malaysia (which seems oh so many years ago now), some variation of larb gai was so common almost everywhere we went that we came to expect it, like one might do with chips and salsa at a Mexican joint here. I love scooping heaping spoonfuls of chicken, red onion, cilantro and chilies flavored with lime and fish sauce onto crisp Romaine lettuce, then making a wrap of it. It’s an easy enough dish that it can be made the night before and kept in the refrigerator for lunch the next day. I’d love to say that I have the wherewithal and the time to make it for the hubby to take to lunch, but usually we scarf down every last morsel and there isn’t any. I guess he usually just has sad desk lunch at work.
I also love this Thai ground chicken salad as an accompaniment to curry. There’s something about its tart freshness that makes a mellow accompaniment to a creamy, rich curry. Plus, I can make the larb gai ahead of time and leave it on the table while I’m making the curry, which buys me precious minutes before the hungry wolves in my family start nipping at my ankles (actually, everyone is a hungry wolfe in my family, in case you’re wondering). On weeknights, those precious minutes are the difference between sitting down serenely for a nice dinner with my family versus scrambling around helter skelter while yelling, “IT’LL BE READY IN JUST A MINUTE” while wild-eyed and messy-haired.
Oh, who am I kidding? That’s every night.
- ⅔ cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
- ⅓ cup Red Boat fish sauce (available at Whole Foods)
- 2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
- ¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1½ pounds ground chicken
- 1 cup thinly sliced green onions
- ¾ cup thinly sliced shallots or red onion
- 3 tablespoons lime zest
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced small red Thai chilies or serrano chilies
- ½ cup grape tomatoes, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
- 2 Romaine lettuce hearts hearts, separated into leaves
- In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, fish sauce and chili-garlic sauce and set aside.
- Bring chicken broth to low boil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and simmer until cooked through, breaking up meat with spoon.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook for 1-2 minutes, breaking up large lumps with a wooden spoon. Add chicken broth and simmer until cooked through, continuing to break up meat with spoon, about 5-6 minutes.
- Add green onions, shallots, lime zest and chilies. Continue to cook, stirring until vegetables are tender and most of liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Stir in sauce, tomatoes, cilantro and mint. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve with lettuce leaves -- spoon mixture onto leaves and eat.
Inspired by this Epicurious recipe