Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Laab reminds me of the gatherings that my family and other Hmong families used to have when I was growing up. A cow or pig would be sacrificed in the early morning at a butcher shop or farm, and then a bunch of relatives would come over and help cook the meat into many different dishes. One of those dishes was usually laab or larb, however it's spelled. The men were the ones who always made the laab. I should've paid attention growing up because I don't know how to make laab as good as I had it back then. I haven't attended any of those Hmong gatherings in a long time. I'm not a bad daughter-in-law. At least I don't think I am. LOL I'm just not the traditional type, and luckily, my husband isn't either, so we rarely go to these events unless it's in our first family. I just remember two key ingredients that the cooks used and they were lime leaves and roasted rice powder. Since I don't live in St. Paul anymore, I don't have access to the wide variety of herbs and veggies usually available in the Cities, so I didn't get any lime leaves. I used lemongrass in this recipe instead and it worked fine.
Laab is generally a healthy dish, since it is made with the leanest parts of the meat. My version is even healthier because it's made with baked chicken breasts and the rest of the ingredients are pretty low in calories as well. Growing up, we mostly had beef laab and sometimes pork laab. I always liked the white meat laab more. There are many versions of laab, but I don't like it when laab is made into a bitter dish (with some gross ingredients IMO). It's even made raw and I never eat it that way. Laab is meant to be eaten room temperature or even cold and served with greens such as lettuce and of course rice.
3 chicken breasts (about 3 cups once chopped)
1/3 cup of cilantro, finely chopped
1/3 cup of green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup of mint leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup of lemongrass (white part only), finely chopped
1 tbsp of chopped fresh or frozen Thai chilli peppers
2 1/2 tbsp of fish sauce
2 tbsp of fresh lime juice
1 tbsp of roasted rice powder
Optional: 1/4 cup of shallots, finely chopped
Note: shallots or onions weren't typically used in Hmong laab, but since I had a bunch around I added it and it added a nice flavor
1. Bake chicken breasts in oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink inside.
2. Meanwhile, prepare (chop) fresh herbs.
3. Once chicken is cooked, slice the chicken into large chunks and put into a food processor to chop or chop chicken manually.
I actually over chopped my meat with the food processor. Generally, the meat shouldn't be as fine as this, but it still tasted good to me.
4. Add all the fresh ingredients except the chillies to the chicken. Mix well. Add the rice powder, then add the fish sauce, lime juice and chillies slowly (1 tbsp at a time or 1 tsp of the chillies at a time) to adjust to your liking. I am just listing what I used exactly and that's how I liked it. You may like yours less salty, sour, or hot. Make sure to stir everything well.
This is the rice powder I used (found at the Asian markets). You can make your own by roasting dry rice kernels in a frying pan until brown, and process it in a processor until it turns into a fine powder (or use a mortar and pestle to ground). Just make sure you don't burn the rice.
5. Put laab on a serving plate on top of some lettuce as presentation. I used red leaf lettuce because I like it, and the more color, the better for your health. Serve with an additional side of lettuce and a bowl of rice.