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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sweet Potato Larb with Avocado


Larb, also known as Laab or Laap, is a delicous and healthy dish from northern Thailand. It's full of protein, healthy fat, anti-inflammatory compounds, and bold flavors. Larb is usually made with ground meat, most often pork and sometimes chicken or duck, but it can also be made with crumbled tempeh or tofu (extra firm, pressed and drained). Larb is eaten wrapped up in a lettuce leaf. It's fresh, flavorful, and healthy.

Like all Thai recipes, the secret is the aromatics. This one is a well-balanced combination of savory, sour, sweet, and spicy. Traditional larb recipes call for sugar, toasted rice, and sticky rice, but I replaced them with sweet potatoes, which add a natural sweetness and a soft texture which contrasts nicely with the crispy bits of pork. If you're on a detox or otherwise avoiding sweet potatoes, substitute a half cup of chopped raw cashews or other nuts.

I used a food processor to finely chop my aromatics, which is especially helpful for fibrous ingredients like lemongrass. Alternatively, you could chop them by hand. 

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
  • 2 or 3 limes
  • 1 pound ground pork at room temperature
  • Sea salt 
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 two-inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves separated
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 or more fresh chili peppers, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce 
  • Lettuce leaves, for serving 
  • 1 avocado, sliced or cubed

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss the sweet potato cubes with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, season them with sea salt, and transfer them to the oven. Roast until they are soft and golden brown, about 30 to 45 minutes (cooking time will depend on how small you cut the cubes). This step should yield about 2 cups of roasted sweet potato cubes and can be done in advance.
  2. Zest the limes into a large mixing bowl and set it aside.
  3. Use the juice of 1 lime and a small pinch of sea salt to season the ground pork, mixing it in with clean hands. Set it aside for a few minutes while you warm the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, break up the ground pork as you drop it into the hot pan. Do not stir until it browns and pulls away from the pan. Continue cooking the pork and breaking it up until you have small crispy bits of fully cooked pork.
  4. While the pork is cooking, use a food processor to finely chop the shallot, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and cilantro stems. 
  5. Once the pork has browned, stir the finely chopped aromatics. Continue cooking for a few more minutes, stirring occasionally, until the aromatics have warmed up. Turn off the heat.
  6. Squeeze the juice of one lime over the pork. Add the fish sauce. Stir to incorporate any brown bits on the bottom of the pan into the mixture. Stir in the cilantro leaves, scallions, and chili pepper. Taste for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments, more lime or fish sauce or chili pepper for example. I used 2 limes and 2 green Serrano chili peppers, seeds and all.
  7. Serve the larb with lettuce leaves and avocado on the side. To eat it, spoon some of the pork mixture into a lettuce leaf, place a bit of avocado on top, wrap it up and eat it.

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