Tastes : Larb Is A Many-Splendored Thing

I absolutely love Thai food. The cuisine is rich in flavors that are fresh and complex - striking a heavenly balance of saltiness, sweetness, spice, acidity, etc. Most dishes are relatively healthy, although their are some exceptions - most notably dishes using coconut milk or peanut sauce. But even those are healthy if consumed in moderation.

Many Thai dishes are relatively simple to make. Other dishes are complex and can challenge your culinery skills and courage. Depending on where you live, obtaining the right ingredients may be the biggest challenge. Although, it is generally easier to find the key ingredients for most dishes since I first started cooking Thai cuisine in the 1980's.

One of my favorite dishes is Larb, also called Laab in Laotian. The basic recipe detailed below is relatively simple and easy to prepare. I have made it countless times. It was given to me long ago by a dear friend (thanks RJ for the wonderful gift) who called it Lapi San. I have never seen that name used elsewhere and use the more common term Larb, which is a traditional dish with a long history.

Although the recipe below may not have all the complex flavors of more sophisticted ones recipes, it is good to have at hand when time and ingredients are in short supply. It can also serve as a foundation to build on to fit various specific needs, and to as your interests and skills develop. Enjoy!

Chicken Larb

Larb Gai with cabbage instead of lettuce

Below is the original recipe given to me. It's a lettuce wrap filling. The photo on the left by Bob F. is Chicken Larb Gai with cabbage instead of lettuce from White Lotus Thai Cuisine in Albany, CA. No recipe for that dish is provided.

My recipe can be varied in countless ways. You can serve it with rice or noodles to be an entree, on a salad, with pita bread, etc. You can also substitute or add ingredients, depending on your tastes and what you have available. Following the recipe I have provided some substitutions and variations I use.

Lastly, I have provided pictures and links to the recipes for just a sampling of the seemingly endless and innovative variety of larb dishes out there. The samples were selected to represent a wide range of ingredients, techniques, and serving options. Conduct your own search to find even more or experiement on your own. You won't be disappointed.


  • 1 lb. ground chicken.

  • 1/4 cup chopped green onion (base and stalk).

  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.

  • 4 Tbsp. fish sauce.

  • 4 Tbsp. lime juice (or lemon, although I much prefer lime).

  • 1 Tbsp. sugar.

  • 1 Tbsp. red chili flakes (or whatever amount suits your preference for heat - I find that commercial chili flakes vary dramatically, especially across brands, in their heat level).

  • Lettuce of choice for wraps (romaine works well, butter lettuce is nice, iceberg even works well, and you can also use cabbage).

  • Chopped fresh mint (I grow my own and use a lot, but use what meets your personal tastes).


  1. Fry the ground chicken with no oil or water.

  2. Drain any liquid from the chicken.

  3. Add the other ingredients and briefly heat it up, keeping the onions crisp and the cilantro fresh. I tend to add them in this order: chilies, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, onions, cilantro. Lately, I have been holding off on the cilantro and adding it with the mint as a garnish rather than cooking it. 

  4. If you are serving it in a leaf wrap, like lettuce or cabbage, you may prefer to let the mixture cool a little before putting in the wrap. If used in a wrap, you may also want to dish it out with a slotted spoon, or similar device, to drain off some of the liquid. If you are having it with rice, serve the mixture warm.

  5. Sprinkle mint on top to desired taste.

Substitutions I Commonly Use:

  • If you don't have fresh mint, try fresh basil.

  • If you don't have chili flakes, use chili paste, thin slices of whatever type of fresh chilis you have or prefer, or other types forms of chili spice. 

  • I grow lemon grass and add it to many things, including larb. If you do, you may find that grating the lemon grass is somewhat easier than chopping it.

  • Traditional larb recipes often use rice powder as a binding agent. Typically, I do not. However, it seems to be particularly important if you use beef for the protein.

Variations I Frequently Make:

  • You can use any of a variety of different proteins. If you do not have ground chicken, you can finely chop some yourself or use small pieces. Turkey or pork are a good substitute for chicken that will retain the same general character. although others use it, I tend not to like to use ground beef in larb; but, small slices of beef are great. I have made it with shrimp and will be trying various fish soon.

  • Make it more like a traditional western salad by serving it over a mix of greens and shredded carrots and/or sliced cucumbers. Strips of meat - especially beef - or shrimp work better for this variation than ground meat.

  • To make the dish more of an entree or a more complete meal, you can add additional vegetables - such as sliced carrots or bell peppers - and serve it over rice or with noodles.

  • You can put a small amount of larb on your favorite flatbread. To keep the bread crispy, you may want to bake the bread, serve the larb on the side, and let people combine the two.

Below are just some of the many other larb variations I have found. They are provided to illustrate the variety of ingredients and cooking techniques that can be used. I am not expert enough to know if they all officially qualify as larb or would more accurately be labeled as a different dish; but to me, it doesn't matter. For larb by any other name is delicious just the same. 

A Sampling Of The Many-Splendored Larb Variations

Thai Chicken Larb lettuce cups

Chicken Larb In Lettuce Cups by White On Rice Couple

A traditional and fairly simple recipe using red onion and iceberg lettuce.

Chicken Larb Gai

Larb Gai (Thai Chicken Salad) by Nicole Perry

Chicken Larb

Chicken Larb by Lydia Walshin with a novel presentation - be creative and impress your guests.

Chicken Larb with rice

Chicken Larb With Rice by Sherri

Rice turns an appetizer into an entree.

Chicken Larb skewers with mixed greens and mint salad

Chicken Larb Skewers With Mixed Greens And Mint Salad from Coles

 Chicken Larb with Buttternut Squash

Chicken Larb With Butternut Squash by Syrie Wongkaew

Squash is an interesting twist. Makes me consider larb in acorn squash bowls.

Thai Chicken Larb Soft Rolls

Thai Chicken Larb Soft Rolls by Sue Lau

Spring rolls filled with larb...delicious! Pack them in a container with dipping sauce on the side, and you have a lunch that will be the envy of your coworkers.

Chicken Larb Burger

Chicken Larb Gai Burger from The Thrillbilly Gourmet

Wow, larb burgers. I haven't tried this yet, but what is not to like?

Chicken Larb patties

Chicken Larb Patties by Atul Sik

Shrimp Larb

Shrimp Larb by Steve Dunn.

The fresh flavors of the other larb ingredients are an excellent pairing with shrimp.

Shrimp Larb

Shrimp Larb from Amporn's Thai Kitchen.

Cucumbers add a fresh taste and crunchy texture that pairs well with larb. 

Larb Goong - Spicy Shrimp Salad

Larb Goong (Spicy Shrimp Salad) by Chef Tan

Large shrimp, or even prawns, add an extra touch of elegance.

Fish Larb

Fish Larb by Cooking In The City.

This is a very nice dish, but the sashimi-quality whitefish may make it a little pricey for frequent consumption.

Ahi Larb

Ahi Larb by Makan Minum Ngobrol.

The bold flavor of Ahi blends well with the rest of the ingredients. Using it as a dip with sesame crackers is a nice touch.

Grilled fish laab

Grilled Fish Laab (larb) by Thai-Recipes-Today.com.

This recipe uses whitefish, making less expensive than the other two fish variations I have listed. There is also some interesting general information about Laab on this page.

Beef Laap or Larb

Beef Laap Or Larb from pikeletandpie.com.

This dish uses small beef strips, which I prefer more than ground beef. Any cut of beef can be used, and some of the less expensive cuts - flap meat, skirt steak, or flank steak - work very well. You can grill the beef, if you like.

Ground Beef Larb

Larb Neua (Laotian Ground Beef Salad) by radiogastronomy.

I typically don't like using ground beef as much as strips; but the additional ingredients and roasted peanuts add more complex flavors to this dish.

Beef Larb

Laotian Beef Salad (Larb) With Omelette Noodles from Food52.

This is an interesting variation that uses an omelette/crepe cut into noodles.

Thai Pork Larb On Noodles

Thai Pork Larb On Noodles by Nancy Duran.

Pork is great to use for larb and noodles are a delicious complement to any larb.

Pork Larb in endive boats

Pork Larb In Endive Boats by sybaritica.me.

These endive boats are beautiful and delicious.

Pork Larb Potstickers

Pork Larb Potstickers by Potlook.

Potstickers are always a hit and you can mix it up by creating a variety of dipping sauces.

Larb - Pork and bison fried rice balls

Pork And Bison Larb Fried Rice Balls by The High Heel Gourmet.

I don't make much fried food, but this may be irresistable.

Sticky rice burger with lamb larb

Sticky Rice Burger With Lamb Larb by Leela on shesimmers.com.

Sticky rice as a bun. Gotta love it.

Water Buffalo Larb

Water Buffalo Larb by Attempts in Domesticity.

Not certain where to get Water Buffalo. And Kangaroo Larb is supposidly popular in Australia.

Tofu Larb

Tofu Larb In Lettuce Cups by Michelle Edwards.

This tofu recipe can tempt even the most ardent meat lovers.

Tofu Larb with red cabbage

Tofu Larb With Red Cabbage by myrecipes.com.

The red cabbage makes a striking appearance, in addition to combining well with seasame oil and red onion to create an interesting flavor.

Tofu Larb

Laotian Tofu Larb by vanilla-and-spice.com.

The use of maple syrup and peanuts make this an interesting variation.