For this version, I decided to use chicken, though you could also use beef, pork, duck or lamb. The meat is sauteed and coated with a heady mixture of shallots, lemongrass, fish sauce, hot sauce, lime juice and a bit of sugar. When all of those flavors come together, wonderful things happen.
And then when you wrap it in a lettuce leaf with a spoonful of tender rice and some fresh cilantro . well, let's just say that "larb" becomes one of the prettiest food words around.
If you really like the pungent aroma and flavor of fish sauce, which is available online and in Asian markets, as well as many well-stocked supermarkets, then double the amount and skip the soy sauce.
You can assemble the dish yourself or let everyone make their own. Pile the meat into the lettuce leaves with plain white rice, jasmine or basmati, or brown if you lean that way. And don't forget the scallions and cilantro.
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound ground chicken
1 tablespoon minced fresh lemongrass
2 teaspoons fish sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 small romaine lettuce leaves, or Boston or bibb lettuce
1 cup cooked warm rice
Fresh cilantro leaves and thinly sliced scallions to garnish
First, make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, Sriracha sauce and water. Set aside.
Then, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic and saute for 3 minutes until just barely golden. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the chicken and lemongrass and saute for about 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Add the 2 teaspoons fish sauce and season with salt (lightly) and pepper.
Spoon the chicken mixture into the lettuce cups with some of the rice, and drizzle the dressing over it. Top with cilantro leaves and scallions.
Nutrition information per serving: 270 calories; 114 calories from fat; 13 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 98 mg cholesterol; 902 mg sodium; 17 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 22 g protein.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, "Dinner Solved!" and "The Mom 100 Cookbook." She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.