After I graduated from college, I embarked on a month-long backpacking trip in Southeast Asia. Of our destinations, Thailand was the clear winner for best food. I love spicy, bold flavors, and I constantly tested my spice tolerance during this trip, to my stomach's detriment. Although I like food to be so spicy that I can't think straight, native Thai spicy was a little too much for me. Anyway, one of my favorite eating experiences was on Phi Phi Island, a true paradise. At a local dive, we ordered a spicy chicken salad that was out of this world. It was based on a traditional larb salad, and it had a surprising addition of raw cashew nuts that mellowed out some of the spiciness and tanginess. I regret that I didn't keep a food diary on this trip, because I would really like to attempt to recreate this dish. I guess I will just have to go back to Ko Phi Phi.
Alas, recalling this tasty revelation gave me a craving for larb salad. To make the dish healthier, I decided to use ground turkey instead of chicken. I created this recipe through extensive Googling and some intuition, and it's still a work-in-process. But, I was satisfied with the first attempt.
Thai Turkey Larb Salad
1 1/2 lb ground turkey
1 cup scallions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced fresh lemongrass (Tutorial here)
3 medium-sized shallots, thinly sliced
3-4 Kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
Thai chilis, thinly sliced (optional)
1/3 cup chopped mint leaves
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
1. Bring 3/4 cup of water (or broth) to boil in wok over medium heat. Add ground turkey and simmer until cooked through (~8 min), breaking up meat with spoon.
2. Add scallions, lemongrass, chilis, Kaffir lime leaves, and shallots. Stir until the vegetables are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.
3. Remove from heat. Stir in mint, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. Adjust fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar to taste.
4. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with steamed jasmine rice.
I use the Three Crabs brand of fish sauce, and the Squid brand has been recommended by David Chang. If you're in NYC, affordable Kaffir lime leaves can be found at Bangkok Center Grocery, conveniently next to Fried Dumpling on Mosco Street.