My old neighbourhood is jam-packed with Thai restaurants, it seems they were taking business and marketing inspiration from the old quarter in Hanoi with its tin, paper and gravestone streets, rather than from the rest of the city. A shop would close and invariable a new Thai restaurant would open. I can count at least 15 in the stretch of only a few blocks, when someone mentions Thai food in Sydney, Newtown immediately springs to mind.
Unfortunately though, there is nothing wonderful, unique or even particularly tasty about these eateries. Perhaps the proximity to Sydney uni and a $6 lunch special makes opening a new Thai restaurant seem like a good business proposition. Unfortunately they mostly all dish out the same pad thai and stir fried chicken with cashew nuts.
(This said, i did have an eye opening vegetarian tom yum soup recently).
With this in mind, there is no need to explain the origins of Laap, though in my neighbourhood it would be recognised as Larb. The laap that I’m telling you about today the laotian version, a recipe I built from memory of eating this fiery complex salad in Laos. The Larb in the Newtown Thai restaurants doesn’t compare to this, and I am regularly disappointed by their lack of body and flavour.
My introduction to Laap was by the river in Vientiane, the lights of Thailand blinking at us across the water, eating grilled chicken, beef laap and sticky rice by candlelight. The rice and beer lao tamed the rich spiciness of the salad, but still the earthy fish sauce, tangy lime juice and fresh herbs shone through.
Now I want to go back to Laos, and sample traditional, spicy, gamey and rich laap from fish, eggplant, water buffalo or chicken. But for today, this avant-garde interpretation will have to suffice.
Beef Laap (very not authentic)
4 spring onions
250g beef (blade steak)
4 cloves garlic
1 long red chilli
4T fish sauce
juice 1 lime
2T roasted rice powder *
small piece lemongrass
Wash spring onions and cut white pieces from green. Char the white sections and 3 of the garlic cloves in a dry pan over medium high heat. Remove when browned and just slightly blackened. In a mortar and pestle grind charred vegetables with chilli, extra garlic and pre-chopped lemongrass. Add sugar to aid in making these into a paste.
Fry steak in a little oil until browned and cooked to your liking (rare for me). Rest in a warm place for a few minutes, then slice thinly. Place in bowl with paste, fish sauce, lime juice and any of the resting juices from the steak. Mix well, taste and adjust seasoning, it might need more fish sauce or lime juice. (The original is much much hotter than this, so feel free to add more chilli). Leave meat to rest and prepare the herbs.
Slice the green part of the spring onions on an angle. Wash the herbs well. Pick the mint and cut the coriander roughly. Mix through the meat, add the rice powder and mix through.
Serve with a wedge of lime and sliced cucumber. Eat with rice and a vegetable for a light lunch.
* Roasted Rice powder is a traditional laap ingredient. Take a few tablespoons of raw glutinous rice and toast in a pan over a medium heat until golden and fragrant. Grind in a coffee/spice grinder or by hand in a mortar and pestle. Adds an earthiness and rounded flavour to the laap.