Mea Culpa

Larb kua at Raan Larb Pa Tan

Back when it was safe to wander around town, maybe a month ago, I was in the Pratu Pii (Ghost Gate) area, taking my daughter, sister and son on a little walking tour around the Old Town. We had had a lovely kai kata (egg in a pan) breakfast at the second branch of the beloved cafe Kopi Hya Tai Gi and had just half-heartedly wandered around the entrance to the Golden Mount without walking up (note: you should walk up if you haven’t before, it’s a beautiful view at the top). It was very, very hot, which is why we were in a hurry to get away to our next spot, slurping up cold drinks on Dinsor Road.

But to get there, we had to double-back to Mahachai Road from the Golden Mount exit. Right at the exit was an aharn tham sung (made to order) stall set up with a few tables, all packed with customers (those were the days). So color me confused when I saw my son, in his all-navy get-up, leaning over a table and talking to a tableful of ladies of a certain age. Convinced he was flirting (again), I slapped him on the butt as I passed.

So I was surprised to see my son up ahead of me on the road, walking with his aunt. I had not tapped my son on the butt as I passed. I had slapped the ass of a stranger, dressed in all navy, with the same short haircut and slim build. I presume they were a waiter, taking an order. However, I did not linger to check. I did as all people of strong moral fiber do and ran far, far away.

Here I am today, saying “I’m sorry” to the poor waiter. Mea culpa. Honestly they looked very much alike from the back. But still, my mistake. My sincere apologies.

Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve made a mistake. Years ago, I posted a recipe for “Northern Thai-style beef larb” that was actually an Isaan recipe, replete with toasted rice kernels and mint leaves. That is the Northeastern larb, which, while delicious and certainly very popular, is not the larb muang or larb that you get in the North. That is larb kua, and it is a more complicated dish with complex, heavy flavors, not for the faint of heart. The meat is mixed with blood to lend it a dark mahogany color and the spices — a mix of cinnamon, star anise and Northern Thai peppercorns called makwaen — recall something out of Western China.

So to make up for this, and in the spirit of making amends to the hapless waiter next to the Golden Mount, I am posting our recipe for larb kua, the one that will appear in our upcoming book (yes that’s still happening). I sincerely hope you enjoy!

Larb Kua (Northern Thai-style larb) (for 4-6)

— 2 kg pork or beef, minced

— 10 dried chilies, chopped

— 3 red shallots

— 2 lemongrass bulbs

— 10 garlic cloves

— 1 tsp coriander seeds

— 1 tsp fennel seeds

— 2 bay leaves

— 2 star anise 

— 1/2 stick cinnamon

— 4 cardamom pods

— 1 tsp makwaen (a type of Northern Thai peppercorn)

— 10 slices galangal, peeled

— 1/2 tsp shrimp paste

— 2 Tbsp cleaned and boiled pig intestine (if using pork) or beef tripe (if using beef)

— 100 g pork liver (if using pork) or calf liver (if using beef)

— 1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil

— 1-2 tsp fish sauce

— 1-2 Tbsp pork blood (if using pork, optional)

Garnish: chopped mint and cilantro leaves, whole sprigs of mint

Lettuce leaves, savoy cabbage leaves, sliced cucumbers

Dry roast spices (coriander seeds, fennel seeds, bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom pods and peppercorns) in wok.

Roast garlic, shallots, chilies, shrimp paste, galangal and lemongrass and pound in mortar and pestle into a paste. Set aside.

Add roasted spice mixture to mortar and pound into a paste. Set aside.

Further mince pork or beef on chopping block with butcher’s knife. If using pork blood, sprinkle 1-2 Tbsps of the blood onto the pork as your are mincing it, adding to the deep red color of the meat. This helps to develop both the flavor and the color of the pork.

Add spices and paste to wok and mix over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp vegetable oil and meat and mix everything together, cooking until meat is brown. Add 1 Tbsp water to wok midway through cooking.

Add liver and intestines or tripe to the wok. Add more oil if needed. Add fish sauce to taste. If too dry (the juices should collect at the bottom of the wok like the dressing for a very juicy salad), add more water. The flavor should be salty, spicy and intense.

When the taste is to your satisfaction, add fresh chopped mint and cilantro leaves and mix. Serve at room temperature with sticky rice and fresh lettuce, cabbage and cucumbers.

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