A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a new vegan cookbook that I've been enjoying - Blissful Bites. When I first looked through the book, this recipe for Laotian larb was one that I skipped over without really stopping to see what it was. With a name that I had never heard of, plus no picture to show me what it was supposed to look like, it just didn't stand out as something I would want to make. And to be honest, something called "larb" didn't sound that appealing to me!
But when I re-read the book looking for recipes I wanted to try next, the ingredients in this recipe made me stop and think - hey, this actually sounds like something that I would love! It was basically a cold tofu salad with lots of flavourful South-East Asian ingredients that I love to cook with. Plus it sounded really easy to put together once all the ingredients were prepped!
Before going ahead and making the recipe, I did a bit more internet research on laotian larb and learned that traditionally, the dish is made with minced or ground meat, which can be raw or cooked, and flavoured with fresh herbs, fish sauce and lime juice.
This vegan version replaces the meat with crumbled tofu and the fish sauce with tamari. The recipe also included fresh veggies like shredded cabbage and carrots, and diced red pepper, and I decided to add some shelled edamame as well.
For the herbs, I used the cilantro that the recipe called for, and replaced the mint with Thai basil for more of an authentic flavour. I also added a few other ingredients to enhance the flavour and spice of the salad, including shallots, garlic and jalapeno. Finally, I decided to brown the tofu in a skillet instead of steaming it, but you could probably just leave it uncooked and the salad would still be good!
After not really knowing what to expect with this dish, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it! It was light and fresh and the mix of textures and ingredients came together to create such a flavourful salad with the perfect amount of spice for my taste! You could eat the salad on its own, but I served mine on top of cabbage leaves and rolled it up to eat it like a lettuce wrap.
I'm not sure how authentic my version of Laotian larb was, but all that mattered to me was that I discovered a new dish from a cuisine I hadn't tried before and loved it!
Laotian Tofu Larb Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from Blissful Bites and The Mistress of Spices
1 package (14 oz) firm tofu
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup finely diced red pepper
1/2 cup shelled edamame (thawed if frozen)
~5 leaves napa cabbage, shredded, plus more for serving
1 large carrot, shredded
1 jalapeno or other chile pepper, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tbsp chopped thai basil (can substitute mint)
Juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt
1/3 cup chopped peanuts
Cabbage or lettuce leaves for serving
Drain the tofu and crumble into pieces.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often. Add the crumbled tofu and cook for another 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a large bowl.
Add all remaining ingredients to the bowl except for the peanuts and cabbage leaves and stir well to distribute ingredients evenly. Place the bowl in the fridge to chill for 15-30 minutes.
When ready to serve, spoon large portions onto large cabbage leaves and sprinkle with chopped peanuts (or eat as a salad without the lettuce leaves).
Makes about 4 servings (or more as an appetizer)