Eating vegetarian might seem limiting to some but I've found that's actually not the case at all. In fact it wasn't until I gave up eating meat that I started to incorporate a wide variety of foods into my diet.
Having to think of a meal beyond something based around meat, a vegetable and a starch opened my eyes to so many different cuisines. Asian food was one was of the first I branched out to start experimenting with and the more I tried, the deeper I fell in love. Each dish is constructed with complex flavors that appeal to all of your senses while occasionally offering a spicy edge. Most of them can also easily be made vegetarian with just a few modifications.
Larb originates from the Southeast Asian country of Laos, bordering Thailand to the east. Although it can also be found in a region of northern Thailand where a large part of the community is of Lao ethnicity, they tend to make it slightly different than the original version, leaving out any kind of souring agent such as fish sauce or lime juice.
I based this recipe off of the original Lao version which uses a combination of both sweet and sour flavors. Fresh lime and lemon juice plus a touch of tamari (in place of fish sauce) gives the dish it's sourness while coconut sugar (or brown sugar) offers a hint of sweetness. The finely chopped mushrooms and tofu replace the meat with a hearty flavor that still packs enough protein to leave you feeling satisfied.
Then there's the spice. You can use Thai chili peppers for a stronger kick of heat but if you prefer a medium-to-mild level of spiciness, feel free to substitute serrano or jalapeño peppers. Just don't forget the fresh mint and lemongrass. They give it a deliciously refreshing flavor, perfect for balancing out the spiciness.
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or peanut oil
- 3 large shallots finely chopped (approximately 1 cup)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 Thai chile or 1 serrano pepper cored and roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 4-inch piece of lemongrass
- 8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed for at least 30 minutes
- 1 large head green lettuce or cabbage
- Mint and cilantro to garnish
For the dressing:
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Juice of 4 limes approx. ⅓ cup
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or brown sugar
- In a large skillet, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and sprinkle with salt; cook for 3 minutes. Add the pepper, garlic cloves and lemon grass to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer the mixture to the skillet and continue to cook for another 3 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms to the food processor and pulse to finely chop. Transfer the chopped mushrooms to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Break the tofu into pieces in the food processor and then pulse until crumbles form. Add the tofu crumbles to the skillet and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Meanwhile make the dressing by rinsing out the food processor and adding all of the ingredients to it. Blend until smooth. Pour the dressing into the skillet and stir until everything is evenly coated. Cook for another 10 minutes, until most of the liquid has absorbed.
- Spoon the warm tofu mixture into the lettuce leaves and garnish with mint and cilantro before serving.