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Authentic Larb (Laab) Salad Recipe: A Laos Culinary Adventure

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Grilled laap on a plate with tomatoes

Editor’s note. Dan was a freelance business consultant and food writer when we first engaged him to write about his quest to take cooking lessons in scores of nations. In August 2023 he was named President of Big Green Egg, a major grill manufacturer. Because of our strict policy against conflicts of interest this is probably the last of his articles for us.

My global BBQ adventures continue! This time, we are stopping in rural Laos – a tiny, landlocked
country in Southeast Asia, known for their spicy food as well as their incredible hospitality.
Everyone and everything moves just a step slower in Laos. Like many of their neighbors in
Thailand and Vietnam, the locals seem to be a happy people, smiling all of the time, even
though they have to work incredibly hard to provide for daily life and amenities.

Much of Lao cuisine is based on what the rural folks can find and forage in the jungle, as well as farm. 80% of the population is still involved in farming, even if they hold another job. In
fact, many Laotians prepare their own charcoal at home, as live-fire cooking is such an
essential part of everyday life.

When it comes to food, everything—from eggs for breakfast to grilled meats for lunch to
mango with sticky rice for dessert—is cooked over live fire, both wood and charcoal. This is
clearly the kind of place the community would be very comfortable in!
As far as recipes, one I learned (from my host’s wife): her family’s most incredible Kao Soi recipe
(it’s a pork noodle soup they have for breakfast, perfect if you have one too many Beer Lao the
night before). The broth is boiled in a cauldron over charcoal.

My mind was blown by a homestay experience in a remote Hmong village, cooking over fire
on the mud floor of a hut to learn firsthand the ancient ways Hmong family meals have been prepared for centuries.

Dan Gertsacov cooking with a woman in Laos

But it is a recipe for a Laap salad (aka Laab or Larb) made with ground water buffalo that I
want to share — although here I’m suggesting you use ground beef, much easier to find than water buffalo! Water buffalo are revered in Laos, both as work animals on the farm and for food.

Many assume Thai and Laotian cuisines are the same, but while they do share a border and thus similar influences, they are not the same. Laotians eat almost every meal with sticky rice, a strain of rice that clumps and is sticky, not given to producing discreet grains. Laotians bunch it between their fingers to scoop up any dish. Many Thai dishes have coconut milk or sauces that make steamed rice more appropriate.

This grilled meat salad dish is just spicy enough to set your mouth tingling, but not too spicy
to mask all of the wonderful fresh herbs. And cooking the chiles, garlic, and shallot directly on the coals gives the dish a smoky flavor that makes it soar. Enjoy this culinary stopover in Laos!

Photo collage of Dan Gertsacov in Laos

Larb (a.k.a. Laap or Laab) Salad Recipe

Grilled laap plated with vegetables
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A spicy ground beef salad from Laos with lots of herbs and tasty, smoky flavors
Serve with an easy drinking pale Lager or pilsner, such as Tecate, Heineken, or Stella Artois.

Main Course
Southeastern Asian
difficulty scale
Author: Dan Gertsacov


4 lettuce wraps
Servings: 4 people


Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes


  • 6 ounces ground beef
  • 1/2 teaspoon Morton Coarse Kosher Salt
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (divided)
  • 1 inch fresh lemongrass, pale white part only
  • 1 inch fresh galangal, peeled (see Note)
  • 1 handful cilantro leaves
  • 1 handful culantro leaves (see Note)
  • 1 handful mint leaves
  • 2 spring onions, root end trimmed
  • 1 fresh red jalapeño or serrano pepper (see Note)
  • 1 lime
  • 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 2 shallots, unpeeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon roasted rice powder (see Note)
  • 1 fresh banana flower (optional, for decoration)
  • 2 fresh whole green beans or 1 long bean (optional, for decoration)
  • 4 whole green lettuce leaves, for wrapping
  • sticky rice, cooked, for serving
About the salt. Remember, kosher salt is half the concentration of table salt so if you use table salt, use half as much. Click here to read more about salt and how it works.
About the ground beef. Ground pork, chicken, turkey, fish, or veggies such as tofu or mushrooms may be substituted for the beef. In Laos, this dish is most often made with ground water buffalo.
About the fresh galangal. Substitute fresh ginger if you can’t find galangal.
About the culantro leaves. These are also known as “sawtooth” leaves, and you should be able to find them at an Asian or Latin market; sometimes also known as “recao.” If unavailable, just use more cilantro.
About the fresh red chile pepper. Laotians would use 3 or 4 peppers, but for most people, 1 or 2 will be sufficient to get the kick.
About the toasted rice powder. This may be purchased at most Asian markets. To make at home, toast ¼ cup of sticky rice and grind finely.
About the fresh banana flower. You may be able to find this at an Asian market. Or substitute half of a small white cabbage; Note: this is optional, for decoration. You may also add sliced cumbers and tomato to the platter, for wrapping up in the lettuce leaves.
Metric conversion:

These recipes were created in US Customary measurements and the conversion to metric is being done by calculations. They should be accurate, but it is possible there could be an error. If you find one, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page


  • Prep. Mix the ground meat with the salt and 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce (reserve remaining tablespoon for the dressing). Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Slice the lemongrass thinly, mince the galangal, roughly chop the cilantro, culantro, mint, and spring onions, and toss them together. Squeeze the juice from the lime and set aside.
  • Fire up. Prepare a grill for 2-zone cooking by placing a chimney full of pre-heated charcoal briquets on one side of the grill’s charcoal grate in order to create direct and indirect cooking zones. Open the grill vents fully for high-heat cooking (a.k.a. Warp 10) on the indirect side, at least 450°F (232°C). On a gas grill, adjust the temperature knobs so that one half of the grill is off and the other half is as hot as possible.
  • Cook. Place the chile, whole shallots and whole garlic cloves directly onto the hottest part of the grill paying attention so the skins blacken but do not burn completely. Remove burnt skins of garlic and shallot, remove stems and seeds from chiles. Pound these together in a mortar and pestle or mince together with a knife. Set aside.
  • Place a cast iron pan or wok on the grate over the highest heat, and allow to heat until very hot. Add the marinated beef and stir frequently until cooked through with no pink remaining. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • In large mixing bowl, combine the minced garlic/chile/shallot mixture, chopped herbs, cooked beef, remaining tablespoon of fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and roasted rice powder. Mix well and taste, adding more fish sauce, lime juice, or sugar as desired to balance the flavors.
  • Serve. Place on a large platter with the banana flower (or cabbage) and fresh green beans on side. Serve with whole green lettuce leaves on separate plate, for wrapping, Mound 1 to 2 heaping tablespoons of the beef mixture atop a lettuce leaf and top with a little sticky rice. You should be able to wrap up the lettuce leaf and eat comfortably with one hand.

Published On: 9/14/2023 Last Modified: 2/14/2024

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  • Dan Gertsacov, Contributing Author - Meet Dan Gertsacov, editorial contributor to Dan shares a variety of recipes created as a result of his quest to travel the world while learning 50 international cuisines.


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