Thai Beef or Larb is one of my favorite recipes. It’s on our dinner rotation, especially when my mint garden is thriving. Because it’s just enough interesting and just enough tame, it’s become my go-to meal when taking dinner to people who’ve just had babies – which seems to be all of my friends lately. The ingredients of this recipe – rice, ground beef, onions, fish sauce, sriracha, lime juice – are staples in my kitchen, which makes this recipe cheap and quick and available.
My friend Heidi gave me this recipe from her friends from Thailand who were in America going to seminary to prepare to go back to Thailand and minister to people in their culture. I feel like this recipe has a heritage, and being from Thai people, it is the real deal.
Over the years, I’ve made modifications to make the recipe my own. I started preferring the red onion to the shallots, and liking my onion sliced quite thick. Rather than using chili oil and cayenne pepper, I opt for sriracha sauce – I love its spice and smokiness. Sriracha also has two ingredients that make any condiment better – sugar and vinegar.
Get the rice cooking first. It will take longer than the Thai beef. I like sushi rice without the vinegar mix or jasmine rice. Traditionally this recipe is served on a bed of lettuce, so you can go that route too. To take it in a totally different direction, I think it would make excellent filling for lettuce wraps, but if you do that, cut the onions smaller.
Grab mint from your garden. Mint is the only thing I can successfully grow, so this sentence is exciting for me to write. Normally all I grab from my garden are dead brown things – evidences of my brown thumb. You can also buy mint. Rinse it, dry it on a dish towel, and then strip the leaves by pulling your thumb and fingers down the stems. Give the leaves a rough chop.
It’s important to prep this first. Washing and drying and stemming mint takes longer than you think it will. And this recipe goes fast, which is why I love it!
Slice an onion or a bunch of shallots. I’m lazy, so I use an onion. Slice with the grain of the onion.
Get a wok (or a big pan) nice and hot with a tablespoon or so of oil.
Cook the onions hot and fast so they still have a little crunch but they’re caramelized on the outside. I got the nice color on the onions by making sure the pan was very hot and then by resisting the urge to stir the onions constantly.
When your onions are just about ready, add a few cloves of garlic and cook for just a minute or so. Garlic burns easily, and once it’s burned, it turns bitter and gross, and there is nothing you can do to salvage your dish. So watch it carefully. This is also where you could add the 1/4 tsp of ground cayenne pepper, but I skip it because I’m a wimp.
Remove the onions, but don’t rinse out the pan. It would be sad to lose all that oniony goodness.
With your pan still hot, begin browning the ground beef. I use 96/4 ground beef. It’s low enough on fat that I don’t drain it, but if you use a higher-fat ground beef, drain it after it’s browned.
While the beef is browning, make a mix of fish sauce, sugar, a splash of soy sauce, sriracha sauce and lime juice (or lemon juice). Confession – I use the bottled lime juice. Sorry Barefoot Contessa. I have failed you.
Fish sauce is essentially ground anchovies and water. It is the way Thai food is salted. At a specialty store, you’ll find a small bottle for $4 or $5. If you go to an Asian grocery store, you’ll get a huge bottle for $1. I recommend the huge bottle.
This sauce looks pretty gross. Don’t be fooled. It tastes so good!
After it’s browned, add the lime/fish sauce mix.
Make sure the to get the meat browned before you add the sauce. If you don’t, the acid in the lime juice will partially disintegrate the meat.
I enjoy serving with green beans that have been sauteed with garlic.
I made a double recipe, part for The Professor and me, and part for some friends who just had a baby. It’s the perfect meal to take. Package up the meat mixure, the rice and a steamer bag of frozen green beans. It’s always been a hit with my friends.
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 bunch of mint, stemmed and chopped
- 1 red onion or 6 medium shallots
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 4 tbsp lime juice
- 4 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp gluten-free soy sauce (if you're gluten-free)
- sriracha sauce to taste - start with 1 tsp
- 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper (I skip this part because it's too spicy for me)
- Get rice cooking. Wash, stem and chop mint. Mix the sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sriracha sauce in a bowl. Slice onions and brown onions hot and fast with the vegetable oil. Add garlic and cayenne pepper for the last minute of cooking. Remove onions and brown the meat. After it's partially cooked add the sauce mix and cook until the meat is finished cooking. Add back the onions and then the mint.
- Serve with rice and green beans. Make sure to have sriracha sauce at the table so people can spice their meal to taste.