Laab salads are a regular ingredient in many Thai diets, particularly as most Thai meals are made up of a mixture of dishes including a soup, a salad, a meat dish and a vegetable dish. Laabs fall into the "sep" category of Thai food which are characterised by sour and spicy flavours. Most laab salads are made with chicken or pork but we thought we'd share this vegetarian version which is not only extremely healthy but also extra tasty as the tofu readily absorbs the seasoning and literally bursts with flavour when bitten.
Ingredients (for four people)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
2 tablespoons light soya sauce (use fish sauce if you are not a strict vegetarian)
2 teaspoons Thai roasted chilli paste
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 x 14oz packs of extra firm tofu
3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 cloves garlic (minced)
3 tablespoons minced fresh lemongrass
1 tablespoon thinly sliced Thai chillies
1 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 - 3 tablespoons roasted rice powder (kao kua)*
Combine the first five ingredients, stirring until sugar dissolves; set aside.
Spread tofu in a single layer onto several layers of paper towels; cover with additional paper towels. Let stand for 15 minutes, pressing down occasionally.
Heat sesame oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, lemongrass and chillies; sauté for three minutes. Add tofu; cook for eight minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in juice mixture and roasted rice powder; cook for 1 minute or until heated through. Remove from heat; stir in coriander and mint. Serve in cabbage or lettuce leaves.
* If a Thai recipe calls for even a sprinkling of roasted rice powder, don't be tempted to leave it out. Thai mothers cooking at home wouldn't dream of skipping it as an ingredient as it not only adds a nutty, toasted flavour that defines certain dishes like laab salads, but also functions as a thickener much like modified starch. It's best to make up a large batch and keep it in an air-tight container for future use. To make perfect roasted rice powder (kao kua) simply heat a skillet over medium heat and add a handful of Thai glutinous / sticky rice (NOT normal long grain rice) Cook rice until golden brown, for five to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a plate and once it is cool, transfer it to a spice grinder / blender and grind to a fine powder.