Laab Neua – Thai Lettuce Rolls

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It is very rare that I will choose to cook something I don’t think I will like, but with a pitiful Thai repertoire it is time to start being brave and trying new things.

This weekend, my flavour of the month, Rick Stein took me back to Thailand with his Laab Neua (lettuce rolls). His description goes a little something like this: Stir-fried minced beef with lemongrass, chilli and roasted rice rolled in lettuce leaves.

What this title doesn’t tell you is how unbelievably good the end result is once you’ve mixed in the lime juice, fish sauce, mint and coriander! Ok, so the ingredients may be very similar to the Waterfall Beef Salad, so maybe I’m not that brave, but mince outside of a cottage pie? That is a little bit unusual!

Rick Stein must have a steel lined mouth to cope with the amount of chilli he suggests in his recipe for 4 – I toned it down slightly and simply halved the ingredient quantities to feed 2 as a main course. This really is one of the easiest, tastiest and cheapest Thai dishes I’ve made, a great addition to the list and one that I will probably use to create an authentic starter at my next Thai dinner party! A great alternative to my usual (and very messy) spring rolls.

Here is my recipe to feed 2 (or 4 as a starter):

250g lean minced beef (turkey mince also works as a lower fat option but will require longer cooking)
2 lemongrass stalks – very thinly sliced
4 shallots – thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes
1 tsp dried chillies – ground into a powder
1 large fresh red chilli – finely chopped
1-2 tbsp fish sauce (to taste)
handful of coriander – roughly chopped
small handful of mint leaves – roughly chopped
2 tbsp rice (long grain, jasmine or basmati – whatever you have lying around)
1 iceberg lettuce
olive oil
black pepper

The time is in the prep for this one, as everything but the mince is served raw.

Whilst your slicing and chopping just throw everything into a bowl. Then squeeze in the lime juice and pour over the fish sauce.

Put the uncooked rice into a dry wok and put on a high heat. Toast until lightly browned, stir continually to avoid burning the grains. Then pound in a pestle and mortar (or in a cup with a heavy rolling pin) until partly ground.

Fry off the mince in a little bit of olive oil until it is just browned (don”t over cook) and season with a bit of black pepper. Add the mince to the salad mixture and stir. Carefully peel off 1 x iceberg lettuce leaf per person and spoon the salad mixture into the lettuce leaf bowl.

Serve open or roll the leaf around the mixture to make a wrap.

These gorgeously sweet and crunchy Thai lettuce rolls will test your spice threshold and if you’ve visited any market place in Thailand, will take you straight back. Try replacing the beef mince with pork or flaked fish.

Enjoy!

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