One night last week I found Mr. T wandering about the kitchen asking–with just a slightly plaintive edge–”what are we doing for dinner?”, which is code for: “are you cooking or do we need to go out?” Having been out to several very nice dinners in the days prior, it was obviously time for me to step up, so I set about rummaging around in the refrigerator for dinner. It did not look that promising: a pound of ground turkey, two sad strawberries, and some random vegetables. It was also the first hot day of summer (calendars be damned) and we were unaccountably really hungry, so I wanted something that would be substantial and tasty, yet sit lightly.
Circling back to that ground turkey and the lettuce sitting next two it, I started thinking about larb gai, the Thai ground chicken salad. Spicy and savory, with nary a heavy carb in sight, it seemed like just the thing. Excited by the prospect of tangy, pungent meat wrapped up in cool lettuce leaves, I set right to work without bothering to do any research to further my somewhat hazy conception of larb gai.
Nevertheless, I kept in mind the hot-sour-spicy-sweet balance that marks so much Southeast Asian cooking and mixed up a dressing accordingly. I also pulled out a trick from my peanut sauce recipe, hot-sauteed the shallots almost to the point of charring to coax out the burnt, caramelly notes also found in Thai cuisine. And, in truth, this really hit the spot. Warm, the turkey mixture was a pleasantly spicy, tingly contrast to the cool, crisp vegetables and made for a restorative and delicious weeknight meal.
Larb Gai-ish Ground Turkey Salad
Yield: 2 entree or 4 starter servings
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 large shallots
1 lb ground turkey
2 cloves garlic
1 2″ piece ginger
1 baseball-sized red or yellow beet
1/2 lb green beans
2 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs Sriracha hot sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
1 tsp white pepper
juice of 1 lime
1/3 c (packed) mint leaves
1/3 c (packed) cilantro leaves
4 small heads butter lettuce
2 small tomatoes
Peel and mince the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat. When the oil is nearly smoking, add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes. Let the shallots brown–almost burn in places–you’re looking for an uneven cooking over high heat. You’ll have some nearly black bits, lots of golden bits and some very pale bits. Lower the heat to medium. and add the ginger and garlic, cooking another minute longer.
Add the ground turkey to the pot and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until fully cooked and fairly dry–5-7 minutes. While the meat is cooking, in a medium bowl whisk together the fish sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce, honey, white pepper, and lime juice in a small bowl. Once the meat is done, add the sauce to the pot and cook a minute or so more. Remove from heat and pour the meat mixture back into the bowl.
Top and tail the green beans, and cut in fine dice. Add to the turkey mixture. Peel the beet and carrots, and grate on the fine side of a box grater. Stir grated vegetables into the turkey mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Separate the lettuce leaves, rinse and dry. Slice the tomatoes into wedges. Serve the turkey mixture in small bowls with the lettuce leaves and sliced tomato. Maybe with some jasmine rice along side.