Recipe: Laab Kai

Laab Kai

Laab is a wonderful hot n’ sour salad from Thailand. It’s also very low in fat, but bursts with flavour. The primary flavours are hot (from the chilli), sour (from the lime juice) and salty (from the fish sauce) If you want a circus on your tongue, try Laab. It’s also made very quickly – less than 10 minutes if you work fast.

I’ve modified this version to my liking (the lemon grass, for instance), so it may not match other recipes exactly.

Let’s go make some!


Chicken breast meat (boneless), ground (minced) very coarsely – 200 gm (The coarse part is important. Finely minced meat will not pick up flavour and will just float around. I usually use two cleavers and break down a chicken breast. You can try cutting the chicken breast very fine. Freezing it for about 30 minutes before chopping makes it easier.)

Chicken stock – 90 ml (6 tablespoons)

Peanut oil – 2 teaspoons

Galangal (finely chopped) – 2 teaspoons (substitute young ginger if you can’t find this)

Lemon grass (finely chopped) – 1 tablespoon (Use only the tender heart and not the fibrous outer layer. Substitute 1 teaspoon lemon rind if you can’t find this)

Fresh red chillies – from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons depending on your tolerance – very finely sliced (don’t forget to wash your hands with soap immediately after touching them)

Shallots (sliced) – 4 (Substitute with quarter of a medium purple onion if you can’t find this)

Fresh mint leaves (chopped) – 1/2 cup

Fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves (chopped) – 1/2 cup

Spring onions (scallions for the Americans) – finely chopped – 2 tablespoons

4 tablespoons raw rice (we’re gonna make toasted ground rice with this)

4 Lettuce leaves

Salad dressing ingredients

4 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder

1/2 teaspoon sugar


First, we’re going to make our special ingredient – toasted ground rice. This gives the salad a nutty flavour.

Heat a skillet over low heat and when it’s hot enough, add the raw rice grains. Keep the heat low and stir from time to time. Keep toasting till the grains turn golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When it has cooled down, put it into a coffee grinder and grind till you have a coarse powder. You should not grind it till it’s fine. It should still have some “bite”.

Combine the salad dressing ingredients and set aside. Adjust to taste if something seems out of balance.

Heat a wok or large pan and when it’s hot, add the peanut oil. Once the oil is hot, add the lemon grass, shallots, and galangal. Stir for 20 seconds, and add the stock. Turn the heat down to medium and add the minced chicken. Cook for another 3-4 minutes (about 30-60 seconds past the time that the chicken turns white completely and is no longer pink) Don’t overcook the chicken or it will get tough. By the time you finish cooking, the stock would have evaporated.

There, the chicken is done. Turn off the heat. Add the salad dressing, the chillies, the toasted rice, spring onions, the mint and coriander leaves. Mix well.

Take a serving plate, arrange the lettuce leaves in the corners of the plate, and empty the chicken and its dressing on to the plate in between the leaves.

Ta da! Your salad is ready. Traditionally, it is served with plenty of veggies and herbs on the side. You can have the salad as an accompaniment to your main course, or wrap the chicken and some dressing in the lettuce leaves and enjoy it as a hot n’ sour package. Be adventurous and use more chilli than you’d normally use. The flavour of the fresh herbs will prevent any serious damage to your taste buds.

This salad can be served at room temperature, but I like to serve it warm. If you allow it to cool, the chilli flavour recedes and the salty flavour becomes more assertive. Try making the salad with beef too.

PS: Chilli causes the release of endorphins in your body, which make you happy, so it’s just as effective a “love food” as chocolate. And the medley of flavours in this salad gets people all excited too. (wink, wink)

18 Replies to “Recipe: Laab Kai”

  1. Sounds great! I should try this out this weekend :)

  2. What if I do not have a coffee grinder?
    Can you think of an alternative? Crushed peanuts?
    How else can i get the rice ground up?

  3. Madhu (Ze Chef) says:

    David, don’t you have anything that can pulverize rice grains? A mortar and pestle? A heavy paperweight?
    Take the rice grains, wrap them in some foil and give ’em a pounding with the paperweight. That ought to do most of the work. :)

  4. Nice sounds simple… must check it out ! where is my chicken mushroom is lettuce cups.. please put that up..

  5. I haven’t come across the toasted ground rice before; I’ll give this recipe a whirl this weekend. Thanks!

  6. Sounds damn neat…I’ve used lentils to give a coarse, crunchy taste, but rice..sounds new and exciting..will definetly try this weekend!!

  7. sounds great.
    Will give it a try.. thanks..

  8. I know what I’m cooking this weekend! Great stuff Madhu

  9. DUDE that was AWESOME! Rowr! Another thing that the toasted rice does, is it soaks up any extra dressing that would otherwise lie watery and wan at the bottom and glues it to the other food. SO added to the regular line-up. Fast, too. Thanks!
    I used ground pork.

  10. Madhu (Ze Chef) says:

    Glad you like it, Miriam. ;)
    (Did I mention it is low fat?)

  11. Say, how could you make this as a vegetarian dish? Tofu?

  12. Scott,
    Tofu will make a “vegetarian” version alright. I’m not so sure about the taste and texture though. Tofu just doesn’t have the “bite” of minced meat. Try minced mushroom perhaps?

  13. A suggestion, add the same amount of Thai basil as cilantro, just at the end of the sitr fry. Just got back from Thailand and found about 1/3 of the Laab I ordered, Chicken, Pork or Tofu, included it an it really rounded the flavors

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  15. Thanks for the recipe, Madhu! I’m with Scott

  16. hmm, this is indeed yummy. I had it a few days back in Berco’s in Delhi!! :) Would try it in your restaurant when am in Bangalore! :)

  17. Alexandra CarrFrederick says:

    For those of us looking for a vegetarian version with a ‘meaty’ texture, i have found that if if you freeze extra firm tofu, then thaw and drain it, you can crumble it into this recipe and it has a fantastic, firm, chewy texture. Just a thought!

  18. just started reborning and just hooked on as much info as poss; thank you.
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    Best regards ;), Storm.

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