A deliciously fresh and zingy Laos chicken salad, packed full of mint, coriander, chilli, lemon grass and lime. If you’re new to Laos cuisine this quick and easy recipe is the perfect place to start!
A hot dry day in Laos’ 4000 islands. A morning bumping along dusty roads on the back of a rusty moped, bouncing through deep pot holes, swerving around chickens and the mud crusted noses of sleeping water buffalo. The afternoon sun is high in the sky, breakfast was a very long time ago and we’re hungry.
At the road side is a painted wooden sign, proudly declaring whats on offer. A gaggle of school children sit perched on a table, sharing a huge steamer of sticky rice between them, pulling up handfuls of the rice with their fingers, rolling it into balls in the palm of their hand, biting chunks off like bread. We take a seat outside, a tiny smiling lady brings over the menu. We look through and make our choice. We request pork, she shakes her head. No pork today. How about the curry? No, no curry either. “Laap Kai?” She suggests? Chicken? Yes, ok, chicken.
Moments later a little moped coughs and hiccups onto life. We watch as our hostess whizzes off down the track. She returns later, lettuce in hand. Next she takes up a little baskets and walks around the land. Garden would be a difficult term for it, there isn’t much growing, yet from amongst the yellowing grass she returns with a basket full of vibrant green mint leafs.
Nearly an hour after we ordered she presents us with a heaving plate of laap kai, packed full with herbs, chilli and chicken. Everything in the dish she had grown herself, or had been grown by her neighbours. The dish couldn’t have been any fresher, couldn’t have been made with more devotion. She waits at the table silently while we start to eat. She watches the forks go from the plate to our mouths. We turn to her, nodding, smiling. It is excellent.
Laap Kai, or Laos chicken and herb salad, became one of our favourite things to eat while we were in Laos. I’ve talked about it before here, and indeed here, and now I’m going to rave about it just a little bit more. Laap is just amazing. Its light, its fresh, its packed full of flavour. Its completely free of gluten and completely free of dairy. Its packed with protein, and delicious served warm or cold.
Its a little spicy, with a fresh hit from the gloriously green herbs. I’ve used lots of mint and a little bit of coriander. The lime juice lifts all the flavours and makes everything sing together.
The textures are lovely too. There’s a delicious crunch from the bean sprouts, the spring onions, and the green beans.
The salad is made with minced chicken, but you can use whatever meat you have to hand. We ate delicious Laap made with pork and beef, and I even ate it with water buffalo (although i’m not sure that one will be quite so easy to pick up at the supermarket!). You could even choose to make it with turkey mince if you’re watching your fat intake. I haven’t tried it with quorn mince, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t work too.
You could make up a big batch and eat it throughout the week. For an evening meal you can serve it with rice. For a light lunch eat it over crisp lettuce leafs. Either way its completely delicious! Close your eyes, savour the freshness of the mint, the zingy bite of chilli and lime, and imagine yourself far away on a warm Laos island.
– adjust the amount of chilli to your own tastes. I like it quite spicy, but feel free to use less chilli if you prefer.
– experiment with the herbs. Adjust the amounts depending on what you have. It would work well with a little parsley, and I think thai basil would make a lovely addition too.
- 500g minced chicken
- 1 tablespoon oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- 2 handfuls of mint, roughly chopped
- 1 handful coriander (stalks and leaves), roughly chopped
- 2 long green beans, thinly sliced
- 2 lemongrass stalks (outer leaves removed), finely chopped
- 1 handful bean sprouts
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Additional fish sauce, lime, chilli and lettuce leaves (optional), to serve
- Heat the oil in a pan, then add your chicken, salt and fish sauce. Gently fry the chicken until lightly browned and fully cooked. Remove from the heat.
- Prepare all the remaining ingredients and add to a large bowl.
- Add the cooked chicken and stir together until everything is well combined.
- Serve with lettuce leaves, extra lime, chilli and fish sauce, and a side of sticky rice.