Mapo Tofu will always have a special place in my heart as the first way I discovered of making tofu taste delicious. Sometimes, however, Mapo Tofu’s explosion of Sichuan pepper and chilli heat is just too much, hence the much lighter delicious tofu dish #2: Tofu Larb.
When I was working as a tour guide, I drove through northern Laos regularly enough to develop a serious addiction to sticky rice and larb – the Lao national dish of minced protein (usually pork, chicken or tofu) tossed with piles of herbs, shallots and lime juice. I would take my guests to the restaurant at the lovely Boat Landing Guesthouse outside Luang Namtha and over-order in the secret hope of a doggy bag.
While dill doesn’t appear very often in South-East Asian food, it pops up in Laotian soups and stews, and its leafy fragrance works well here – although do feel free to omit and add more mint and coriander if you prefer. Here in Hong Kong I can buy ready-fried cubes of tofu from most market stalls – where they come from is a bit of a mystery, so I steam them before chopping them up to reduce the likelihood that the mystery will be bacterial in nature. And, finally, make sure you don’t omit larb‘s secret ingredient (ground roast rice), which adds a certain ສິ່ງໃດກໍຕາມ* to the final dish…
*Je ne sais quoi
From the market:
200g tofu, either deep-fried cubes or fresh and wobbly (in which case you’ll also need cooking oil)
A bunch each of mint, coriander and dill
A spring onion
2 fresh red chilli peppers
3 cloves of garlic
From the cupboard/supermarket:
2 tbsp light soy sauce
50ml water or vegetable stock
25g uncooked rice
1. Heat a dry frying pan and roast the rice until it is just starting to colour. Grind the roasted rice and set to one side.
2. Prepare the tofu. If it’s already been deep-fried, just mince it roughly and you’re good to go. If your tofu is still at the white-and-wobbly stage, cut it into cubes, heat some oil in a pan and fry until the outside is golden brown. I leave the depth of the oil at your discretion – the main aim is to cook it through and firm up the outside, so both deep-frying and shallow-frying are fine here. Wait for it to cool enough to handle, then mince roughly. Mince the garlic and fry in a little oil until it turns golden.
3. With the tofu in a mixing bowl, add the soy sauce, lime juice water/stock, garlic and ground roasted rice. Add the garlic to the bowl, incorporate everything evenly to ensure the flavourings reach all of the tofu. Roughly chop the herbs and spring onion, slice the shallots and chilli, then mix everything into the tofu – by hand seems to work best. Check seasoning and serve – see below for ideas on how to eat your larb.
- Serve spoonfuls of larb in lettuce leaf cups (Little Gem works well) or on slices of cucumber.
- Your larb is best served soon after making, otherwise all those lovely herbs will shrivel away to nothing. Diminished looks aside, the leftovers will keep nicely for 1-2 days in the fridge.
- To make sticky rice, rinse and soak your uncooked sticky rice in cold water for a few hours (an hour will do at a pinch, but longer is better). When you’re ready to cook the rice, drain the rice, line a steamer basket with a clean teatowel and fill the basket with the soaked rice. Steam for 10 minutes, then flip the rice over so it cooks evenly. After another 10 minutes the rice ought to be slightly translucent, rather sticky and ready to eat. Yum…