Thai Larb #FoodieReads
After reading a really disappointing book, I picked up The Spy Coast by Tess Gerritsen. I had no idea what to expect, but I loved this novel. This was one of my free reads from the Amazon First Reads program.
On the Page
Former CIA operative Maggie Bird owns a chicken farm in Purity, Maine. Her real identity is revealed (to the reader, anyway) when a dead body lands on her driveway while she is having dinner with her book group. It turns out that all of her friends are also retired CIA, living quiet, anonymous lives in rural Maine. Chief of Police Jo Thibodeau has no idea with whom she is dealing.
The story unfolds through Maggie's life as an agent to her life now as she reveals to her friends the mission that has threatened to unmask them all. I couldn't put this down and read it in one sitting. I was thrilled to see that it was the first novel in a series. Sadly, I have to wait till March 2025 to see what happens next!
There was a surprising amount of food in this book. At their book group meetings, they always have dinner. And, because all of the spies spent time all around the globe, the food is quite international. Here's an example: "... [he appears] unannounced at my door, bearing a Pyrex dish with moussaka, still warm from the oven. Ten minutes later, Ben arrived with his offering of Persian rice and lamb, and then Declan walked in with green beans and slivered almonds. A bounty of casseroles is what friends bring you in a crisis, if you’ve just lost your spouse or broken your leg, and here they are, my four closest friends, their visit unexpected but welcome. It seems the band really is back together, once again sharing recipes and gossip, a head-spinning return to normalcy." And "Declan is the only man I know who can make an apron look dashing. We sit down with our whisky and our bowls of steaming goulash, fragrant with the scent of paprika."
It was this passage that inspired me into the kitchen: "We all move into the dining room, where the table is soon laid out with Declan’s always excellent curry, Ben’s Persian rice, Lloyd’s pork, and my Thai larb, recipes we gathered during our years of working in far-flung places."
Living abroad changes your palate; chili addiction is a real thing.
I decided to make my version of Thai larb, also called larb, laap, larp, and lahb. Like other dishes in Southeast Asian cooking, the dish combines savory, spicy flavors with fresh ones.
1 Tablespoon oil (I used olive oil because that's what I had)
1 pound ground pork
¼ teaspoon organic granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
1 lime, juiced, approximately 2 Tablespoons
1 red chile pepper (thinly sliced)
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced, divided
¼ cup organic cilantro, chopped plus more for serving
¼ cup organic mint, chopped
Also needed: heavy bottom pot or wok, washed and dried lettuce leaves for serving, lime wedges
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice. Set aside.
Heat your pot over high heat until smoking. Add the oil, ground pork, and all by ¼ cup of the sliced red onions. Cook until the pork is browned completely, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to break up the chunks of meat.
Pour in the fish sauce mixture and stir to coat all of the meat. Add in the chile, cilantro, and mint. Cook until the herbs are wilted. Taste for seasoning and add more of whatever you think might be missing: sugar if it needs more sweet, lime juice if it needs more tart, and fish sauce if it needs more salt.
Before serving, scatter remaining red onions on top. Let diners spoon the laab into the lettuce leaves and add more cilantro and give a squeeze of more fresh lime, if they wish.