Tangy and spicy Thai beef salad (commonly known as larb) is so packed with flavor that you’ll find yourself making this often. Loaded with greens, spices, and tender beef (pork or chicken is awesome, too), this salad is divine.
My husband and I love exploring Queens, which is the place to go for Thai food. I always order the larb or Thai beef salad—a pungent meat-based salad and one of the most famous dishes of Laos. The best versions have a good balance of heat (from the chile) and tang (from the lime and fish sauce). Typically, toasted rice powder binds the dish and adds a nutty flavor. It’s easy to make at home, but I prefer to use roasted cashews instead. Chicken or pork can stand in for the beef.–Mindy Fox
LC Oh Nuts! Note
Ever have your heart set on a recipe only to exclaim “Oh nuts!” midway through when you realized you lacked an essential ingredient or three? Fortunately, as the author notes above, there’s a little leeway with the ingredients in this Thai beef recipe. Like, for example, swapping cashews for peanuts. Whew.
Thai Beef Salad ~ Larb
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds (optional)
- 1/2 pound green beans trimmed
- 9 ounces green cabbage cored and very thinly shredded (4 cups)
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 garlic clove finely chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground beef (or substitute pork or chicken)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1 small red onion very thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup very thinly sliced scallions white and green parts
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped salted, roasted cashews
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil plus whole leaves for garnish
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 medium serrano chile very thinly sliced and, if desired, seeded
- If using coriander seeds, place them in a dry skillet over medium-low heat and toast them, shaking the skillet back and forth, until quite fragrant, about 6 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a plate to cool. Dump the seeds into a mini food processor or spice grinder and coarsely grind them, or crush them with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Transfer the pulverized seeds to a small bowl.
- Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Dump in the green beans and cook for 1 minute. Drain and run under cold water to cool. Pat the beans dry, then very thinly slice the beans crosswise into small rounds (or, for a somewhat fancier schmancier presentation, halve the beans lengthwise into long slivers), and transfer the beans to a large bowl. Add the cabbage and 1 tablespoon cilantro and toss to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, 2 tablespoons lime juice, garlic, and sugar.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add the beef (or pork or chicken) and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon and breaking up the chunks of meat until it’s cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro, the fish sauce mixture, the onion, scallions, cashews, basil, mint, cayenne, and half the sliced chile and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- To the cabbage mixture, add the remaining tablespoon lime juice, the remaining tablespoon oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss to combine.
- Divide the cabbage mixture among 4 plates and top with the meat mixture. Sprinkle with the basil leaves and the remaining chile and coriander seeds, if using. Instruct guests to eat the Thai beef salad with their hands. (Although you could offer a fork and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.)
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I am always amazed by fish sauce. How can something that smells like dirty socks make food taste so good? The bounty of flavors in this Thai beef salad recipe takes that sauce to a great place—sweet and sour, hot and cool, herbal and salty. Plus, you have tender meat and a crunchy salad. You might think there’s too much going on, but it all works. And despite the long ingredient list, this is not a difficult recipe. I sliced the beans lengthwise as it just seemed more in keeping with the texture of the shredded cabbage.
This Thai beef salad recipe had good heat, tang, and salt, as promised in the intro. I used only the nuts and fish sauce and found it to be salty enough for my taste. I loved the crunch of the cabbage and the freshness of the cilantro. I cut my green beans crosswise into rounds which was, to me, more aesthetically pleasing since it echoed the scallions and the serrano chile slices. The fish sauce dressing on the ground pork, coupled with the red onion and scallions, gave the mixture a hot, vibrant flavor. I doubt that substituting chicken or pork would alter the finished product, making this dish quite flexible. The meat and cabbage combo is totally satisfying and would be refreshing on a hot day (unfortunately, we still do not have summer here…). I topped the dish with the toasted coriander seeds, which added a nice crunch and nuanced flavor.
This Thai beef salad recipe was the perfect summer dinner for us. As promised, the flavors were well-balanced: spicy, tangy, and salty. I thought the toasted, crushed coriander that was sprinkled over the salad added to the balance of flavors, although I think the salad would still be excellent without it. I read the instructions for slicing the green beans crosswise into rounds, but it would be a little nicer in regards to presentation to slice them lengthwise. My only real gripe with this recipe was the number of bowls and pans it required for a relatively simple dish. Fortunately, it was completely worth a few extra dishes. I’ll definitely be making this again.
Upon first reading this Thai beef salad recipe, I must admit to questioning whether there would be enough sauce to adequately season a pound of meat, but I proceeded to make the dish as written. I followed the recipe to a T and found that my instincts were correct—while there was a hint of all of the flavors that make Thai cuisine so intriguing, I found that, for my taste anyway, the dish lacked the punch that makes Thai food so exciting. I made the dish again a few nights later, and by doing nothing more than doubling the sauce recipe (fish sauce, garlic, lime juice, and sugar), the dish was spectacular. I prepared my version with ground pork, and prepped a little extra cilantro, chopped peanuts, basil, mint, serrano pepper, and wedges of lime to pass at the table. We all found the dish to be a revelation. It was spicy and pungent from the fish sauce and chiles yet cool and crisp from the cabbage and green beans, which were thinly sliced on a bias. Blasts of herbal sweetness and the crunch of the nuts and coriander seeds rounded out the complex flavors that made this dish such a hit with my family. If you like your food on the milder side, then by all means make the recipe as written, but if you prefer your Thai on the bold side, double the sauce recipe.
Originally published June 09, 2015