As promised in today’s Seasonal Pantry, here’s one of my versions of the classic Thai salad, larb. There’s not a lot of spaghetti squash left and so to make this with cabbage, which is traditional, or with rice noodles, which is delicious, see the variations at the end of the recipe.

Classic Thai larb, with ground pork

Thai-Inspired Lamb Salad with Spaghetti Squash • Serves 4

My favorite salad of Southeast Asia is Thai larb or laab, in its infinite variations. Most often it is made of either ground pork or chicken seasoned with garlic, galangal and toasted rice powder, served over shredded cabbage and dressed with that classic combination of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and hot green chiles. I’ve had similar salads made with ground beef, ground turkey, minced duck, tiny calamari and baby octopus and I’ve enjoyed these various interpretations atop rice noodles, yam noodles and salad greens. In this version, which I make from fall to mid spring, I call for spaghetti squash instead of noodles. Spaghetti squash is delicious, healthy and easy to work with, as it pretty much shreds itself into noodle-like strands. To make this salad with cabbage or rice noodles, consult the variations that follow the main recipe.

  • 6 cups cooked and shredded spaghetti squash, from a 2 1/2 to 3 pound squash (see Note below)
  • Thai Lime Dressing (recipe follows)
  • 1 shallot, peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
  • 1 serrano, stemmed and chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound grass-fed ground lamb, pork or beef or pastured ground duck or chicken
  • 2 tablespoons toasted ground rice
  • 2 or 3 green onions, trimmed and cut into thin rounds
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, torn into pieces
  • 10 to 12 spearmint leaves, torn into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons lightly toasted white sesame seeds or 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, optional
  1. First, prepare the spaghetti squash and make the dressing and set both aside. This can be done several hours before finishing the salad.
  2. Put the shallot, garlic, ginger and serrano into a suribachi or large mortar, season with several pinches of salt and pound with a wooden pestle to crush all the ingredients into a paste.
  3. Set a medium saute pan over medium high heat, add the ground meat and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until it just begins to firm up, and then add the shallot paste. Continue to cook, stirring with a fork all the while, for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the meat is no longer pink. Stir in the ground rice flour and remove from the heat.
  4. To serve, divide the spaghetti squash among individual soup plates and spoon meat and cooking juices over each portion. Drizzle the dressing on top, using all of it. Scatter the green onions, cilantro, spearmint and sesame seeds or peanuts, if using, over each portion and serve immediately.

Note: The easiest way to prepare spaghetti squash is to steam it. If you cut it in half lengthwise and then cut each half into 2 or 3 lengthwise wedges, it will cook fairly quickly, in about 12 minutes. Simply put it on the rack or in the basket of a steamer, set over simmering water, cover and cook until tender but not mushy. If you prefer to bake it, again, cut it in half lengthwise, cut each half in half, lengthwise, again, set on a sheet pan and bake at 375 degrees until tender but not mushy, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the spaghetti squash from the steamer or oven, let cool until easy to handle, scrape out the seeds and use a fork to scrape the flesh in long strokes; it will pretty much shred itself.

Variations:

-To serve over cabbage, you’ll need about 6 cups of thinly shredded cabbage. Follow the instructions in the main recipe and simply substitute the cabbage for the spaghetti squash. No other changes are necessary.

-To serve over rice noodles, select a thin dried noodle such as vermicelli and refresh it according to the package directions. I find it best to put the noodles into a large metal bowl, cover them completely with boiling water and let them rest for about 5 minutes or until they are fully tender. To serve 4, you’ll need about 6 ounces dried rice vermicelli. Drain thoroughly. Toss the noodles with the onions, cilantro and spearmint and divide it among individual bowls. Spoon the meat on top of the noodles and drizzle dressing over it all. Scatter with sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Thai Lime Dressing • Makes 1/2 cup

  • 5 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 serranos or similar green chiles, seeded and minced
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce, such as Golden Boy brand
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  1. Put the garlic and chiles into a small glass bowl, add the sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice, and stir for a few seconds, until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Use immediately or store in a covered jar in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.