Lamb Larb

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Anything I get to wrap in lettuce to eat makes me happy. (See: bulgogi, spring rolls, etc.) Larb is right up there with the best of them. It’s typically meat seasoned with that perfect balance of hot-sour-salty-sweet and served with sticky rice, herbs, and lettuce to wrap it all up in. Larb is popular in Laos and the Issan region of Thailand and while lamb doesn’t usually factor into traditional larb, I love this unorthodox version.

Ground peanuts substitute for the more traditional toasted rice here. Think of this as a protein-packed flavor bomb wrapped up in guilt-free packaging.

PS: Please ignore the godawful lighting in this photo. Blame my impatient tummy.

Lamb larb


1 stalk lemongrass
4 garlic cloves
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
2 red Thai chiles
2/3 cup salted, roasted peanuts
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground lamb
Cooked sticky rice, butter or bibb lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber, lime wedges, and mint sprigs for serving

1. Remove tough outer layers from lemongrass. Thinly slice the bottom 6 inches from the bulb end. Pulse lemongrass and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add shallot and Thai chiles and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside. Pulse peanuts in food processor until coarsely ground and transfer to another bowl; set aside.

2. Whisk lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar in a small bowl; set lime dressing aside.

3. Heat oil in a large skillet over high. Add lamb to skillet and press into a single flat layer with a spatula. Cook, undisturbed, until underside is browned and crisp around the edges, 5–7 minutes. Use spatula to break into smaller pieces and turn. Cook pieces on the other side until edges are crisp and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer lamb to a bowl with a slotted spoon, then use spoon to break up meat into bite-sized pieces.

4. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil from skillet and set skillet over medium heat. Cook lemongrass mixture, stirring often, until fragrant and starting to stick to skillet, about 3 minutes. Add reserved lime dressing and peanuts and return reserved lamb to skillet. Toss until meat is coated. Remove from heat and season with more fish sauce, if desired.

5. Serve larb with rice, lettuce, cucumber, limes, and mint sprigs for making lettuce cups.

Crispy Orange Beef

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I feel guilty admitting this, but sometimes I want nothing more than to transport myself to the 1980s and indulge in some stereotypical Americanized Chinese food. Chicken chow mein. Beef and broccoli. Crab rangoon.

Or maybe this crispy orange beef. Sure, it isn’t healthy or authentic by any stretch of the imagination, but it satisfies that nostalgic craving. And it tastes oh so good.

Crispy orange beef


1 pound flank steak, cut into pieces 1 inch long, 1/2 inch wide, and 1/4 inch thick
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 orange
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
vegetable oil, for frying
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
5 green onions, sliced diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as triple sec or Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

1. Mix the steak, baking soda, and 5 tablespoons of water in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

2. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the orange. Cut the zest into thin strips about 1 inch long and set aside. Save the orange for another use.

3. Make the sauce: mix the sugar, vinegar, rice wine, soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside.

4. Heat a wok over high heat and add enough vegetable oil to come up about 1 inch. Meanwhile, add the remaining cornstarch and egg white to the steak and mix well to coat the steak with the batter.

5. Add the flank steak to the oil, one piece at a time so it doesn’t splash or stick together. Stir until it begins to look crispy, about 2 minutes. Using a straining spoon, transfer the steak to a colander to drain.

6. Reheat the oil and return the steak to the wok. Fry again until the beef is crispy all over, about 2 minutes. Using a straining spoon, transfer the steak back to the colander to drain. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok.

7. Return the wok to high heat and add the green onions, steak, sugar-vinegar sauce, orange zest, sesame oil, orange liqueur, and chili garlic sauce. Stir-fry until all ingredients are blended, about 1 minute. Serve warm.

Manti with Tomato Butter and Yogurt

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The first time Nishan had manti was at the Calgary Turkish Festival in 2013. I spotted a booth of aunties selling the tiny meat-filled dumplings and was so excited for Nishan to have a revelatory eating experience. Except the mantis weren’t very tasty, and that was that. Mantifail.

I had to make things right. Fast forward to 2017 and this recipe has righted all the manti wrongs of the world. The original version is intended to make six servings but the two of us ate the entire thing in one sitting. That’s how good these spiced manti are, covered in a yogurty, buttery, tomatoey sauce. They’re labor intensive but worth all the effort.

One last word about manti: it’s no coincidence that the name of these lamb or beef dumplings encased in a dough wrapper sound so similar to Chinese mantou and Korean mandu. Food has no borders.

Manti with tomato butter and yogurt


1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 egg
1/2 pound ground beef
1 onion, grated
3 tablespoons minced parsley
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup Middle Eastern or Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon finely grated garlic
4 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 teaspoon paprika
Dried mint
Aleppo pepper

1. Make the dough: In a bowl, combine the flour, egg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt with 5 tablespoons of water and mix with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. On a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough until smooth, about 5 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 1/2 hours.

2. Make the meat filling: In a bowl, combine the beef, onion, parsley, 1 teaspoon, salt, pepper, and mix well.

3. Make the yogurt sauce: In a bowl, combine the yogurt and garlic and season with salt. Mix well and set aside.

4. Make the tomato-butter sauce: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the tomato sauce 
and paprika and keep warm.

5. Lightly dust a baking sheet with flour. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. On a lightly floured work surface, using a rolling pin or pasta machine, roll out the dough 1/16 inch thick. Cut the dough into 2-inch squares. Spoon 
1/2 teaspoon of the filling in the center of each square. To form the manti, fold the dough over the filling to form a triangle; press the edges together to seal. Transfer the manti to the baking sheet.

6. In a large pot of boiling water, boil the manti until tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a serving platter. Top with the yogurt sauce and warm butter sauce, sprinkle with dried mint and Aleppo pepper and serve.

Khao Soi (Chiang Mai Curry Noodles)

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Chiang Mai has two seasons: smoky and not smoky. Each spring, farmers create manmade fires to get rid of material from old rice stalks to clear the way for the next season’s planting. The air becomes polluted in addition to the stiflingly hot weather. It’s not the most popular time of year to visit Chiang Mai.

But I am undeterred. When I visited Thailand last year, I had to include Chiang Mai in my travels. Why? I wanted to eat khao soi. Khao soi is a soupy, curry-laden bowl of Burmese-influenced goodness, a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles and boiled egg noodles, shallots, lime, ground chilis, coconut milk, and usually meat. I researched the best khao soi restaurant in Chiang Mai and Nishan and I trekked through the smoggy heat until we found it: a nondescript outdoor restaurant with a corrugated sheet metal roof and plastic stools, identifiable only by the huge crowd of happy eaters.

The khao soi was worth the walk and when I’ve since learned to recreate these curry noodles at home, adapting my version from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. If you want to make this dish a bit healthier and easier to cook, omit the fried noodles. The red curry paste is a shortcut to making your own curry paste by hand, but the results are still delicious.

Chiang Mai curry noodles (khao soi)


2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon cooking oil plus more for deep-frying noodles
3 cups canned coconut milk, with 1/2 cup of the thickest milk set aside
1/2 pound sirloin beef, cut into thin slices
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 pound Chinese egg noodles
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 shallots, chopped

1. In a small bowl, mix the garlic, turmeric, and a pinch salt until well blended. Stir in the curry paste and set aside.

2. Place a large heavy pot over high heat. Add the one tablespoon oil and when it is hot, add the curry paste mixture. Stir-fry for one minute, then add the reserved 1/2 cup thick coconut milk and lower the heat to medium-high. Add the meat and sugar and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, until the meat has slightly browned. Add the remaining coconut milk, the water, fish sauce, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook at a simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice. The soup can be prepared ahead of time and reheated just before serving.

3. Make the optional crispy noodles: line a plate with paper towels. Place a large wok over high heat and add about 1 cup oil, or 1/2 inch oil. When the oil is hot, drop in a strand of uncooked noodles to test the temperature. It should sizzle slightly as it falls to the bottom, then immediately puff and rise to the surface; adjust the heat slightly, if necessary. Toss a handful (about 1 cup) of noodles into the oil and watch as they crisp and puff up. Use a spatula or long tongs to turn them over and expose all of them to the hot oil. They will crisp up quickly, in less than 1 minute. Lift the crisped noodles out of the oil and place on the paper towel-lined plate. Give the oil a moment to come back to temperature, and then repeat with a second handful of noodles.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the remaining noodles, bring back to a boil, and cook until tender but not mushy, about 6 minutes. Drain well and rinse in fresh water to get rid of extra starch and stop the cooking process.

5. Divide the cooked noodles among four bowls. Ladle over the broth and meat. Top with crispy noodles and a pinch each of shallots and scallions.

Sri Lankan Lamb (or Mutton) Curry

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The flight from San Francisco to Toronto is only four hours but each time we land, I’m hungry. I’m dreaming of curry, you see. (Doesn’t everyone?)

My mother-in-law always has a meal for us when we arrive in the evening — we can hardly wait to put away our luggage before sitting down for a meal of parripu, rice, and always some sort of curry. Sometimes fish, sometimes mutton, sometimes lamb. I love them all and as I learn to cook Sri Lankan food, lamb curry has become one of my go-tos, albeit with a few Iranian touches. I cook my basmati rice Persian-style and serve the curry with tahdig and vinegary torshi on the side.

I cannot overemphasize how worth it is to make your own curry powder here. It only takes a few minutes and the flavor is superior to store-bought. Marinate your meat overnight, cook the next day, and voila. This fiery curry tastes even better the next day. You can follow this same recipe and use mutton instead of lamb, if you prefer.

Sri Lankan lamb curry


2 pounds lamb or mutton, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons roasted curry powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
2-inch piece ginger, minced
2 green chiles, sliced
2-inch stalk lemongrass
2-inch cinnamon stick
1 or 2 sprigs curry leaves
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

1. Lightly prick meat with a fork to tenderize.

2. Slightly toast the curry powder in a pan for 3 minutes, until fragrant but not burning. Remove from heat and mix with meat, cayenne powder, paprika, and vinegar and marinate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.

3. Heat oil in a large pot. Saute onions, garlic, ginger, chiles, lemongrass, cinnamon stick, and curry leaves until onions are translucent.

4. Add marinated meat and saute for a few minutes until browned.

5. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes.

6. Add coconut milk, salt, and tomato paste and simmer over low heat, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes. Serve warm with rice.