the appetizer:

Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang, includes recipes like Fish Larb (Laj Ntses); Whole Fish Steamed in Banana Leaves (Ntses Cub Xyaw Txuj Lom); and Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy with Pork (Zaub Ntsuag Dawb kib xyaw Nqaij Npuas).



Fish Larb
Laj Ntses

Makes 10 servings

Fish Larb


This dish is great to make with fresh-caught fish. When you add the lime juice to the raw fish, the acid from the limes changes the structure of the fish's proteins, essentially "cooking" the fish without using heat. During the process, the chopped fish becomes opaque and white.

As an entree, larb is customarily offered to diners in a serving bowl accompanied by a plate filled with lettuce leaves and fresh herbs, such as cilantro and mint. Each person scoops a portion onto a lettuce leaf, adds herbs according to taste, and then rolls up the lettuce leaf to eat. For a beautiful appetizer, roll individual servings into lettuce or wild betel leaves and serve them on a platter.

Before you prepare the fish, carefully wash, dry, and chop the herbs. If you can't get all of the herbs listed, use what you can find. However, you must include mint, cilantro, green onions, and Vietnamese coriander.

Measure herbs loosely packed into the measuring cup, and use only fresh, blemish-free herbs. Chop them by hand, because using a food processor will bruise them.

This recipe is easy to halve or double.


  • 3 pounds fresh salmon, striped bass, or trout fillets
  • Juice of 4 limes (more if the limes are small)
  • 1/2 cup minced galanga
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves, root,
         and top several inches removed before mincing
  • 2 hot chili peppers, minced (or more, if you want more heat)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh spearmint (sometimes called Asian mint)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, stems and leaves
  • 1 bunch green onions, green and white parts, chopped
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped Vietnamese coriander
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped culantro (duck-tongue or saw-leaf herb)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 finely chopped rice paddy herb (often labeled
         with its Vietnamese name, Rau Om, in Asian grocery stores)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 chopped Thai basil
  • 1/4 cup chopped Chinese boxthorn leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or 1-1/2 teaspoons if you do not use MSG)
  • 1 teaspoon MSG (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
  • 1/2 cup
  • Toasted Sticky Rice Flour (recipe below)


Clean and fillet the fish, or buy already-filleted fish. Remove the skin. On a large, clean chopping board, chop the fish with a heavy knife or cleaver. As you chop, fold the fish over on itself. Continue to fold and chop until the fish is very finely chopped. Put the fish in a glass or ceramic bowl and squeeze the lime juice over it. Using your hands, mix the lime juice into the fish. After it is thoroughly mixed and the fish has turned opaque, squeeze the lime juice out of the fish one handful at a time and transfer the fish to another glass or ceramic bowl. Discard the squeezed-out juice. Add the galanga, lemongrass, chilies, mint, cilantro, green onions, Vietnamese coriander, culantro, rice paddy herb, Thai basil, and Chinese boxthorn. Sprinkle the fish sauce, salt, MSG (if desired), Sichuan pepper, and rice flour over the mixture. With gloved hands, toss and mix everything together. Serve immediately with additional fresh herbs and lettuce leaves.

Toasted Sticky Rice Flour
Hmoov Nplej Kib

Makes 7/8 cup flour

Rice flour is an ingredient of larb, a traditional Laotian dish. You can buy packages of toasted rice flour in Asian supermarkets, or you can make it at home.

Put 1 cup of uncooked sticky rice in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir constantly until the rice is uniformly browned (about 10 to 15 minutes). If the rice smokes as it is toasted, turn the heat down a little. Remove from the heat and let the rice cool. Grind the browned rice in a clean coffee grinder, or do it by hand using a mortar and pestle. Use the coffee grinder for only a few seconds; do not let the flour become too fine. The finished product should be a slightly grainy powder. Rice flour can be stored in an airtight container for several months.

  • from:
    Cooking from the Heart:
    The Hmong Kitchen in America
  • by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang
  • University of Minnesota Press 2009
  • $29.95 cloth/jacket; 248 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0816653267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-5326-3
  • Recipe reprinted by permission.

Buy Cooking from the Heart


Cooking from the Heart


This page created July 2009

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