Easy-to-make and flavorful Thai larb meatballs made with ground pork, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and glutinous rice (sticky rice).
Table of Contents
What is Larb?
Larb (aka laap, larp, or laab) which is pronounced as Lahp, the R is muted, is a delicious meat salad traditionally made with ground pork (or chicken, duck, etc), fresh mint, lime, lemongrass, and ground-up toasted glutinous rice (aka sweet rice).
Although it is commonly known in Thai cuisine, this dish originates from Laos and is a Laotian national dish.
Traditionally, the classic way to make larb is to cook the ground pork so that it is crumbly and served with a side of sticky rice but for this recipe, I make it into a meatball instead.
By making this dish into meatballs, it makes it easier for me to fry them in a frying pan, which gives it even more flavor.
Meatballs are not only easier to eat, they are also great for sharing as appetizers, and easy to travel with (picnics, and potlucks). If you prefer your larb crumbly, you can take the meatballs and rip them into small crumbly pieces.
This is a VERY flavorful meatball and has no egg in it. The glutinous rice is enough to bind the meatball together.
The most predominant flavors are from the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves followed by a bit of tang from the limes and the saltiness and umami from the fish sauce.
Mint is a big part of this dish. I didn't put mint into the actual pork meatballs itself because I find that cooking mint, mutes the flavors so it was served fresh on the side.
If you're looking for another delicious Lao salad made with deep-fried sticky rice balls, then you definitely should try my Lao Crispy Rice Salad (Nem Khao).
I also have a simpler Grilled Vietnamese Pork Sausage (Nem Nuong) as well which is sweeter in flavor with loads of garlic in it.
Ingredients for Thai Meatballs
- Ground Pork - Even though I use ground pork for this recipe, you can make these meatballs with any type of ground meat such as ground chicken, turkey, beef, or duck.
- Kaffir lime leaves - This flavorful ingredient is the star of the show, and gives it a lot of strong citrus flavor. If you cannot find this, you can substitute it with 1-2 tablespoons of extra finely minced lemongrass but if you can find it you definitely should try using this.
- Lemongrass - This is also a very important ingredient and should not be substituted or skipped. If you are using lemongrass stalks, only use the white parts and discard the dried tips. You need to finely mince this very well for these meatballs since it is quite woody. You can find them fresh at any Asian grocery store or pre-grounded in the frozen section.
- Galangal - Galangal gives this dish a clean, citrus, and piney flavor. If you cannot find it, you can omit it. Do not substitute it with ginger as it has a completely different flavor profile.
- Shallots and Garlic - These 2 ingredients add a lot of extra flavor to the meatball, so definitely do not skip them. You can substitute a small yellow onion for the shallots.
- Glutinous Rice (Sweet Rice) - Glutinous rice (sticky rice) adds a lot of texture and flavor to this meatball especially since we toast it before we use it. I use Thai glutinous rice, which is also known as sweet rice (it's not actually sweet).
- Fish Sauce, Sugar, and a lime (juiced) - This holy trinity is what balances the sweet, sour, and salty in this meatball. Always use fresh lime juice for the best flavor and do not use bottled lime juice if possible.
How To Make Thai Larb Meatballs
Step 1: Toast the Glutinous Rice & Grind it Up
On low heat, toast the rice in a frying pan for 5-10 minutes or until golden brown. Once it looks nice and golden, wait for it to cool and grind it up in a mortar and pestle or food processor.
Step 2: Blitz the Spices
If you are using fresh lemongrass, use only the thick stalk on the bottom and discard the upper half that looks dry.
Remove the stem and spine from the kaffir lime leaves. This is a very waxy leaf and keeping the spine and stems makes it harder to mince finely.
In a food processor, grind up: kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass (if not using pre-ground), garlic, shallots, and galangal. (You can also chop these all by hand but make sure you finely chop it so you don't get big chunks it in your meatballs)
Step 3: Combine all the Ingredients & Roll them into Meatballs
In a bowl, combine the pork, aromatics, toasted rice powder, lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce and mix everything well.
You can mix this up by hand or with a stand mixer.
Once the mixture is well combined, roll them up into 1-inch meatballs. This will make between 30-40 meatballs.
Step 4: Fry Them in a Frying Pan
In a frying pan add ¼-1/2 inch of oil and set the heat to medium and wait until the oil is hot or shimmering.
Alternatively, if you want more of a pan-fried meatball, you can use less oil.
Add in the meatballs and fry them for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown.
- While rolling the meatballs, if the meat is sticking to your hands, keep a small bowl of water by your side to lightly wet the palms of your hands before rolling.
- To taste if the pork meatballs have enough flavor or salt, put ½ tsp of meat mixture into a microwave-safe bowl and heat it up in the microwave for a few seconds.
How to Serve These Meatballs
As an Appetizer with Dipping Sauce
Meatballs are great as appetizers and snacks especially when served with a dipping sauce! Here are a few dipping sauce ideas that I love to use when making these meatballs.
To serve them as finger foods, simply poke each meatball with a toothpick and serve it with a bowl of dipping sauce!
Sweet, Salty, or Tangy Dips and Sauces
- Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Fish Dipping Sauce)
- Hoisin Dipping Sauce
- Sweet and Sour Sauce
- Jeow som (Lao spicy dipping chili sauce)
Creamy Dips and Sauces
As a Noodle Bowl
Add some vermicelli (or rice) in a bowl, add some pork meatballs and top it with refreshing garnishes such as cucumbers, fresh mint (or Thai basil), and a wedge of lime for some extra zing. Top it with nuts for a bit of crunch!
Sauces: Sriracha, Nuoc Cham (for a sweet, sour, and salty dressing), thinned-out hoisin dipping sauce.
Make Lettuce Wraps with the Meatballs
For the lettuce wrap, you can use any type of lettuce. I personally love using green leaf lettuce, and Boston lettuce because the leaves are softer which makes it easier to wrap with. Fill it with vermicelli noodles, mint, bean sprouts, and any type of additional fresh vegetables.
Sauces: Sriracha, thinned-out hoisin dipping sauce, nuoc cham (Vietnamese fish dipping sauce, jeow som (Lao spicy dipping sauce), dip it in a Thai peanut satay sauce or a squirt of fresh lime juice.
Assemble a Quick and Easy Salad
The salad is one of the easiest ways to eat this dish. Use any type of greens and veggies and toss them with a light dressing such as nuoc cham. Toppings can also include fruits for a bit of sweetness (like mango) and some toasted nuts for a bit of crunch.
...and of course, you can also enjoy this the traditional way - with a side of sticky rice and vegetables or eat them as-is!
As a Side Dish
This larb meatball works excellent as a side dish as well and pairs wonderfully with soups, salads, and noodle dishes like Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Soup), Tom Yum Goong (Thai Hot and Sour Soup), Yum Woon Sen (Thai Glass Noodle Salad) and Pad Woon Sen (Pad Woon Sen).
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Thai Lemongrass Larb Meatballs
- If you are using fresh stalks of lemongrass, use only the whites at the bottom and discard the dried top part of the stalk
- If the meat is sticking to your hands during the meatball rolling step, keep a small bowl of water around to keep your palms damp before rolling
- Heat up ½ tsp of meat in the microwave to taste test if the meat mixture is salty or flavorful enough
- If you have extra lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves, you can store them in a ziploc bag in the freezer.
- Even though I use ground pork for this recipe, you can make these meatballs with any type of ground meat such as ground chicken, turkey, beef, or duck.
- 1 ½ lbs ground pork
- ¼ cup glutinous rice
- 10-15 kaffir lime leaves (stems and leaf spines removed)
- 2 cm galangal
- 1 ½ tablespoon lemongrass
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 shallots
- 1 lime (juiced)
Toast the Glutinous Rice
- In a frying pan, set the stove on low heat and toast the glutinous rice for 5-10 minutes or until golden brown. (Keep the pan moving to prevent the rice from burning)
- Once the rice has been toasted, let it cool and grind it to a medium powder with a mortar and pestle or food processor and set it aside.
Grinding the Spices
- Remove and discard the stems and spine of each kaffir lime leaf and set it aside.
- If you are using a stalk of lemongrass, remove and discard the dried tips and the stem base. You only want to use the white stem of the lemongrass.
- Peel and remove the skins from the garlic and shallots.
- In a food processor, grind the: kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, and shallots.You can also chop these all by hand but make sure you finely chop them so you don't get big chunks in your meatballs
Rolling the Meatballs
- In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, toasted glutinous rice powder, and freshly ground aromatics together and mix it by hand or with a stand mixer.
- Roll the meat mixture into 1 inch meatballs.
Cooking the Meatballs
- In a pan, put ¼ to ½ inch of oil and set the stove to medium heat.Wait for the oil to get hot and shimmery before adding the meatballs to cook.Alternatively, if you want more of a pan-fried meatball, you can use less oil.
- Cook the meatballs for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown. Flipping them every 30 seconds to evenly cook it all the way through.
Serving it Up - 3 Ways
- As a Noodle BowlBoil some vermicelli noodles and add the noodles and meatballs into the bowl. Garnish it with fresh mint (or Thai basil), cucumbers, cilantro and some juice from a wedge of lime for some zing. Top it with crushed nuts for a bit of crunch.Sauces: Sriracha, Nuoc Cham (A sweet, sour, and salty dressing), thinned-out hoisin dipping sauce
- As a Lettuce WrapAs a wrap, we found using Boston lettuce or green leaf lettuce (different from iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce) the easiest to roll with. Top it with vermicelli, crushed nuts, and bean sprouts.Sauces: Sriracha, thinned-out hoisin dipping sauce.
- As a SaladChop up any type of green lettuce and top it with chopped vermicelli, bean sprouts, finely minced green onions and any type of fresh vegetable and fruit (like mango!). Serve with crushed nuts for some crunch and a light vinaigrette dressing such as nuoc cham (sweet, sour, and salty fish sauce dressing)
*Nutritional information is calculated using online tools and is an estimate*
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Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious says
This is a very creative take on a meatball recipe! Looks tasty!
Cheapskate Cook says
I haven't tried a lot of lemongrass flavored things, but this looks amaaaazing.
Bintu | Recipes From A Pantry says
OMG I need, need, need to try this - lemongrass in meatballs sounds awesome.
Lisa Bynum says
Everything about these looks so delicious. I'm a sucker for a noodle bowl, but those lettuce wraps look pretty tempting too!
It's definitely fun to switch that up a bit, when I'm feeling bored I definitely do the lettuce wrap! Makes things a bit more interactive!
MyCookingSecrets.com | Krystallia Giamouridou says
I love asian style meatballs and the options you suggest us to make are really interesting. I have to buy some lemongrass and make them soon!
Hope you enjoy it! 🙂
Maria @ kitchenathoskins says
I'm so glad that I stumbled upon your blog:) Stunning photography and flavorful recipes. I'm so in love with these meatballs right now and want to gobble up the whole thing. I've never been lucky enough to find lime leaves in the Chinese grocery stores though!
Welcome! I am so glad you're here Maria! 🙂 Thank you so much for your kind words 🙂 Meatballs are such an easy and versatile food right? haha I gobble them up as well as I pull them out of the frying pan haha 🙂 I think lime leaves are a hit and miss depending on where you live. If you absolutely must must buy it, you can find them online dried but honestly you can omit them as well. They have a unique flavour that you can't really substitute for - maaaaaaaybe a little bit of lime zest could somewhat pull it off but I think the lemongrass has so much flavour alone that it's okay to omit the lime leaves!! 😀
Wow! All the different flavors in this recipe sound amazing. I really need to expand my horizons and this sounds like a perfect recipe to start with, thanks!
Thanks Erica! Hope you have fun with this! 🙂