When most people think about Thai glass noodle salad, they are often thinking of yum woon sen, but this one laab woonsen is another iteration that is just as tasty. It's easy, healthy, spicy, and full of fresh herbs. If you're familiar with the classic laab which is quite meaty, you can think of this as the lighter noodley version!
What is laab?
In its classic form, laab is a spicy and tart northeastern Thai salad made from ground meat, toasted rice powder, and lots of fresh herbs. Traditionally laab is meat-based, but because it's got such a delicious flavour, nowadays people make laab out of just about anything.
So laab woonsen is more of a modern variation of traditional laab, but it has become quite popular so you can find it at many restaurants in Thailand that serve Northeastern or Isaan food.
If you want to check out other kinds of "non-traditional laab" see my recipes for Laab Omelette, Laab Salmon, Laab Burger and Laab Meatballs. As I said, laab is a really great flavour that you can turn into so many delicious things!
Is it a Laab? Or larb? Or laap?
This popular dish goes by many English spellings: laab, larb, or laap are a few common ones you see on Thai restaurant menus. Spell it how you want, but for the love of god do NOT pronounce the "r" (I'm looking at us North American English speakers here). It is not "laRRRRb". It should be pronounced quite simply: laab.
Writing out Thai words in English is a challenge because English has such limited consonants and vowels compared to Thai, this is why people will be looking for a dish on my website and they can't find it because they spell it differently!
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A lesser known version of the classic laab salad. Glass noodles and ground meat are tossed with a spicy lime dressing with aromatic toasted rice powder. It's also loaded with fresh herbs. It's easy, healthy, and is very quick to make for a weeknight meal!
- 40 g dry glass noodles (see note)
- 15 g dried black fungus mushroom, aka wood ear or cloud ear mushrooms
- 3 Tbsp uncooked jasmine or sticky rice
- 200g ground pork or chicken, preferably not lean
- 1 head shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 ½ Tbsp fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp fresh lime Juice
- Roasted chili flakes, to taste (see note)
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- 1 green onion, chopped
- ½ cup mint leaves, roughly chop large leaves
- Soak dried mushrooms in hot water for 10-15 minutes until the soften.
- In a separate bowl, soak glass noodles in room temp water for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make toasted rice powder: In a dry skillet, toast uncooked rice over high heat, stirring constantly, until it has a deep golden brown colour. Remove from pan, then pound in a mortar and pestle or grind in a coffee grinder into a powder. Be sure not to grind it so fine that it's like flour, you want a bit of grittiness.
- Once noodles are done soaking, drain and use scissors to cut into shorter, easier to eat pieces (I make about 3-4 cuts).
- Once mushrooms are done soaking, drain and cut into thin ribbons, removing any hard “core” pieces you find.
- Bring 2-inches of water to a boil in a small pot, add noodles and mushrooms and cook 2-3 minutes until noodles are done.
- Place the drained noodles in a mixing bowl and put the pot you used to cook the noodles back on the stove.
- Add about 1 tablespoon of water to the pot and turn the heat on medium high. Add the ground pork and cook, stirring constantly, until done. Add cooked pork to noodles along with all the juices.
- While noodles are still hot, toss in shallots so the heat can help wilt the shallots slightly. Then add fish sauce, lime juice, chili flakes and toss well.
- Add toasted rice powder and all fresh herbs, toss well, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Serve immediately.
- Glass noodles are often labeled "bean threads" or "bean vermicelli" because they're made from mung bean starch. Best quality ones are made from 100% mung bean starch (like one I used in the video), though it is not necessary if you can't find them.
- Roasted chili flakes give smokiness in addition to spiciness, though you can just use regular chili flakes as well. To make roasted chili flakes, toast some Thai dried chilies in a dry saute pan, stirring constantly, until the darken slightly and develop a smokey flavour. Grind with a coffee grinder.
- I use some of the noodle cooking water to cook the pork, but this is done simply for convenience since the water is already hot. You can also just add a little fresh water to the pot if you forget to do this, because unlike pasta cooking water, the cooking water from glass noodles are tasteless and starchless, so it really doesn't add anything in terms of flavour.