“It’s too darn hot! It’s too darn hot!” These lyrics from Cole Porter’s musical Kiss Me Kate have been going through my head these past few weeks. The temperature around the stove at Nonesuch, the restaurant where I work, consistently hovers around 96 degrees F, even with the air conditioner going full blast. The temperatures outside have been reaching 100 degrees F or more.
I thought he was joking when my boss, Chef Colin Stringer, announced that we were starting a weekly Run Club and that our inaugural 5K “fun run” would be held on the upcoming Monday at 7 p.m. Except for me, everyone in the kitchen is 30 years old or under. I’m 66.
Ever since starting my second career as a restaurant chef, I’ve been determined to keep up with my young coworkers. When I checked the weather forecast and saw that it was supposed to be 104 degrees and sunny at the time of our 5K run, I was tempted to play my old-age card, but my pride intervened.
The last time I ran a 5K was 36 years ago and I hadn’t run at all in three years. However, I decided I would give it a try. I spent the day of the 5K hydrating and stretching. I prepared dinner ahead of time, knowing I’d be too tired to cook after the run. I wanted something cool and refreshing. I live in an area heavily populated by Southeast Asians and, not surprisingly, the temperatures in Bangkok have been similar to those here. After consulting my Thai cookbooks I settled on making larb, a Southeast Asian meat salad.
Larb is a tart, spicy salad composed of minced meat, herbs and seasonings. The name is derived from the word “laap” which means “to mince.” Larb has many regional variations. In northern Thailand it is often made with raw pork and blood and bile. I, however, opted to prepare a “dumbed-down” but safer version. My larb was basically ground pork cooked down with onions, garlic, chiles, herbs, lime juice, fish sauce and toasted-rice powder and is eaten in lettuce cups. All the ingredients can be found in any well-stocked grocery store with the exception of the toasted-rice powder. Fortunately toasted-rice powder is very easy to make.
At 2:05 the afternoon of the 5K, Chef Colin sent out the following group text: “Run Club is getting bumped to 7:30 cause it’s hot y’all.” At 7:30 the temperature was expected to dip below 100… to 99!
At 7:30 only five of us – out of a crew of 13 – were lined up outside Nonesuch. I was assured that this first outing would be a slow easy pace. My goal was to keep up with the pack for at least the first kilometer. My reality was that I fell behind after the first block. My shirt became drenched and salty sweat was stinging my eyes. Forgetting that I had been mincing chile peppers for my dinner prep before the 5K, I tried to rub the sweat from my eyes. Bad move! My eyes burned so badly that I had to run with them nearly shut. By the time I could open them again, my fellow runners were far out of sight.
At the halfway point I decided if I were to continue to run it would be for my ego and not my well-being so I gave it up and started walking. When I finally reached the restaurant my fellow runners were sprawled out on the floor. At least I was the last man standing.
Pork Larb Lettuce Cups
1 tablespoon long-grain rice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (save some for garnish)
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 Thai birdseye chili pepper, minced (or substitute ½ serrano pepper)
1 lb ground pork
1/2 cup Nam Prik (see below)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup mint, chopped
1/4 cup Thai basil, chopped
For the Nam Prik:
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 Thai birdseye chili peppers, finely chopped (or substitute serrano)
Boston lettuce leaves
Thinly sliced red onion
Mint leaves, torn
Thai basil leaves, torn
For the toasted-rice powder:
In a medium skillet, toast the rice over moderate heat, shaking the pan often, until browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer the rice to a plate and let cool completely. Put the toasted rice in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind to a powder.
For the Nam Prik:
In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, water and chilis. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
For the larb:
Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about two to three minutes. Add garlic and chili, being careful not to burn the garlic.
Add ground pork and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until finely crumbled and no longer pink, about three to four minutes. Add 1/4 cup Nam Prik, cilantro, mint, Thai basil and toasted-rice powder and cook until almost dry.
Arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter. Spoon the pork larb onto the lettuce leaves and season with the remaining Nam Prik.
Garnish with the red onion slices, cilantro, mint, Thai basil and lime wedges.
Peter Glatz sends greetings from Oklahoma City. On the plus side, they let you bring your dog into a restaurant. On the minus side, they also let you carry a loaded gun without a permit.