Larb Nua in Rice Roll Bouquet

I was going to a housewarming party of a friend of mine. Every time I make something for a party, I feel the urge to surprise. She’s Peruvian so she likes spicy food. This is not a particularly popular dish but there was just no doubt in my mind that it will please any south American without killing them. It’s one of the Northeastern Thai dish called “Larb.

I made this one with ground Beef (chicken or pork would work, too). Traditionally we boil everything together, but I like to keep it dry  and more flavorful, so I just brown the beef then add the herbs rather than boiling it.

Larb Nua in Rice Roll Bouquet
Recipe type: finger food
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
  • ½ lbs lean ground beef
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 3 cloves of garlic or 1 - 2 stems of garlic scapes
  • dried chilli flakes (the spicy one) to your liking of spiciness. If you don't handle spiciness very well maybe omit or start with ½ tsp.
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 crushed toasted rice.
  • a handful of mint leaves
  • a handful chopped cilantro
  • 3 - 4 tbsp of lime juice (about 1 juicy lime)
  • 3 - 4 tbsp of fish sauce or dash of salt to taste
  • 4 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts (Traditionally they don't add peanuts but I added some anyway)
  1. Brown the ground beef, then drained the liquid that came out of it.
  2. Add the chopped shallots, garlic, dried chilli flakes, toasted sesame seeds and/or crushed toasted rice.
  3. When you can smell the aromatic oil coming out of the garlic and the shallots, turn off the heat and add a handful of mint leaves and chopped cilantro.
  4. Squeeze in 3 – 4 tbsp of lime juice (about 1 juicy lime), 3 – 4 tbsp of fish sauce or dash of salt to taste.
  5. If you want to wrap this in a rice roll, follow the instructions you can find on Youtube like Feel free to add sticks of veggies like celery or cucumber. In the images below I shredded the lettuce and stuffed it in the wrap, top with the salad after it's cooled down and wrap in rice papers.
This north-eastern Thai salad ("Larb") is traditionally eaten with sticky rice. When they boil the ingredients, it gets a little soupy, and the folksy people dip the sticky rice in the soup. I usually omit the sticky rice when I make for myself because I would need to steam it (rice cooker will make soggy sticky rice). The salad goes very well with quinoa stirred in, but I usually just eat it with a lot of greens.

I had a massive amount of salad leaves from the Farmer’s market so I had to use them, but I wanted to make a finger food item. At first I was gonna make a lettuce wrap, and I was walking around in circle looking for the toothpicks in an Asian store, until something circular caught my eye.


Right, it was the rice roll paper. I remember my grandma was teaching me how to wrap these with her own recipes. So I got a pack of them, and then wrapped my salads (there are also instructions on Youtube about how to wrap rice rolls). Then, I thought about how to make it convenient for people to eat, and then,… BINGO!!!


I cut the rice rolls in halves and then arranged them into my containers, but I still had some lettuce left, so I went about and stack them together. Um… I managed to make it look rose-y like a bouquet. I’m impressed with myself.

It’s so cool when people asked me what this thing is called when they go to a restaurant, and I had to answer: “I don’t know. I invented it.” The beef roll bouquet is an awesome item to wow the crowd, and it’s absolutely the combination of tastes that’s rarely found in Toronto.

What recipes?

Cooking comes to me like the inspiration of an artwork. I never really follow a recipe to a T. Seriously. There are a million recipes of anything on the internet. I just look at them as a source of idea. Not only that, I can read Thai, so I can see the more authentic Thai recipes. Pinterest doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s funny that when I work in the lab, I have to measure everything to the nanoscale (no kidding!). That goes in stark contrast with my spontaneous and adventurous personality. I would just throw things together on the fly and rarely measure most things until I get to the point when I try to get really really lean. Somehow this sense of eye-balling didn’t come to me naturally at all.

My kitchen training is like that. We all learn from the older ladies when we hang out in the kitchen, right? I learned from the older female relatives back home growing up, and it always baffled me as to why the best cooks never measured anything. When I asked them how they made a certain dish, they would come up with a list of things to include, and just seem to throw them in as they go. Even when I took a traditional Royal Thai dessert course at Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, which were taught by food scientists, most of the demonstrations were done by eyeballing the ingredients. The amazing part is that Royal Thai Desserts weren’t just sugar and starch thrown together, they were pure works of delicate arts. Each item could take a whole 12 hour to make from scratch.

I mastered baking on my own during my early teenage years through reading recipe books, because everything was to be measured, optimized and calculated to perfection. Day after day the cakes and the cookies left my oven in its perfect shape and form. At that point I was dreaming of becoming a food scientist because all of that was just so much fun. I loved baking them and eating them.

As for the savoury dishes that I learned in the kitchen, I learned that it’s either I screwed up or I didn’t. The aunties and my mom told me that I could replace certain ingredients to serve the same purpose (e.g. salt for fish sauce, vinegar for lime juice, just omit it if you don’t have it etc). I never really had to cook for myself until I left home for university. Then all of a sudden, I was called a good cook (by the people who lived on either Kraft dinner or eggs). The magic was perhaps the brand of oyster sauce that my mom always bought and making sure it wasn’t too salty. The stir-fry could be assembled from any item that was on sale. That was the start of my experimental chef career.

The compliments were such a confidence booster that I went on and got together with other people who knew how to cook. The international students would get homesick and crave certain dishes from back home, so we googled how to make them and substituted things as we saw fit. The chefs inside of us grew. There was nothing that we couldn’t make. Once, I and my Thai friends had to sell food for fundraising, so she made a sort-of-spicy stirfry, labeled it a Thai dish and sold it at our booth. It was the hit item of the event, so we were naming it after her. (Yes, that’s a nerdy thing because we were science/engineering majors.)

These acquired skills which were critical for me to switch my lifestyle and body composition around to earn my six pack abs. It’s massive massive fun and I feel the gratitude that I can take good care of myself. If anything, I live on “what’s on sale?” diet. There’s only a few simple rules that I follow.

So… if nobody ever call yourself a chef, then call yourself one right now!


Who is Natcha Maithai?


What I look like now:

I am here to help you make that leap in your life, hence the frog metaphor.

I am here to help you make that leap in your life, hence the frog metaphor.

I am, first and foremost, a scientist. I’ve worked in various cancer research labs for more than ten years. (No, there’s no such a thing as the cure for cancer, and I am jaded about conventional treatments. As a holistic practitioner, I am pro- prevention and pro-integrative, rather than conventional, cures.)

I’ve had a love and approval deficiency for most of my life. As an Asian girl, my parents had a life path set out for me – one that I didn’t want to follow, and I was badly punished for not conforming to their expectations. Feeling a lack of love and approval led to constant struggles to be thin and to excel academically.

My personal battles with my weight, including an eating disorder, eventually brought me to resistance training after years of being a chronic cardio and dieting queen with little results.  Gone were my days of restrictive dieting and hours on the cardio machine. I began eating to support building my body, and lifting to celebrate my strength. My newfound fitness knowledge was so empowering that I became a personal trainer. Also, I became so intrigued with the impact of foods on health that I decided to study holistic nutrition at Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.


Me in my beast mode.

During my journey (aka my quarter-life crisis!), I suffered a meltdown that involved depression, epic eczema and allergy flares, and nearly nonexistent menstrual cycles. The conventional treatments for these would have included an anti-depressant for depression, steroid creams for eczema, anti-histamine and allergy shots for allergies, and a birth control pill to regulate my cycles. (That’s from zero to four medications just for turning 25. Yikes!)

Luckily, I had already enrolled in the holistic nutrition program, which changed how I looked at my health conditions and my treatment choices. Although I didn’t believe everything I was taught at first (we scientists are skeptical people!), my own research convinced me that it would be far better to support my body’s own healing rather than to suppress it with medications.

It took really slowing down and spiritually looking inward (not easy for a Type A like me), as much as doing detective work on my body, to figure out how to resolve my health problems. I started eating clean, healing my gut, dealing with my love deficiency and (gasp!) losing my six-pack. I returned to the Vipassana meditation practice I had learned as a child, and it saved my health.

Fast forward two years later, my outlook on life has completely turned around, my acne has cleared up, my menstrual cycles have regulated and I can handle exposure to most of the allergens I tested positive for two years ago – all without medication. I’m active in a lot of social circles and I’m enjoying a much more meaningful life than before.

Over the course of my own health journey, I became increasingly fascinated with the art and science of natural and functional medicine (what I call health detective work), thanks to my scientific research background. So I became a certified health detective through Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, a holistic system for building health by identifying root causes of health problems and healing opportunities through functional lab work.

In addition, because I am a scientist, I do experiments. On my own body. I never believe everything at first, and I give all healing modalities the benefit of the doubt and try them whenever I can. I’ve turned my health struggles on their head and used my body as a laboratory so that I can share with you what my experience has been like, and whether there are any objective outcomes. With my Buddhism background and having once healed myself through Vipassana meditation, I am actually crunchy and open-minded to different ways of healing. As of now, I’ve been an avid (and informed) patient for my acupuncturists, chiropractors, osteopathic manual practitioners, post-rehab personal trainers, physiotherapist, chiropodist, naturopathic doctors, functional medicine doctors, Reiki practitioners, and many more healers. Therefore, it’s a mission of mine to advocate for healing modalities that work, and against ones that don’t. I’d actually try everything in the name of science.

My life mission is to help women enjoy long, happy, and healthy lives. It’s as much about raising awareness as it is about educating. A lot of chronic health issues aren’t symptoms of medication deficiencies, but rather the outcome of years of poor health. Improving your quality of life at a younger age isn’t just easier, it also sets you up for improved quality of life in the future.

Rather than treating diseases or focusing on weight loss, I work with my clients to optimize their health through lifestyle, nutrition, fitness, supplementation, and spiritual practices. I coach both one-on-one and in groups, and I raise awareness of how to address certain health issues through my blog, videos, ebooks, and speaking engagements.

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For individual consultations, please contact me at dr.natchamaithai <at> gmail <dot> com.