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Red pepper flakes (Recipe: Laotian chicken and herb salad)

Laotian chicken and herb salad

REVELATION: Did you know you can make your own red pepper flakes?

Have you ever thought of doing it?

When it comes to peppers, the labels "mild" and "hot" don't really mean much. Is "mild" a NuMexico Naky (500 Scoville Units) or a NuMexico Big Jim (5,000)? And is "hot" a Tabasco (30,000) or a Thai (100,000)?

Why not create your own blend, mild or hot, smoky or not? You don't even need to use red peppers.

All you need are dried peppers, an oven, a rolling pin, and patience.

Here's how: Start with your favorite dried peppers (commercial blends often rely on New Mexico red or cayenne chiles, but you can use black mulato chiles, too -- I'll never tell). Wear rubber gloves, or remember not to rub your eyes. Remove the stems. If you want a milder pepper flake, open the chiles and remove the seeds; for a more fiery finished product, leave the peppers whole, with the seeds and ribs intact.

Place the chiles on an aluminum-foil lined baking sheet in a slow (200°F/100°C) oven for 8-10 hours, until brittle. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Crush with a rolling pin. Store the flakes in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid; they will keep for more than six months in a cool, dark part of your pantry.

Red pepper flakes

Red pepper flakes -- popular in the cuisines of Turkey, Hungary, Korea and Japan, as well as Italy -- give you the heat of hot sauce (such as Tabasco), without the vinegar or added liquid. You can order chile peppers to make your own red pepper flakes from Penzeys or The Spice House.

When it comes to pepper, freshness matters; stale pepper that sits around for months definitely loses its kick. After a year, either replace the spice, or increase the quantity when you cook with it to compensate for the diminishing pungency.

Red pepper flakes, nicknamed diavolochino in Italian, give their name to pasta fra diavolo, and here in Rhode Island they're sprinkled on every imaginable type of pizza.

Chicken larb (Laotian chicken and herb salad)

Adapted from the wonderful new book, Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America, by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang, this is light and low-carb. The original recipe calls for toasted sticky rice flour, and in the book you'll find instructions for making this. I substituted toasted bread crumbs. Don't substitute for the fresh herbs, though; they are essential to the bright taste of the dish. Serves 8; can be halved.


3 lbs ground chicken or turkey
Juice of 2 large limes, plus 1 lime for garnish
2 Tbsp rice wine
2 tsp minced fresh ginger or galanga
1 stalk minced lemongrass (remove tough outer leaves, root, and top several inches before mincing)
3 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
3 Tbsp toasted bread crumbs
1 heaping cup chopped fresh mint
1 heaping cup chopped cilantro
Several additional stems of mint and cilantro, for garnish
1 bunch scallions, sliced diagonally
1/2 cup chopped Thai basil
1 large head leaf lettuce (16 leaves, for wrapping)


On a large cutting board, chop the chicken until it is finely minced. Place it in a large bowl, and squeeze the lime juice over it. Add the rice wine and mix with your hands to combine.

In a nonstick frying pan (don't use any oil), cook the chicken, tossing and stirring constantly, just until the meat turns white. Return the mixture with any accumulated juice to the bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature.

While the chicken cools, prepare the fresh herbs. Add the ginger, lemongrass, lemon peel, red pepper flakes, garlic, fish sauce, salt, white pepper and bread crumbs to the cooled mixture. Toss the ingredients together until they are well mixed. Then add the mint, cilantro, scallions and Thai basil. Gently toss everything together.

Break lettuce leaves away from the head, and wash and dry them. Fill lettuce leaves with the chicken mixture, and serve with lime wedges.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Chicken satay
Nasi goreng/Indonesian fried rice
Pasta puttanesca
Roasted vegetables with yogurt and fresh tomato sauce

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this does not look very appetizing. the ingredients say to me the laotian chicken will taste good but looking at the photo it does not seem tasty.

Okay, I definitely want some of these... wonder how far I need to travel in northern England to find them?... ah, southeast Asian food. Delicious.

I love this recipe. And I think the photo of the salad looks lovely.

I can't live without this pantry staple!

Red pepper flakes are not available (as such) in India although we have such a variety of peppers. My mother figured out a way to obtain them (for free, even!): she goes to the places where they grind spices commercially, and the red pepper flakes are what get sieved out and discarded when they make red chilli powder that we use in Indian cooking. She now has a huge stash and even offered me some :)

That's a great idea to make your own chili flakes. I have a jar in my pantry, but home made would be much more economical!

This recipe reminds me of the Thai dish: Larp of Chaing Mai... the cross-over in SE Asian cuisine is amazing.

Oh wow, this sounds like a wonderful recipe and I love ordering larb in Thai restaurants so I'm pretty sure I would love it. Really love the idea of making your own red pepper flakes too.

Oh my gosh! That would be so cool to make my own pepper! Cool!


Thanks for this post I think I am going to try this. I have an over abundance of peppers this summer so this should be fun. I have wondered how to make this...-Thanks

When I foolishly got some pepper plants because someone told me they grow well in pots, what I got was cayennes. The peppers are actually showing their little green selves, so now I know what I'll do with the (hah!) excess. In our house crushed chilis are NJ pizza pepper.
And by the way, the ginger plant is growing tall AND wide, showing roots along the surface of the soil. What a good time it's having out front of the house in the almost daily rain.

You can actually make your own toasted rice POWDER (which is more authentic than flour, which could just be an error in translation?), and it doesn't even have to be sticky rice. Regular old white rice will work just fine. Simply toast some uncooked rice grains in a dry skillet until lightly browned and fragrant and cool. Grind in a coffee grinder or blender jar to the consistency of coarse cornmeal. The flavor the rice powder imparts is absolutely essential to the unique flavor of this dish.

Also, remember to gently wash or wipe your dried chiles with a wet cloth before using because they are normally NOT clean when you buy them.

PS, I like the idea of serving the salad in lettuce leaves! Thanks!

This reminds me of chicken in lettuce cups. I will definitely try this.


Never would I have thought to make my own but I love the idea of my own flavor. I love the lettuce cup presentation of this dish as well!

red pepper flakes like marshmallows are things I used to think you can never make from home. That looks like a yummy chicken recipe!

Sxydeeny, this is truly a delicious dish. I'm always working to improve my photography and I appreciate your feedback.

Paul, are red pepper flakes hard to come by in your area? I'm always happy to send some.

Anh, thank you. My goal is to have photos that look even one-tenth as beautiful as yours.

Nupur, your mother sounds like a very clever woman! I've never heard of anything like that, and I can't imagine a spice processor in the US who would allow it. How lucky you are!

Julia, this is the Hmong version of larp, complete with the lime flavor. I really think you'd like this cookbook.

Kalyn, Paz, Tania, Noble Pig, Veron: isn't it a fun idea to "make" your own herbs and spices? I've been mixing mild and hot chile flakes for years to get a blend that's medium hot, but starting from drying the peppers and whacking them with a rolling pin makes it that much more fun.

Susan, it's definitely pizza pepper around our house, too. (And I'm so excited about the ginger!)

Lydia, thanks for the simple instructions for making rice powder. Next time I make this dish, I'll definitely try it (and there will be a next time -- it was that good).

Carol, I hope you enjoy it.

It's nice to see a great use for red pepper flakes outside of sprinkling them on pizza. I love adding them to soups or stews for a little extra kick.

....'DRIED peppers in the oven for 8-10 hours'?

Dizzy, you can use dried or fresh, but fresh peppers will not dry out sufficiently in 8-10 hours in a low oven. They will collapse, but they won't dry because they start with too much moisture. It's like making slow-roasted tomatoes; even with 8 hours in a 200F oven, they don't get brittle and dry.

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