This easy recipe for Thai ground beef is ready in about half an hour, and super kid friendly. It’s also simple to make paleo or gluten free.
There is something addicting and enchanting about the amazing blend of complex flavors in traditional Thai food. We love eating out at Thai restaurants, but I also love being able to recreate Thai recipes in my own kitchen. This Thai beef recipe is my version of Laab, and the secret flavor ingredient is homemade toasted rice powder.
What is toasted rice powder?
Toasted rice powder adds an earthy, nutty flavor to Thai dishes. It’s one of those ingredients that can have you eagerly trying bite after bite in a restaurant as you try to determine what it is you’re tasting.
It may taste complex, but it’s actually a very simple ingredient. You could pay a whole lot of money to buy toasted rice powder, but why would you when it takes only ten minutes or so to make it yourself?
How to make toasted rice powder:
You can make a large batch if you think you’ll be making multiple recipes using it, but I usually just toast what I need that day to get the strongest flavor. Here’s a quick Vine video to show you how easy it is to make, and step by step photos and instructions as well. You can click the video or just scroll past it for it to stop repeating.
Start by measuring out uncooked rice into a dry skillet. I use 2 tablespoons for the recipe below.
Turn the heat to high and toast the rice, shaking occasionally, until it turns golden, about 5 minutes.
Don’t be alarmed if the rice starts smoking, that’s completely normal. Just make sure to give the skillet a few shakes so the rice doesn’t burn.
Transfer the rice to a small bowl or plate to cool. This is a good time to chop any veggies or herbs for your recipe.
Once the toasted rice has cooled, you can grind it. In traditional Thai cuisine the rice is ground with a mortar and pestle. As a working mom with two little kids, I go with a spice grinder. It takes about 10 seconds! Oh, and my spice grinder is actually a coffee grinder that I got for a couple bucks at Goodwill and have dedicated to spices, seeds, etc. Great way to save money!
I like the texture of the rice powder to be grainy so that it actually adds texture to the dish as well as flavor.
Budget friendly Thai ground beef recipe
We’re already saving money by making our own toasted rice powder, but there are several more ways I cut down on costs in this recipe.
We have an abundance of mint in our backyard during the summer, but it’s also incredibly cheap at an Asian grocery store. I got a big bunch of it for $1 in the produce section. I just keep it in the window sill in a glass of water along with my green onions. Did you know that you can regrow cut green onions over and over again? Fresh ginger and garlic are often cheaper there too. Oh, and in case you haven’t grated fresh ginger before, I highly recommend this microplane zester. I love it so much that we own two!
You also want to get your sauces at an Asian grocery store. If you don’t have one near you, it’s still typically cheaper to buy a large bottle of each sauce online than to buy small ones in the International aisle of a regular grocery store.
For the bell peppers, the mini bell peppers were on sale at the grocery store, so were cheaper than the large ones. They look really pretty, but the large ones taste just the same so go with what’s the cheapest.
Finally, your ground beef. You can buy in bulk when it’s on sale, but grocery store ground beef is also artificially weighted with water and you tend to get a lot less than what you pay for. We buy a whole cow once a year and split it with friends and family. It comes out to just about $3/lb, and that’s for ground beef, ribs, roasts, and fancy cuts like tenderloin steaks. You can work with the butcher to get it cut or ground the way you like, and it’s SUCH a good deal! Basically we pay about $200 once a year and then never buy beef in the store.
This is a great starter recipe if you’re new to Thai cooking because it’s fast, flavorful, and easy on your budget. You can also eat the beef and veggies on lettuce leaves instead of rice if you’re looking for a Paleo or grain free option. Give it a try and let us know what you think!
- 2 tablespoons uncooked white rice
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 4 tablespoons lime juice divided
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/2 a yellow onion thinly sliced
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger peeled and grated
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 2 carrots grated
- 4 mini red bell peppers seeded and sliced (or 1 large)
- 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
- 5 green onions chopped (green parts only)
- 1/4 cup chopped mint
- 4 cups cooked rice or 3-4 large lettuce leaves per person
- leaves whole mint to garnish
- Place the uncooked rice in a dry skillet on high heat. Toast it for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the rice is golden and starting to smoke. Remove from the pan to cool. (If you haven't prepped your veggies and herbs yet, now is a great time)
- Place the cooled, toasted rice in grinder, and pulse until they're the texture of coarse bread crumbs. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix the beef, 3 tablespoons of lime juice, fish sauce, sliced onion, grated ginger, and chopped garlic.
- Dump the meat mix into a large skillet and cook on high heat, breaking the meat apart and stirring, for about 7 minutes, until the meat is just starting to brown.
- Add the grated carrots and sliced bell pepper. Stir another 3 minutes, until the peppers just start to soften.
- Stir in the sweet chili sauce and remaining tablespoon of lime juice.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the toasted rice powder, chopped green onions, and mint.
- Serve over rice (or in lettuce cups for a Paleo option), and garnish with fresh mint leaves.
Approximate cost/serving: This ended up costing me under $5 to make, about $5 with the rice, so we'll call it $1 per serving.
Gluten Free: To make it gluten free, use gluten free tamari or soy sauce
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Nutritional and cost information is for estimating purposes only, and subject to variations due to region, seasonality, and product availability.