Wednesday, 13 April 2011

"Thai" Beef Salad

In honour of my local, which uses the words "Authentic Thai" to qualify its Cuisine, and therefore implies neither. This is a salad I vary every time I make it, using whatever ingredients are to hand and have the right balance of flavours in my head. There are thousands of variants of this recipe on the internet; I've seen ingredients that look authentic, like bean sprouts and coriander leaf, and ingredients that look crazy, but probably aren't, like aubergine and tomato. Tonight I try the latter for the first time and I'm surprised by the result... in a good way. Oddly I don't think it would be quite right with cherry tomatoes, and its certainly a good idea not to overuse them.

For the dressing, fish sauce is absolutely key. Lime juice can just about be substituted by lemon, and while you'd miss the umami of soy sauce, you could just about use salt instead. But nothing substitutes for fish sauce - it hits all the right notes here. You can use any kind of toasted nuts; I prefer the salty ready-roasted kind for this, but toasted cashews or macadamias would be tasty too. Alternatively you can omit them and put a few tbsp of peanut butter or tahini in the dressing; it's amazing. Chillies are optional for the faint-hearted.


  • 1 tasty rump or sirloin steak (or 2 if you're feeling greedy)
  • juice of 2 limes
  • soy sauce
  • a large bunch of bulky, mild greens, like English round lettuce, Chinese leaf (napa), young chard, or a very light spring cabbage, or a small cucumber, seeds removed
  • a small handful of bitter greens, like rocketradicchio or chicory, or a handful of sugarsnap peas
  • a ripe red tomato, a handful of grated carrot, some beansprouts, or a few red radishes
  • a small bunch of mint
  • a small bunch of fresh coriander
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin sesame or rapeseed oil
  • 1 red chilli
  • a handful of roasted peanuts

In a very hot pan with a bare smear of vegetable oil, sear the steak on each side for 1 1/2 minutes, so it is browned on each side but still rare in the centre. Put in a bowl or some foil, and juice over one of the limes and add 2 tbsp of soy sauce. Marinade for at least an hour; ideally for 24 hours.

Roughly chop the greens, and strip the leaves from the herbs and finely chop. Slice the tomato or radishes into bite-sized pieces. Finely chop the chilli (remove the seeds if you like a milder heat) and whisk with the juice of the remaining lime, 2 tbsp of soy sauce, the fish sauce, and the oil.

Toss the salad ingredients with half of the dressing. Remove the steak from the marinade and slice against the grain as thinly as you can. Serve the salad with a portion of sliced beef and some peanuts on top, pouring over the rest of the dressing as you do so. Goes well with rice or noodles and extra soy sauce alongside. (Tonight we made coconut rice by adding a few tbsp of coconut cream, 1 tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp of salt to the rice's cooking water... yum! And the sneaky SO snapped a photo of me slicing the beef...)

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