My Southeast Asian Summer: Beef salad

june 2009 011
The hotter it gets, the more interested I am in the piquant and flavorful foods of southeast Asia. Recently I picked the last of my lettuce, and an Asian-inspired meat salad seemed like an obvious choice for a summer dinner on the patio. It’s hard to give an exact nationality for this salad, since I’m obsessed with Thai and Vietnamese food and this has some elements of each.
First, grow your lettuce and herbs. I plant a little lettuce every two weeks throughout the spring, and make sure that the last few plantings are in light shade. I haven’t yet been able to pick any lettuce in July or August, but it always does well through early June. This year I did best with romaines, including a beautiful maroon one called “Marshall” which I got from Territorial Seeds. It’s disease-resistant and was the last lettuce in my garden to bolt. Of course, you can buy the lettuce if you need to. For the herbs, you need a few sprigs each of cilantro, Thai basil, lemon basil, and rau ram. If you don’t grow herbs yourself, you may be limited to Thai basil and cilantro, but the salad will still be very good.
Next, catch your beef. I’m a firm believer in grass-fed beef. It may be better for us, and beyond question it’s better for the cows. For more discussion of grass-fed and sustainable meats and more sourcesd, see my website. I buy big sirloin steaks from our local Fishhuggers at the Corrales Farmers Market on Sunday morning. A single steak will always provide the two of us with three meals, often four, and sometimes five. Grill it plainly for the first meal, and you can take it in a lot of directions after that. It has a wonderful beefy flavor, and you don’t need much to have a flavor impact, so cold grass-fed steak in your refrigerator is a meal waiting to happen.
Click here for the recipe!
You will need:
About 4 ounces of cold medium-rare steak, sliced very thinly against the grain.
Enough lettuce for two large salads. I use one medium head of romaine.
1 under-ripe mango, peeled and cut in thin slices
a few sprigs each of cilantro, Thai basil, rau ram, and lemon basil, washed and the leaves picked off
2 tablespoons Thai or Viet fish sauce
Juice of one large lime or 4 Key limes
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon palm sugar or white sugar
2-3 tablespoons of crushed roasted peanuts
Mix the fish sauce, lime juice, palm or white sugar, rice vinegar, and sambal oelek to make the dressing. The small amount of rice vinegar lifts and brightens the flavor of the lime juice, a tip I learned from Andrea Nguyen’s admirable book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Stir well to dissolve the sugar and taste for balance, adding a little water as needed if the flavors are too strong. Arrange the lettuce in two salad bowls. Tear the herb leaves into small chunks (don’t cut) and sprinkle them over the lettuce. Arrange the mango slices around the periphery of each bowl. Carefully pour about 2 tablespoons of dressing over each salad. Arrange the beef slices on top, drizzle with a little more dressing, put half a small lime in the center of each salad, sprinkle with crushed roasted peanuts, and serve with the remaining dressing on the side.
A note on the mango: green mangos are traditional salad ingredients and have a sharp, green astringent flavor. Ta Lin in Albuquerque often has them. I love them, but in this salad I prefer Alfonso mangos that are under-ripe but no longer green. Their aromatic and floral notes are enjoyable with the beef.

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