Posts Tagged ‘sambal oelek’

My Southeast Asian Summer: Beef salad

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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.
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The Greens of Spring: herb extravaganzas

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As much as I love cooked greens and good traditional green salads, I like to find other ways to enjoy spring greens. Herbs are concentrated little packets of flaror, fragrance, and antioxidants, and will amply repay the time you spend growing them. Right now I’m interested in the multifaceted cuisine of Indonesia, and find their lavish use of herbs very appealing. A pile of chopped cilantro, rau ram, mint, and Thai basil is one of the most appealing “salads” you can imagine, and strewn across this simple dish, it adds freshness and complexity. There is still time to plant some interesting Asian herbs in your yard, and the mint, Thai basil, rau ram, and cilantro are easy to grow. You can order rau ram plants (click “More on Asian herbs” below for a source)or you can buy a bunch of it at Ta Lin or your own favorite Asian grocery and root some sprigs. Clich at the end of this post for more info on growing Asian herbs. Or, you can find all these ingredients at Ta Lin in Albuquerque. Those of us who left a few small onions in the ground last year are harvesting big, beautiful green onions right now, and this is a good place to use them.

For two very large servings or four small ones, you’ll need:

  • 3 large or 6 small green onions, white parts finely chopped and green parts cut in 1/4″ lengths.
  • one bunch cilantro, leaves pulled off stems
  • 10-12 sprigs each of mint, rau ram, and Thai basil, well washed and all leaves pulled off the stems
  • 1 betel leaf (can be omitted)cut in very fine shreds
  • 2 sprigs of murraya leaves (sold at Ta Lin as “curry leaves”)with the leaflets pulled off the stem and shredded very finely
  • 1″ X 2″ piece ginger, peeled and chopped to matchhead-sized pieces
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled
  • 1/2 pound fresh thin egg noodles, soaked in hot water until softened, about 10 minutes
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk.
  • 1 tablespoon shaved palm sugar or white sugar
  • 1 tablespook sambal oelek, or more to taste.
  • Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce handy by the stove.
  • corn oil as needed for stir-frying
  • 1 lime, quartered

Have everything prepared as described, because this dish takes about ten minutes to cook, and you won’t have time for any prep while cooking. Be aware that you are going to use half the ginger, sambal,  and green onions for the shrimp and half for the noodles.

Heat your largest wok . Keep the heat very high while cooking. When very hot, pour in a glug of corn oil (I’d guess that a “glug” is about 2 tablespoons) and immediately throw in half the chopped ginger. Stir around in the hot oil until very fragrant, about a minute. Throw in half the chopped white parts of the green onions and stir-fry for another minute. Add the shrimp and drizzle fish sauce over them. Probably about a tablespoon is needed. As they sizzle, add a tablespoon of sambal oelek. Cook the shrimp another 1-2 minutes, stirring once to distribute the sambal. If you kept the heat high enough, they’ll be nearly done. Throw in half the green onions, stir in well for about half a minute, and dump the shrimp into a bowl. Set aside, covered, to keep hot. Now wipe out the wok very quickly with a rag or paper towel, return it promptly to the heat, and add another glug of oil. Put in the rest of the ginger and the shredded betel leaf and curry leaves, fry a minute, and put in the rest of the white parts of onion. Cook another minute, then add a tablespoon of sambal oelek, a tablespoon of sugar, and the coconut milk. Boil hard for one minute, drizzling in some fish sauce. Taste quickly for seasoning: it should be fairly salty, since this is the seasoning for the noodles. Now put the drained noodles in the wok with the remaining chopped green onion tops. Stri-fry  over high heat for about 5 minutes. Using a heatproof spatula, keep turning the noodles, drizzling on some  fish sauce if needed. Keep a fork handy and keep tasting the noodles to make sure that you don’t add too much fish sauce; a tablespoon or a little less is about right. When they are very hot throughout and the seasoning is well distributed, toss in half the cilantro leaves and turn out onto plates (2 plates for a one-dish meal, four plates if part of a larger meal.) Quickly finger-mix the cilantro into the mint, rau ram, and Thai basil leaves, and divide the herb salad among the plates, covering the noodles. Now distribute the shrimp among the plates, topping the herbs. Serve immediately, with lime quarters for squeezing over the top. The herbs offer an array of different sensations as you eat, since they are not chopped finely, which would amalgamate the flavors.

Incidentally, please consider buying Alaska prawns when you want shrimp, or one of the other environmentally sound choices on the Seafood Watch list.

Click here for more on Asian herbs and noodles