Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thai Beef Salad


Happy Holidays Food-G readers! We are one full week into the season of eating-- pun intended! Are you ready for something lighter yet?

Ahh the holidays... So good for the soul. So bad for the pants button. It's amazing how quickly it happens too. Over the course of a long Thanksgiving weekend I think I ate my own body weight in turkey, stuffing, gravy, pie, chex mix, prime rib, baked potatoes, and more pie . This morning, in the mild fog of a friend's super-fun Christmas Bash, I am reflecting on last night's hors d'oeuvre dinner: shrimp dip, salmon dip, spinach dip, queso dip, cured meats, cheeses, asparagus rolls, grilled beef skewers, and a couple of lil' smokies thrown in for good measure.

Don't get me wrong, I love the season's eatings (sorry, couldn't help it). Holiday food is so good, especially when consumed with family, friends, and a glass or two of holiday cheer. But in between feast days, it feels good to restore balance.

Noah and I fell in love with Thai Beef Salad in the little Australian surf haven of Byron Bay. I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but theirs became the hallmark for what would become our quest to recreate the ultimate. It's been eleven years since that trip to Oz, and we've had plenty of time to nail down a version we love. So without further adieu...

Thai Beef Salad (serves 4)

Topped with slices of marinated tri tip, still warm from the grill, this is a salad that will satisfy every part of you. One of the best parts is the Nam Jim dressing: salty, sour, spicy, sweet, and totally oil free.

There are a lot of components here, but this meal lends itself to some superb piggy-back cooking. Marinate a little extra beef and use the leftovers to make this Vietnamese Steak Sandwich. Add a little of the Nam Jim dressing to rice noodles, throw in some pickled carrot (from the steak sandwich), along with chopped cucumber, bell pepper, bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro, and crispy shallot and you've got a light and zippy noodle bowl to take to work.

1 or 2 heads bibb lettuce (depending on size), washed, dried, and torn into pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1 carrot, coarsely grated
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into matchsticks
Thai Marinated Beef (recipe below)
Chopped green onion
Fresh cilantro leaves
Dry roasted peanuts, chopped
Crispy Shallot (recipe below)
Nam Jim Dressing (recipe below)

On dinner plates, arrange lettuce and top with chopped pepper, carrot and cucumber. Add slices of marinated and grilled beef, and garnish with green onion, cilantro, peanuts, and crispy shallot. Drizzle lightly with Nam Jim dressing and serve.

Thai Marinated Beef
The pineapple juice in this marinade helps tenderize otherwise tough cuts of beef like flank steak. If using a large piece of tri-tip, cut into smaller hunks for more even cooking. Lightly score flank steak in a cross-hatch pattern before grilling to prevent the meat from "curling". Let rest 5 to 10 minutes after removing from grill, and always slice across the grain when serving.

2 to 3 pounds flank steak or tri tip (tri tip is fattier and more tender)
6 ounces pineapple juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 lime, zest and juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

Combine all ingredients, pour into a large plastic Ziploc bag, and add meat. Marinate 4 to 6 hours before grilling over medium-high heat, 4 to 6 minutes per side, or until desired degree of doneness has been reached.

Crispy Shallot


1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced shallot
pinch salt

Heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add oil, and when shimmery add sliced shallots and salt. Cook, stirring 7 - 10 minutes or until dark toasty brown. Watch closely. They can burn quickly at such high temps if neglected.

Nam Jim Dressing

2 med. garlic cloves
pinch salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3-4 bird's eye chilies, seeds removed for less spicy version (or sub. a pinch of chili flakes)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons palm sugar (best), raw turbinado sugar (better), or light brown sugar (good)
2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot

Combine the garlic, salt and chilies in a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. Add cilantro and continue to pulverize. Combine with sugar, lime juice and shallot and stir until sugar has dissolved. Alternately, combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blitz until well-blended.


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