Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fire and ice: Thai beef salad

Iceberg lettuce is seriously underrated. Eclipsed by fancypants rivals, bitter raddicio and spicy rocquette and sweet mache, iceberg, to paraphrase Dame Edna, is C-O-M-M-O-N. Cheap and ordinary.

It is the lettuce of my childhood, sweet and crisp and watery.

Whilst the cuisine of the West may currently not be on speaking terms with iceberg lettuce, having swapped our childhood salads of cubed cheese and grated carrot for frissee and witlof, Asian cuisine from China to Thailand has no such prejudices.

The crunchy bowl of an iceberg lettuce leaf is irreplaceable in Chinese san choi bao. Vietnamese chả giò are dangerously moreish, crisp deep fried pastries wrapped with mint and basil in iceberg leaves.

And torn chunks of iceberg hearts, tossed with sweet ripe tomatoes and thick slices of cucumber is the perfect cooling counterpoint to the volcanic combination of raw onion and chilli in Thai beef salad.

Thai beef salad

Serves 2

300 gm of the best steak you can get.
½ iceberg lettuce
1 small Lebanese cucumber
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved (or 3 medium sized field tomatoes, cut into thin wedges)
½ red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup coriander leaves, torn
½ cup mint leaves, torn (English mint is fine, use Vietnamese mint if available)
½ cup Thai basil (or sweet Italian basil)
1 or 2 hot chillies
1 crushed bulb garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
Juice and rind of 2 limes
1 tbsp palm sugar (or raw sugar)
4 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce

Cook the steak to medium rare on a grill pan or barbeque (Make sure your steak is at room temperature when you cook it. For a thickish steak, an inch and half or so thick, cook for 4 minutes on each side).

Set aside to rest for about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the chillies, garlic, oil, sugar, rind, half the lime juice, half the fish sauce and the soy sauce. Taste. Gradually add fish sauce and lime until the flavours balance (you want something that has ‘zing’ and a nice salty finish, without being mouth puckeringly sour or drinking sea-water salty).

Slice the steak into very thin strips. Toss through the dressing to coat and remove.

Add the lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes , onion and herbs to the dressing, toss to coat.

Pile the salad vegetables onto a plate, scatter the beef over the top, and drizzle with the dressing.

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