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Sunday Night Special: Thai Beef Salad

I think it's generally accepted that salads are good hot weather food. It's too bad that salads tend to be really boring, or maybe I just hate the varieties that I make myself. I'd much rather eat a professionally crafted bowl of greens than suffer through my sad renditions.

Thai salads are easy to make, generally healthy and taste a hundred times better than some god-awful Caesar concoction. I went for beef because we had a Styrofoam flat of economy type steaks in the freezer. They weren't really suited for purist treatment, but became a perfect meaty sponge for herbs and spice.

There doesn't seem to be a hard and fast recipe for this dish (nor a proper name–I thought it was yam nuea, but the recipe I settled on was called nahm dtok, which must be off because Googling that phrase only brings up 25 hits. I suspect the dish is more Laotian, which may or may not have anything to do with its small web presence). Some are more like a larb and use roassted rice powder and chile powder rather fresh chiles. Tomatoes, scallions, or mint sometimes show up and sometimes don't. I went a little insane trying to find a definitive version.

Eventually, I just gave up and looked to David Thompson's Thai Food. It was one of the simplest recipes I found and the man knows his shit. My only beef is that he doesn't specify servings (perhaps this is explained somewhere in the book and I missed it). I would guess that using 5 ounces of meat would make this for one. I mean, Americans eat 12-ounce slabs at steakhouses. I suppose if you were being more Asian and serving lots of dishes with small portions intended 5 ounces would suit more eaters. But then, I treated this as a main entrée and doubled it for two.

Grilled Beef Salad
Nahm Dtok

5 oz. beef rump or sirloin
4 red shallots, sliced
2 tablespoons shredded pak chii farang
handful of mixed mint and cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon ground roasted rice

pinch of white sugar
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
very large pinch of roasted chile powder

First, make the dressing; it should be pungently hot, sour and salty.

Chargrill the beef to your taste. Slice beef, and combine with shallots and herbs. Dress the salad and sprinkle with roasted rice.

Serve with a wedge of cabbage and a few snake beans.

* * *

I didn't use the pak chii, which I just learned is culantro (a.k.a. sawtooth herb), not a super hard herb to find in many parts of NYC since it's popular in Puerto Rican cooking. I used to think grocers were just misspelling cilantro because they seem to enjoy doing that quite a bit, but that is the commonly used name here. And I used a mixture of shallots and red onion and tossed in half a tomato, just to use up produce that had been languishing in the fridge.

Nahm_dtok Northern Thai salads call for sticky rice. I happened to have the glutinous grain, but didn't have the proper set up. I really just need to buy one of those Thai rice steamers because improvising with a metal vegetable steamer in a large pot is a mess. You need cheesecloth and I just put the soaked rice in loose and it got too wet. The end result was more mushy than sticky, though it firmed up a bit after getting some air.

I opted for cucumber slices on the side. As you can tell from the photo I'm not presentation obsessed. The cucumbers had strips of missed skin still on and seeds that didn't fully get scooped out. I had also intended the meat to be rare, though it came out more medium-well. Gordon Ramsey would call me a donkey or a fat ass or something if he got a load of my kitchen standards.

Bonus Yam/Yum/Thot Fun

  • And because I have a more than minor obsession with name brand bastardized recipes, here's a Kraft doozy that calls for peanut butter (unbranded), A.1. Teriyaki Steak Sauce and KRAFT LIGHT DONE RIGHT! Zesty Italian Reduced Fat Dressing. At least they have the decency not to use the word yum in the title.
  • Hormel's rendition is a little less disturbing, but does make bizarre use of HERB-OX® Beef Flavored Bouillon Granules.
  • Here's a most awesome adaptation from Hidden Valley that uses, yes you guessed it, Hidden Valley® The Original Ranch® Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix. Or as us common folk call it, ranch dressing.
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  1. Sounds great. I can never make salads. Some people seem to just throw some lettuce and other stuff together and it’s all gourmet whereas mine are always boring and uninspired no matter what I do.

    July 12, 2006
  2. I don’t know why it’s so hard to make a simple salad. I’m kind of the same way with sandwiches–ones that other people make for me always seem to taste better than ones I’ve put together.

    July 14, 2006

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