I once combed through the produce section of what felt like a million supermarkets, just to find a green papaya for a Thai salad. While the salad was excellent, it only used about a quarter of the papaya, and then I was stuck trying to figure out what to do with the rest. If you’ve ever had green papaya, you know that it is pretty much flavorless (I’m sorry papaya! You’re fun and crunchy and don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve still got some work to do in the flavor department).
This post is about a Thai salad that doesn’t have papaya in it, bless its heart. Not that you couldn’t sneak a bit of papaya in there if you found yourself with three fourths of one left over in your fridge for some reason. In fact, it would most likely work really well, because this salad is all about the crisp, thin strips of raw vegetables. And the dressing, it’s definitely about the dressing as well.
The salad is pretty much made up of a pile of veggies, tossed with herbs, a spicy, soy-based dressing and sliced beef. It’s the kind of salad that makes you forget how laborious it is to consume raw vegetables, because each bit of dressing you eat makes you want a little bit more.
You can make a version of this with many different types of vegetables. I used bell pepper, cucumber and celery, but I wouldn’t say no to some carrot either, zucchini, or perhaps even radish. If you cook a steak just for this salad, it will almost certainly be fantastically delicious. But what you can also do, which will most likely only be slightly less fantastically delicious, is to make this salad when you have left-over steak anyway. Clearly there is a continuum of effort required to make this salad, from chasing speciality ingredients all across town (looking at you, papaya), to throwing together whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. As long as you get the dressing right, it should be good.
And speaking of the dressing. It will be spicy. It should be spicy! Thai food is some of the most spicy food I have ever eaten. It’s also some of the most delicious food I have eaten. That’s probably why I have more than one memory of taking a very unreasonable amount of time to eat a curry. After every mouthful I had to stop, wipe my eyes and blow my nose and wait for my lips to stop burning enough to admit the next spoonful, because I SO wanted that next spoonful. And so we had to sit there until I finished eating and using up everyone’s napkins. Yeah, that trip to Thailand taught me to always ask for extra napkins right away.
The point is that you should adjust the spice level in the dressing so it goes right to the edge of your personal tolerance. I used cayenne for spice, but crushed, dried chili flakes would be good, too, and fresh chili would be excellent. Start by adding little bit of chili to the dressing, taste, and then if your eyes aren’t watering yet, add a little bit more.
Dig in, and enjoy. And don’t forget the napkins.
Thai Style Spicy Beef Salad
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oil (canola or peanut)
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp palm sugar (or brown sugar or honey)
- 1/4 lime (only the juice)
- 1 cm ginger
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 200 grams of steak for example flank steak or flatiron
- 1/2 red bell pepper
- 1/3 cucumber
- 1-2 celery stalk
- 1/2 head of lettuce
- 2 green onions
- 1 small handful of basil (preferably Thai basil)
- 1 handful of cilantro
- 1/4 lime (only the juice)
To make the dressing:
Finely mince, grate or press the garlic and ginger.
Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing. You might want to start with just a pinch of the cayenne and then add more until you reach your tolerance level.
Stir the dressing every once in a while when preparing the salad, to make sure that the sugar has fully dissolved.
To make the salad:
Pat the steak dry and season with salt. Sear the steak on both sides so that the surface becomes crusty, and the inside is still rare. Set aside to rest.
Julienne the pepper, cucumber and celery. Tear (or slice into ribbons) the basil leaves and half of the cilantro. Slice thin diagonal slices of the green onion, but save some of the dark green slices for decoration along with the rest of the cilantro.
Put everything together in a bowl. Add half the dressing and give it a good toss so the dressing coats every vegetable.
Slice the steak into thin slices. Place the salad in a pile on a serving platter and top it with the steak slices.
Drizzle more dressing over the steak slices, and garnish the salad with the rest of the cilantro and green onion and a squeeze of lime.