I was first inspired to make this salad after eating the Vietnamese Beef Salad at Saigon Grill in New York (haven’t been there since the scandal, I swear!) That was in the mid-90s and now it seems like everyone has their own version. That’s probably because it’s the perfect salad meal. Served with a bowl of steamed rice, it’s both warm and cold, light and hearty, spicy and cool. Also, it’s extremely versatile. Master the right balance in this salad and you’ve opened the door to dozens of Asian salad meals. I refer to mine as Vietnamese style because I use hoisin sauce and sesame seeds, typical of Chinese cooking.
About the marinade: Here we see the typical soy sugar sherry balancing act. I’ve used hoisin, fish sauce, vinegar and sugar, which captures the balance of sweet, salty and vinegary. Sugar is key for this marinade as it will glaze the meat and create a tasty char. Soy, sugar and sherry would be a great alternative. To this I’ve also added a little oil to prevent sticking, and siracha for added spice.
About the prep: I chose a selection of veggies that were readily available in Cambridge. In truth the options are endless. Some things to keep in mind are color and texture. You want to select a mixture of veggies that are visually appealing. I like to use red cabbage, or a mix of red and green, carrots and fresh herbs. This guarantees my salad will be visually beautiful. For texture, remember that this salad will be pre-dressed which means you have to ensure that it won’t get too soggy over the course of your meal. Using cabbage and hardy greens like watercress or daikon radish will keep things crunchy not to mention add a little additional spice.
Fresh herbs and nuts are really important to any Asian salad. Adding even just one of these ingredients will add incredible flavor to your dish. Remember to buy toasted nuts, or toast them yourself, which allows you to add additional saltiness, sweetness and spice as I do here. For herbs, I’ve chosen to use cilantro and mint, but holy/Thai basil is another good one.
To add even more great texture to this salad, I’ve incorporated one of my other Southeast Asian favorites: spicy marinated cucumber salad. Rather than chopping the cucumbers and red onion and adding them in directly (not only would the cucumbers get lost with the other veggies but I find raw red onion a bit too harsh), I like to create a side salad by marinating them first in rice vinegar, chili and sugar, and adding them in at the end. They really help to diversify the flavor and texture of the dish.
Marinade: for up to 1 lb of steak (sirloin, NY strip, rump), marinate at least 30 minutes, up to 12 hours.
2 T of hoisin
2 T of rice vinegar
1 T sugar
1 T fish sauce
1 T oil (canola, sunflower, peanut, veg)
1 t siracha
Marinated cucumber and red onion salad: make at least 1 hour in advance.
½ red onion
½ English/seedless cucumber or 1 cucumber deseeded
1 chili (optional)
1 T white sugar
3 T rice vinegar
1 bunch of watercress, large stems removed
2 carrots, cut into ribbons with a peeler or julienned with a handheld julienne peeler.
½ small red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 small bunch of mint
1 small bunch cilantro
1 lime, cut into small wedges
3/4 cup peanuts
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 t brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/3 cup ginger tea (or a ½ t of ginger pressed through a microplane)
1 lime juiced
1 T fish sauce
1 T sugar
1 T rice vinegar
Mix marinade ingredients into a zip lock bag or tuperware container, add steak and refrigerate. Take out and bring to room temperature 20 minutes before cooking.
Drop thinly sliced red onion, cucumber and chili into the sugar and vinegar mixture. Refrigerate until ready to add to the salad, tossing occasionally.
Toss peanuts into a dry frying pan. Toss on medium heat until lightly brown. Add sesame seeds, sugar and salt and toss until golden brown and sesame seeds form small, caramelized clumps.
Combine remaining salad ingredients. Broil or grill steak for 4-5 minutes until medium rare. Remove from heat and wrap in foil for 5 minutes, then thinly slice. Combine dressing ingredients and pour ¾ over the salad. Toss salad. Add warmed nuts, cucumber salad and sliced steak. Lightly toss and add remaining dressing.
Serve with steamed rice or rice noodles. Serves 3-4