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.