Come summertime, I'm always interested in ways to eat well while using the stove and/or oven as little as humanly possible. This, of course, leads to thinking about how best to impart flavor without heat, which leads to thoughts of fish sauce, lime juice and chiles.
The Thai beef salad I made for dinner on Sunday is the perfect example. In exchange for about five minutes in stove time, I feasted on a dish that brought together many of my most favorite things. Riffing on a Patricia Wells recipe, I subbed in rare hangar steak for the roast beef and left out the cilantro. (The devil's herb, people!) The cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and bird chiles all stayed, though, and the combination made for a delectably refreshing, satisfying meal.
If you don't have some of these ingredients already, it's worth investing. (I say "investing," but fish sauce is about $2 a bottle, max.) Both the soy sauce and fish sauce will come in handy, even when you're not cooking along Asian lines. For example, a tiny bit of fish sauce can really perk up a vinaigrette, and soy sauce adds complexity to marinades and pestos from here to kingdom come.
Thai Beef Salad
Adapted from Patricia Wells
1/2 pound hangar steak
1/4 cup salted peanuts
1 1/2 tbs. fresh lime juice
1 tbs. fish sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 kirby cucumber, washed, dried (not peeled), sliced in half lengthwise and then across on the diagonal
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 red bird's eye chile, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced into long, thin strips
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1 cup fresh basil, leaves torn
Prepare the steak:
Heat a skillet over high heat. Meanwhile, lightly salt and pepper the steak on one side. (Cut the steak into two pieces if necessary to fit it into the skillet in one layer.) Once the skillet is very hot (a drop of water should dance across its surface), place the steak in the skillet, seasoned side down.
Lightly season the other side and cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn the steak and cook on the other side for 1-2 minutes, until the steak is nicely browned but still rare most of the way through. Remove to a plate and allow to cool to room temperature.
Prepare the peanuts:
In a small skillet set over medium heat, gently toast the peanuts until they are fragrant. Remove from the heat and chop roughly.
Prepare the salad:
In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Taste for seasoning.
Thinly slice the steak crosswise, then lay the pieces flat on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Pour half the dressing over, cover the plate with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two hours, occasionally turning the pieces of steak.
Once the steak is ready, toss it with the cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and chili. Add the remaining dressing and toss gently. Arrange the salad on a plate and top with the herbs and peanuts.