Saying Goodbye to Summer: Vietnamese Beef Salad

Summer in DC has all the components of a passionate but ultimately doomed relationship.  Think about it… it starts suddenly, with very little warm up & quickly overwhelms you with its intense heat. Instead of working you spend hours staring blankly at your computer screen, reliving in your mind the wild moments from the night before, and fantasizing about what the weekend will bring. You play hooky from work to drink sangrias on a patio, picnic in a park, or drive out to the countryside for a long weekend getaway… and maybe for a moment you believe it will go on forever.

But you know how this story goes. Things cool off faster than you were expecting. As the heat dissipates the flirty dresses, lacy under-things & satin camisoles are all banished to the back of the closet. Come November, you’ll be stressing year-end deadlines in an oversized sweater designed to hide the five extra pounds you’ve packed on since summer’s abrupt end.

But just as no relationship worth remembering ends without a final steamy tryst, one day before the first frost you will inevitably wake up to a day that feels just as hot as it did in mid-July. It’ll only last a few hours, but it’s enough to make you momentarily slip back into the dreamy haze.

This is a recipe for that day.

Topped with savory beef & drizzled with a spicy lime and fish sauce vinaigrette, this dish is the opposite of a dull everyday lunch salad. Purple perilla brings an herbaceous complexity, while mint further brightens the crisp lettuce, slippery noodles, peppery radishes & sweet onions. You can easily throw this salad together in 15 minutes, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the final warm moments of summer.

So kick off your shoes, pour yourself a tall glass of icy plum wine, close your eyes, and begin the pleasurable task of deciding which summer memories are worthy of a permanent spot on that racy highlight reel of yours.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
Vinaigrette
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 red chilies, sliced (Vietnamese or Thai chilies if you have them)
2 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. water
3 Tbs. oil

Salad:
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1 tsp. rice vinegar
½ tsp. sugar
1 lb. skirt steak
1 pack rice noodles (or about 4 oz. per serving)
1 head butter lettuce
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
3 radishes, thinly sliced
Mint leaves
Cilantro leaves
Perilla (look for Shiso or Tia To at your Asian grocery store)
Crushed peanuts (optional)

  • To make the vinaigrette mix the first 6 ingredients together in a bowl or small container. Stirring well with a small whisk, incorporate the oil. * If you prefer, you can substitute the oil in the dressing for water. But if you do it’s better to turn the dressing into a dipping sauce as it tends to make the salad watery.
  • Mix the soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar and sugar in shallow bowl. Add the skirt steak. Cover and let the steak marinate while you prep the rest of the salad.
  • Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt generously. When the water comes to a boil add the rice noodles and follow the cooking direction on the back of the packet. (Typically, rice noodles take about 5 minutes).
  • Once cooked rinse and drain the noodles well.
  • Wash, dry and tear the lettuce. Slice the red onion and radishes.
  • Place a skillet over high heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Remove the skirt steak from the marinade, tapping lightly to remove any excess liquid. When the oil begins to lightly smoke add the skirt steak.
  • Sear on high for 1 minute, turn the heat down to medium and sear another minute. Flip and repeat on the other side. The thickness of a skirt steak varies slightly but overall it tends to be a rather thin cut of beef. Cooking time will be roughly 2 minutes per side for medium rare.
  • When you reach the desired doneness remove the steak from the heat and set it aside to rest a couple minutes before slicing.
  • You can present this salad anyway you like but I like to set out individual servings. Divide the lettuce between two plates. Add the rice noodles, red onions, radishes and herbs to your liking. Drizzle with spicy vinaigrette.
  • Slice the skirt steak thinly, against the grain. Fan the steak over the salad. Top with crushed peanuts and extra chilies from the dressing.
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