Next week I leave for Italy. I’ve never been, but I’m excited to spend 12 days eating my way through Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Milan. Mangiare indeed.
So, why all the pictures of Thailand you ask (or not)? In the blur of excitement from this impending trip, I got to thinking about our last trip, Thailand. It was my first time in Asia, and it was one of the most surreal, amazing, awesome experiences of my life.
The experience getting to Bangkok was not the stuff travel dreams are made of. The flight was hit by a snowpocalypse®, the city was in the middle of a very real protest, and it was hotter and more humid than Hell. But, amidst all of this, I saw incredible temples, witnessed a culture and lifestyle so different than my own, explored Thailand from city to coast, and tasted real Thai food. I still vividly remember riding a scooter along the coast and stopping at a beach-side shack where I had the best Neua Naam Tok I’ve ever tasted.
Neua Naam Tok is a pretty typical Isaan (Northen Thailand) salad, made with raw vegetables and thinly sliced grilled steak mixed with fresh herbs, lime juice, fish sauce, and chili flakes. In Thai, “neua” translates to “beef” and “naam tok” translates to “waterfall” referring to the blood that spills from the meat as it grills. Not the prettiest image but the resulting dish a perfect balance of spicy, tart, salty, and sweet.
This has also turned into one of my go-to dishes for friends. It’s easy to make, served family style, and most of the ingredients can be prepared in advance. Just be sure serve it with some beer to cool down you mouth, ok? This salad packs a punch!
- 16 oz (l lb) lemongrass flank steak – recipe below
- 2 lemongrass stalks – thinly sliced (root, upper two-thirds, and tough outer leaves of the stalk removed)
- 3 oz (6 tablespoons) lime juice
- 3 oz (6 tablespoons) nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
- 16 g (4 teaspoons) granulated sugar
- 1-2 Bird’s Eye Chili (or a few pinches of an Asian brand chili powder) – thinly sliced
- 4 oz (1 cup, lightly packed) small shallots or very small red onions – halved lengthwise and thinly sliced with the grain on a mandolin
- 1 medium hot-house English cucumber – thinly sliced on a mandolin
- 15 g – 20 g (1 cup, lightly packed) small mint leaves – torn
- 20 g (1 cup, lightly packed) cilantro stems and leaves – coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons uncooked sticky rice – makes 4 teaspoons toasted sticky rice powder plus a few pinches for finishing
First, prepare the lemongrass flank steak. While the meat is cooling, prepare the rice powder and the dressing.
In a dry medium sized skillet, add the sticky rice. Over medium-low flame, stir the rice constantly until it is evenly golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let the rice cool slightly. Then, in a spice grinder, grind until the rice forms a powder that resembles coarse sand. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for several months.
In a small saucepan, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and lemongrass. Over medium heat, stir the dressing until the sugar is dissolved, 15 to 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and stir in the chili peppers. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
In a large bowl, add the steak slices along with the shallots, rice powder, and about half of the mint and cilantro. Toss to evenly combine and transfer to a plate. To serve, sprinkle with a pinch or two of rice powder and the remaining herbs.
- 16 oz (1 lb) flank steak
- 1 lemongrass stalk – thinly sliced (root, upper two-thirds, and tough outer leaves of the stalk removed)
- 8 black peppercorns
- 1 large clove of garlic – peeled
- 30 ml (2 tablespoons)Thai thin soy sauce
- 15 ml (1 tablespoon) neutral oil (like canola)
With a mortar and pestle, pound lemongrass, peppercorns, and garlic into a coarse paste. Scrape it into a zip-lock bag with the steak, add the soy sauce and oil, and then massage the marinade into the steak until it’s well coated. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
While the steak is marinating, prepare a charcoal grill. Grill the steak, flipping once, until medium doneness and lightly charred, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the steak to a cutting board, let it rest for about 10 minutes. Slice against the grain into 1/4 inch thick slices.