Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vietnamese Table Salad

OMG - the "stir-fry" cut, grass-fed beef I've been hoping would thaw by dinner is thawed and I have to do something with it or it will spoil.  But I'm  supposed to be walking out of the house.  Aaargh!  I grab the things closest at hand.  Lime juice squeezed earlier, granulated garlic, powdered ginger and sesame oil.  Squish it together, put in the fridge, wash my hands, out the door.  It looks like Asian tonight.

Fast forward 2 hours and I'm staring at a bowl of marinated beef.  It's almost the end of the fabulous beef from Long Meadow Ranch - order here - and since it's grilling season, stir-frying just didn't seem right.

I turned to look in the fridge to find that stir-fry would have been a bit difficult anyway.  The end of my veggie week - Thursday is veggie box delivery day and today's Wednesday. Just a little leftover lettuce, and a bunch of other salad veggies - the green parts only of green onions, some Thai basil from cooking for clients, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes (yes, I'm buying cucumbers and tomatoes out of season, technically, but I'm craving them for the water content.  My  seasonal slip-up.) and more mint than I know what to do with because it's growing like weeds.  I was racking my brain to come up with a plan that didn't involve rice (no time to make since it takes an hour for brown) and that used all these things. I was thinking a salad, but since I just made an Asian salad a few days ago, that sounded monotonous.  But I set about prepping veggies.  I looked down at the carrots I had grated next to the cucumbers I had chopped and it hit me!

Vietnamese Table Salad.

I first enjoyed this when I was studying briefly at the Culinary Institute of America.  The second of my two weeks there examined several different ethnic cuisines and this salad "recipe" was part of our class one day.  It's great because you make it like tacos and it can be served in little divided piles on each plate or you can do a large platter in the center of the table.  Using large lettuce leaves as the "taco shells" you pile all kinds of fresh veggies, herbs and optionally meat into the lettuce then top it with a very balanced sweet-hot-tart dressing that is typical of Southeast Asian cuisines.

It was CWYG at it's best.  This is the heart of this concept.  You can always create a meal out of what you've got, you've just got to keep an open mind.  If I had thought stir-fry was the only thing I could do with "stir-fry" cut beef, I would have had to go to the store and dinner would have been delayed or we would have had a boring pile of stir-fry meat sitting next to a boring salad.  Instead it became something very exciting and beautiful.

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box - Lettuce

CWYG List Items - beef, carrots, coconut, cashews, peanut butter, chile garlic paste, tamari (soy) sauce, lemon juice, olive oil
Vietnamese Table Salad
So I'm going to give you guidelines and ingredients, but you determine the quantities based on how many people you will serve.  I had barely a pound of my hoarded grass-fed beef but it gave us enough for 4 people.  If you don't have stir-fry beef, either use a whole sirloin and then slice or, so that each piece will be super flavorful, slice it thinly and marinate then carefully grill the individual slices.  (If you have a grill with wide openings between the grates, thread them on metal skewers or soaked wooden ones.)

1 lb Beef (or chicken, pork, shrimp, meaty fish) marinade
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp lime juice

Mix together and let stand for 1/2 hour (no longer for fish or shrimp) or up to 24 hours for beef, chicken or pork).  Grill according to the protein you use. Salt after grilling

Salad Components (Use as many as you have on hand):
Shredded carrots
Chopped or shredded cucumbers
Chopped Tomatoes
Whole herb leaves (cilantro, mint, basil in any combination)
Chopped peanuts or cashews
Toasted coconut
Whole lettuce leaves from large romaine, red or green leaf, or iceberg (less nutritious, I only use when it comes in the veggie box)

2 tbsp lemon or lime juice
2 tsp sriracha or Asian chile-garlic paste
2 tsp agave nectar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp peanut butter, crunchy if you have it
1 tbsp olive oil

Whisk together everything except the olive oil.  Once the peanut butter is incorporated to make a thin dressing.  Whisk in the olive oil.  Taste and add salt if necessary and balance all the flavors til it tastes good to you.

Attractively arrange all the salad components in small piles around a platter except the lettuce and dressing.  Make a stack of lettuce leaves on one end (or two stacks on either end).  Pour the dressing into a bowl with a small spoon.

To assemble (instruct guests so they will feel comfortable with the idea):  Hold a lettuce leaf like a taco.  Add meat first then top with remaining ingredients.  Drizzle with a little dressing then fold up and eat.  Have napkins handy.  It's messy but very good.


  1. Thanks for linking up at 2 Sisters 2 Cities!


  2. You're welcome. Thanks for inviting! :)


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