There are various versions of this delicious and versatile northeastern Thai room-temperature salad. The one I'm giving as the ur-recipe is made with sliced grilled steak, and in this form is called nam tok, which translates as waterfall, for no good reason that I was able to discover. The same salad is also often prepared with ground meat, usually chicken or pork in Thailand, less often beef; in this form it's known as lahb or larb. Or use up your leftovers: instead of grilling a steak especially for the recipe, substitute 2 cups of leftover cooked beef, pork, or chicken, cut into bite-sized slices. For an excellent vegetarian version, use crumbled firm tofu or diced fresh mushrooms - I recommend shitake mushrooms for this.

This salad is a perfect dish on a hot summer day, served with coconut jasmine rice or sticky rice and perhaps paired with another Thai salad like green mango salad or som tam (green papaya salad). Here's what you'll need for the steak version:

  • 1 tblsp (15 ml) jasmine or other long grain white rice, uncooked
  • 3/4 lb (340 gr) steak (sirloin or flank) or beef tenderloin; or substitute ground meat, or mushrooms or tofu, or even leftover cooked meat (see above)
  • 2 tblsp (30 ml) fresh lime juice (juice of 1 lime, unless it's puny or woody)
  • 2 tblsp (30 ml) fish sauce (nam pla), or soy sauce or Golden Mountain Sauce for veggies
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) dried chili flakes (not ground, but coarser, with visible seeds, like you sprinkle on pizza); add more if you like it really hot
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) coriander (cilantro) leaves and stems, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) mint leaves, coarsely chopped

What to do:

In a small dry frying pan (no oil) over medium heat, toast the dry rice grains until golden wheat coloured, stirring often to prevent burning. Let cool. In a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or food processor, grind the rice till powdery but with partial grains still visible. This adds a pleasant toasted flavour to the finished dish, and will thicken the sauce.

If using a steak, grill it to taste (preferably medium rare), and let cool. Slice into thin strips, then cut strips into bite-sized pieces. Place in a medium-sized bowl. If you're using leftover meat, just slice it and put it in the bowl.

If using raw ground meat, tofu, or mushrooms, place in a pot with the ground rice, lime juice, fish sauce, dried chilli flakes, and palm sugar. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, till the meat is cooked, or the mushrooms are soft, and the sauce is slightly thickened, then let cool slightly.

If using grilled steak, put the ground rice, lime juice, fish sauce, dried chilli flakes, palm sugar, and 2 tblsp (30 ml) water in a small pot. (You don't need this extra water with raw meat or mushrooms because they express liquid as they cook, but you may need to add it to tofu.) Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring, till slightly thickened, then pour over the beef. Let cool slightly.

Whatever you're using, now add the shallots and stir to combine, then let the whole thing cool to room temperature. You can hold the recipe at this point, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 8 hours.

When ready to serve, add the green onions, coriander, and mint, and toss to combine.

It's hard to say how many people this will feed. I serve it Thai style, as part of a larger meal, and thus its capacity will depend what other gems are involved in the repast, but as a rule of thumb you can think of it as making 4 servings.

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