I have been asked to explain myself, AGAIN! It seems that I keep making reference to
‘balance’ when discussing making dressings, sauces, and marinades with a certain
This came from an e-mail discussion regarding the picture I took of
Brad’s Basil Marinade of Love, one of the ‘faceless’ recipes from the recent
‘Marathon of Love’. I mentioned that while the marinade was very tasty and lovely,
and had absolutely nothing wrong with it, that it was weird for me to be following
a recipe for marinade, as I always shoot from the hip. I know the balance of acid and
oil, flavours and herbs that I like, and depending on what my target flavours are
(Asian, BBQ, etc), or what ingredients I want to use, I am generally able to throw
together a great marinade. I continued on to say, that particularly with Asian flavours,
I understood the ‘balance’ of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Now, my relentlessly
inquiring friend wanted to know more about the four ‘S’s’. Specifically, exact amounts
of what, as in baking where you have precise ratios of flour:oil:moisture.
It’s not quite that simple, my dear, I tried to explain (NOT to imply that baking is
simple – it is a skill I have barely mastered!). It depends on the dish. It depends
on whether you want fish sauce salty or soy sauce salty; honey, sugar or tamarind
paste sweet?Blast your socks off heat, or a pleasant, mild chilli flavour.
Sour from lime, lemon or vinegar? I’m afraid there are many correct forms of balance. Then, when you get the herbs and flavourings (garlic, ginger, coriander, sesame oil/seeds etc.) correct, on top of the balance, your dish will sing!
Fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was a young wife and enthusiastically learning
and experimenting in the kitchen, I did follow recipes, mostly from Joy of Cooking.
I’ve always loved ‘Joy’ because each section begins with “About ….”, giving me just
enough info and confidence to tweak any of the following recipes with success.
As The Man and I began to travel the world, our palates expanded and we craved
knowledge of re-creating the fabulous cuisines we experienced. At this time, our
cookbook collection began to expand. Instead of t-shirts we came back from places
like Egypt, Malaysia, Ecuador, Singapore, Thailand and so forth, with cookbooks,
and great inspiration from the great meals we’d enjoyed.
One of our favourite cuisines is Thai, and one of my personal favourite dishes is
Yum Nua, or Thai Beef Salad. The recipe that I use, in my opinion, is a classic
example of balance and harmony, and to me this dish doesn’t just sing, it performs
The best Yum Nua I have ever had was in Bangkok, and this recipe is spot on. I think
this dish, (or at least my making of it), which includes both a marinade for the
meat and a dressing for the salad, is the point at which I began to fully grasp the
secret of the four ‘S’s’.
So, my dear inquisitive friend, this one is for you:
(WARNING: The following recipe contains coriander!!! If you are even slightly
prejudiced, you might want to skip this part... It is, however, totally beet-free!)
Yum Nua (Thai Beef Salad)
· 1 lb beef fillet (or any quality steak)
· 10 ounces Chinese cabbage, shredded
· 6 ounces sliced cucumber
· 1 small carrot, shredded or julienned
· 1 cup of fresh coriander
· (optional tweaks: water chestnuts, bean sprouts, cherry tomatoes, bell
· 2 stalks fresh lemon grass, finely chopped
· 2 inch piece of ginger root, finely chopped or grated
· 6 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped
· 2 shallots, finely chopped
· 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
· Juice of two limes
· 4 tsp of soft brown sugar
· 4 tsp of tamarind concentrate
· 2 tsp of fish sauce (nam pla)
· 2 tbsp chili oil
· 2 Tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
· 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
· 2 Tbsp peanut oil
· 4 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander
· pinch of sugar
Don’t let the ingredient list frighten you. A good Asian market will have all of the
ingredients. I am able to buy frozen lemon grass stalks and frozen kaffir lime leaves,
so I always have a stash in the freezer. If you don’t have/can’t find tamarind paste,
it is only a small part of the marinade, so don’t panic, just add a little extra brown
Oh, and yes, my dear friend, the 1:1:1 ratio of fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and
peanut oil in the dressing is an excellent base to start from…
Blend the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and allow the steak(s) to marinade for
at least an hour. (You can use a cheaper cut of meat, but I like a good steak. I have
also ‘cheated’ and used leftover, bbq’d rare steak, marinated it, and re-grilled/warmed
Blend the dressing ingredients well and set aside.
Fresh Coriander!!!Toss vegetables together in a bowl. Grill or fry steak until cooked to your liking
(I prefer rare-medium). Allow steak to rest. Meanwhile, dress the salad, toss well,
and arrange on individual plates. Slice rested steak into diagonal slices and arrange
on top of salad. Serve at once
Now, here is where I am going to digress. We have some lovely fresh/flash frozen
tuna in the deep freeze that we need to use up, so today, we made some lovely
fishcakes out of it. We were pondering what to serve them with...Last week, on
a rare but fantastic break, we had lunch at Highfield Winery, in Marlborough. I had Battered
Bluenose (a fish) with an incredible Thai style salad. It was beautiful in appearance,
it tasted sensational, but it also reminded me of how balance and harmony is
important with texture, as well as taste. This salad was a combination of shredded,
julienned and shaved veggies and apple, tossed with rice noodles (vermicelli), and
dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. It worked on all levels. Sweet, yet tart apples,
a bit of fresh chilli flavour from the bell pepper, more, but different sweet from
the carrot, earthiness from the cabbage, and the added four ‘S’s’ from the dressing.
BUT, it also had the moist crispiness of the apple and bell pepper, the slightly
tougher crunch of the carrots and cabbage, all bound together with the tenderness
of the rice noodles! SING!!!!
Bluenose with Thai Salad and a beautiful Chardonnay
The Man had 'Steak, Bacon & Black Pudding with Courgette Wrapped Potato Salad' and a lovely glass of Pinot Noir
So, tonight we are having the Thai Steaks, but I am experimenting with the salad
to see how it will work with the Fishcakes. Tonight, I am using cabbage, carrot, a bit
of green bell pepper, chopped coriander, chopped mint and a not too hot red chili pepper, as well as
a julienned Granny Smith apple off of our tree. I tossed everything with the dressing
while the steak cooked. When I tasted it, I realized that I had forgotten the pinch of
sugar! It was clearly out of balance! I tweaked my seasonings, and ‘La dee da’ I
plated the salad while the steak rested, and, we were most pleased with the results!
I will add a bit more mint to the final dish tomorrow, and then it will truly belt
out a good tune!This not only works with the Yum Nua, but will be a perfect partner
for the fishcakes!
Salad Veggies and Apple
Rice NoodlesSo, tune up your taste buds, tweak your seasonings, balances your ‘S’s’ and get your
food singing a happy tune!
Can you guess who my dear, inquisitive friend is, or will she willingly ‘out’ herself!?