Last week we had a discussion on "What is Modern Asian Cuisine" and in the past, we talked about authenticity in cooking. Today, I experienced and cooked 'modern' Asian cuisine. It was borne out of necessity.
We had two friends from Los Angeles announce last week that they were coming for lunch. My husband and I are awful on Monday mornings (or any morning for that fact) so what to prepare was an issue. Restaurants are not great where we live so it's better to whip something up. What I prepared was a salad of jicama, green apple, carrot, basil and grilled beef.
In the Viet repertoire, grilled beef might be paired with green papaya or mango for a salad. I didn't have time to go to an Asian market for green papaya but was at my neighborhood store and there was jicama, a favorite Viet vegetable that can be eaten raw with chile and salt or cooked in a stir-fry. Once wilted, jicama retains its crunch — which is precisely what green papaya would do too. So there was my substitute.
Because jicama is boringly white, a little orange carrot was called for — cut into fine shreds for slivers of color. Still not visually exciting. Lots of Vietnamese cooks in America use tart green apple as a stand-in for star-fruit and other sour fruits, so I threw some in. Then some coarsely chopped basil (I jused regular because I lacked foresight to get Thai basil at the farmer's market last Saturday). I also threw in a small handful of fried shallot from the fridge. The dressing was the usual chile, lime, fish sauce and sugar combo, but I made it a tad sweeter than usual because of the apple's tartness.
Salads like these are typically plush but also somewhat crunchy. The ingredients are manipulated somehow to retain crispness but also yield to the dressing. Jicama, carrot, and apple are all too crunchy on their own so I poured the dressing on and left it for a few minutes. The acid, salt, and sugar, softened those ingredients without making them limp and wimpy.
The result was amazingly good. This is a light salad that fits in with summer barbecues and can be served for lunch or dinner.
So what's modern about it? I applied traditional ideas to fresh ingredients that were at hand to make tasty food. The concept is old-fashioned but the combination is new. Best of all, it worked.
Grilled Beef and Jicama Salad
For the kecap manis, go to an Asian market and check the Indonesian and Malay section. It comes in a tall slender dark bottle and is thick like molasses. Kecap manis is one of my favorite ingredients. You have to add salt as it's not salty like soy sauce.
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 or 2 Thai chiles, minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kecap manis (sweet Malay soy sauce) or dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound beef steak, such as flank, top sirloin or bottom sirloin (cut thicker cuts into 1/2-inch thick pieces)
1 2/3 pounds jicama, peeled, quartered, and cut into thick matchsticks
1 carrot, cut into julienne or fine shreds
1 Granny Smith apple or other tart apple, cut into matchsticks and tossed with generous 1 teaspoon lime juice to prevent browning
1/2 lightly packed cups coarsely chopped Thai or Italian basil
1/4 cup fried shallot or chopped unsalted, roasted peanuts
1. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing, using the lesser quantity of sugar. Taste and add more sugar for a more sweet finish than a tart one. Set aside.
2. Make the marinade by combining the garlic, pepper, kecap manis, soy sauce and oil on a plate. Taste and add extra salt as needed. Add the steaks and coat well. Set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour and up to 3.
3. Combine the jicama, carrot, and apple in a bowl. Toss to distribute well. Set aside.
4. Grill the steak over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes per side for medium. Transfer to a plate, cover with a foil tent and let rest for 5 to 7 minutes. Slice thinly on the diagonal into 3-inch long pieces.
5. To serve, add the basil and fried shallots to the jicama mixture. Add the dressing and toss. Let things sit for about 2 minutes, or until the salad has slightly softened. Divide the vegetables among the plates, leaving any excess dressing behind. Top with the beef and bring to the table.