Grilled salads, Vietnamese-style
Serving grilled protein as a salad component has become commonplace lately. More often than not, though, it’s an afterthought or at best an add-on as in: “Caesar Salad…..Add a grilled chicken breast for $1 extra.” But in Southeast Asia – especially Vietnam and Laos – they’ve been combining grilled and salad ingredients for hundreds of years. In fact, just about anything might be served with fresh lettuces and herbs. Deep-fried egg rolls or tofu come with lettuce leaves that are to be wrapped around them before being dipping into various sauces. Soups such as Pho (pronounced “fuh”) are served with platters of fresh bean sprouts and herbs such as Asian basil, cilantro and mint to add as each diner desires.
Last minute additions of raw vegetables and herbs and wrapping pretty much anything in lettuce leaves is a big part of what makes Southeast Asian cuisine so refreshingly delicious. But sometimes I like to combine grilled meats and/or tofu with the fresh lettuces and herbs into a composed salad (the ingredients are arranged on a platter, not randomly tossed), particularly for a larger crowd. Either way, they’re scrumptious and oh-so-perfect for hot steamy weather.
• 1 lb. calamari, cleaned and thawed if frozen
• 3 tablespoons peanut or coconut oil, or other vegetable oil, divided
• 1 tablespoon nam pla Southeast Asian fish sauce
• 1 tablespoon light brown sugar OR palm sugar OR table sugar
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
• 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
• 1 teaspoon Sriracha, Southeast Asian hot sauce or other hot sauce, or to taste
• 1/2 cup roasted unsalted or lightly salted cashews
• 1 large handful (about 1 cup) mint leaves
• Whole soft lettuce leaves such as Boston, bibb or leaf, or 6 cups mixed baby lettuces
Prepare a hot charcoal fire.
Check to make sure the hard beak is removed from the tentacles. Using kitchen scissors is the easiest way to cut them out.
In a bowl or resealable plastic bag, toss the calamari with 2 tablespoons of the oil. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, ginger, garlic and sriracha. Seal the bag, squish until the sugar is dissolved and reserve.
When the fire is very hot, put a grate that has small holes (to prevent the tentacles from falling into the fire) over the fire. The grate itself should get very hot before cooking the calamari. Drain the calamari, reserving the marinade if making a composed salad. Place the calamari bodies on the grill, reserving the tentacles. Cook the bodies until browned on the outside. Depending on your grill’s heat, this may be as little as 30 seconds and no more than 2 minutes per side. Do not overcook or they will be very tough.
Remove the bodies to a plate and put the tentacles on the grill. The tentacles are more delicate than the bodies and will cook more quickly. Stir the tentacles as they grill. As with the bodies, they should be nicely browned, but not overcooked. Add the tentacles to the plate with the bodies.
When the bodies are cool enough to handle, cut into slices about ½-inch thick. Put the calamari rings and tentacles in the plastic bag containing the fish sauce mixture, seal the bag, and toss to coat. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving, and as long as overnight. Refrigerate if not using in 15 minutes. Let come to room temperature before finishing the salad.
This salad can be served one of two ways:
Vietnamese style: Put the calamari, cashews and mint leaves in separate bowls or plates. Pile whole soft lettuce leaves on a plate. Each diner takes a lettuce leaf and puts a few pieces of calamari and a few mint leaves on a lettuce leaf, sprinkles on a few cashews, and eats it out of hand, soft taco-style
As a composed salad: Drain the marinade from the squid into a small bowl and whisk in the remaining tablespoon of oil. Combine the mint leaves with the baby lettuces and toss with the marinade as a dressing. Place the lettuce on a platter, scatter the calamari evenly over the lettuce and sprinkle with the cashews. Serves 4-6.
GRILLED LEMONGRASS BEEF
AND GREEN MANGO SALAD
• 3 tablespoons finely minced lemongrass, tender parts only
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
• 1 tablespoon PLUS 4 tablespoons fish sauce
• 2 teaspoons soy sauce
• 2 teaspoons plus 4 tablespoons light brown sugar
• 12 oz. boneless beef steak such as strip or sirloin
• 2 green (unripe) mangoes – at least 1 1/2lb.*
• 1-2 teaspoons minced garlic
• 3-4 Thai bird chilies OR 1-2 Serrano chilies, minced, or more or less to taste
• 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1/4 cup water
• 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
• 1/3 cup Thai basil, chopped
• 3 tablespoons fried shallots**
• 3 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted unsalted peanuts
• 1 tablespoon peanut or coconut oil, preferred, or other vegetable oil if making a composed salad
Whole soft lettuce leaves such as Boston, bibb or leaf, or 6 cups mixed baby lettuces
Combine the lemongrass, fresh shallot, fish sauce, soy sauce and 2 tsp. sugar in resealable plastic bag and squish with your hands until the sugar is dissolved.
Slice the steak across the grain into thin strips, about ¼-inch thick. This is easiest to do if the meat is partially frozen before slicing. Put the sliced steak in the bag, squeeze out as much air as possible and turn the bag over several times to thoroughly coat the meat. Marinate for at least 30 minutes and as long as overnight. Refrigerate if marinating for longer than 30 minutes.
Prepare a hot charcoal fire.
Wipe off excess marinade from the beef and reserve the marinade if making a composed salad. Grill the meat over hot coals just until done. This should only take a few minutes. Grilling can be done by laying the meat directly on the grate, or by stir-frying with a stir-fry pan made especially for grilling. Let the meat cool to room temperature while preparing the rest of the salad.
Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh into thin slices. Combine the garlic, chilies, lime juice, remaining 4 tablespoons sugar, 4 tablespoons fish sauce and water in a medium bowl. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mangoes, cilantro, basil, and beef and toss gently to combine. Let stand about 15 minutes, then drain. Reserve the marinade if making a composed salad.
Just before serving, toss half the fried shallots and half the peanuts with the beef/mango mixture. Sprinkle the remaining fried shallots and peanuts over the top if serving Vietnamese style.
This salad can be served one of two ways:
1. Vietnamese style: place soft lettuce leaves on a platter and the beef and mango mixture in a serving bowl. Diners place spoonfuls of the beef and mango mixture on soft lettuce leaves to make wraps.
2. As a composed salad: Whisk together the reserved marinade and remaining tablespoon of oil into a small bowl. Toss the baby lettuces with the marinade/dressing. Place the lettuce on a platter, arrange the beef and mango mixture evenly over the lettuce and sprinkle with the reserved fried shallots and peanuts.
* Tart slightly crunchy green mangoes are totally different than ripe ones. Both they and pre-prepared fried shallots sometimes labeled fried red onions are available in Asian markets and a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine; locally at Little World Market, 2936 S MacArthur Blvd. To make your own fried shallots:
** Coarsely chop or slice thinly shallots, then stir-fry in vegetable oil (preferably roasted peanut oil – also available at Little World Market – or coconut oil) over medium high heat until they are golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels before using. A 1/4-cup of freshly cut shallots will yield about 3 tablespoons fried shallots. Serves 4-6.
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.•