Lime-marinated beef salad

• SERVES 4–6 AS PART OF A SHARED MEAL •

While inspired by Cambodian versions of this dish (called plear sach ko in Khmer), ‘cooking’ raw meat in citrus juices is also a popular technique in Vietnam. The strong acids in the lime tenderise the meat, while herbs and chilli add freshness. Prahok is synonymous with Khmer food and it imparts an important background flavour. The secret to achieving thin, even meat slices is to tightly roll the beef in plastic wrap, place it in the freezer and slice it while it’s still semi-frozen.

500 g (1 lb 2 oz) piece of beef fillet, trimmed
190 ml (61⁄2 fl oz/3⁄4 cup) lime juice
45 g (11⁄2 oz/1⁄4 cup) shaved palm sugar (jaggery)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 lemongrass stem, white part only, finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon prahok (fermented fish paste)
60 ml (2 fl oz/1⁄4 cup) boiling water
60 ml (2 fl oz/1⁄4 cup) fish sauce
1 large red onion, cut into thin rings
large handful of Thai basil leaves
large handful of mint leaves
2 tablespoons roasted unsalted peanuts,
lightly crushed
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
200 g (7 oz) mung bean sprouts

Wrap the beef tightly in plastic wrap so it has a neat shape, then place it in the freezer for 40–50 minutes or until partially frozen – do not let it freeze. Using a sharp knife, cut the beef into 2–3 mm (1⁄16–1⁄8 in) thick slices, then place the slices in a bowl.

Combine half the lime juice, 1 tablespoon of the palm sugar, half the garlic, the lemongrass and pepper in a bowl and stir to combine well. Add to the beef, stirring to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Drain the beef well, squeezing gently with your hands to remove as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the liquid.

Combine the prahok in a small saucepan with 60 ml (2 fl oz/1⁄4 cup) water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes then remove from the heat and cool. Strain well, pressing down on the solids in the sieve with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Set aside. Discard the solids.

Combine the prahok liquid with the remaining lime juice, remaining sugar and remaining garlic with the fish sauce in a bowl and stir well.

In a large bowl combine the beef, half the onion, half the herbs, the peanuts, sesame seeds and mung bean sprouts. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Divide among plates, scatter over the remaining onion and herbs and serve.

East: Culinary Adventures in Southeast Asia
By Leanne Kitchen, Antony Suvalko