When you think of a Thai beef salad, you might think of Thai flavors in with your typical lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes. However the traditional ‘waterfall beef’, nam tok, is much simpler. It has less ‘salad’ but is packed with delicious flavor, and is easy to make too.
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I don’t think I’m alone in being a bit of a fan of Asian salads. So many have such wonderful flavors, balancing sourness, heat and sometimes sweet as in the classic green papaya salad. Even ones that might look more like Western salads have a twist, like the dressing on Luang Prabang salad (Laos salad).
Both were firm favorites on our trip to Thailand and Laos many years ago. Especially in the heat of the day, the freshness, with that bit of spice, was just what you needed.
Then there are salads that are more meat than ‘salad’ like chicken larp, and this nam tok, ‘waterfall beef’. They might not fit in with what many would typically call a salad since the only greens are herbs, but they really are worth getting to know as the flavors are wonderful.
Just like chicken larp, this Thai beef salad makes a great lunch, for example, or have it alongside a few other side dishes to make a fuller meal. I’ve drawn on this recipe as my base for what you see here.
What’s in a traditional Thai beef salad?
This salad has the classic combination of:
- fish sauce,
- fresh herbs,
- grilled beef,
There’s really not much more to it than that, but there is one more addition that you really can’t miss: ground toasted rice. It might sound a bit strange and hardly worth the effort, since there’s just a little, but it adds such an amazing crunch that really makes the salad.
How to make Thai beef salad
Since the steak doesn’t take long to cook, it’s best to get everything else ready first. Chop up your herbs and toast and grind your rice. Then once the steak is ready, slice it up, put in with the herbs and add in the dressing ingredients. Toss and serve with the ground rice on top.
This Thai beef salad has lots of punchy flavor as well as a lovely freshness from the lime and herbs. It doesn’t take long with just a short cook and bit of chopping. It might be missing lettuce, but this meaty salad is definitely not missing any deliciousness. And I can definitely see us having it many more times over the summer and beyond.
Try these other meaty salads:
- Vietnamese chicken salad
- Maple soy marinated steak salad
- Breakfast salad with bacon and egg
- Plus get more ideas on the lunch recipes archives.
Thai beef salad (Nam Tok, 'waterfall beef')
- 2 shallots
- 2 scallions spring onions
- 1/2 cup mint roughly chopped (chopped volume, a medium bunch)
- 1/2 cup cilantro coriander, roughly chopped (chopped volume)
- 1 chili
- 2 tbsp rice (note: uncooked)
- 1 lb beef sirloin steak
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 1/2 limes or 2 if small - juice only
- Thinly slice the onions and scallions and roughly chop the mint and cilantro. Cut the chili in a small dice, removing the seeds, and put all of the chopped ingredients in a bowl.
- Gently toast the rice in a dry skillet/frying pan until it is is gently brown. Grind it up with a pestle and mortar so that it's relatively fine.
- Grill the steak to your liking - I recommend rare/medium rare - then let it rest a couple minutes before thinly slicing. Add the beef to the bowl with the herbs and onions. Add the fish sauce and lime juice then toss everything in the bowl. Serve topped with the ground crunchy rice.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline’s Cooking Amazon store.
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