For most of the last decade or two, my dad was on a perennial low-carb diet, eschewing bread and often sugar, save for carefully chosen exceptions. When family would come over for dinner, he’d always tell me I didn’t need to make anything special for him, but I enjoyed the challenge of coming up with a menu that would work for everyone. The results became some of my favorite meals to this day. Previously, dinner parties usually had a carb-assault at the center — lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs or mussels and fries — but in these, protein (and a great heap of vegetables) get the spotlight: chicken gyro salad, street cart chicken (one of my favorites in Smitten Kitchen Every Day), piri piri chicken, and many steak salads. As should be clear, these aren’t bread- or carb-free, but they’re set up in an assemble-your-own style that allows the carb-rejecting to eat as they wish, and the carb-demanding (or not) children to get into the meal too. Everybody wins.
This is one of the more recent ones. I jokingly called it the Not-Really-Thai Steak Salad because I was craving a flavor profile, not authenticity. [While it’s probably closest to yum neua yang (grilled beef salad), it wouldn’t include noodles or greens beans, just for starters; neua naam tok (waterfall beef) would have even fewer extras, and is often served with rice.] The first time I made it, while it was delicious, I completely overdid it with fixings: chile-lime peanuts, crispy fried shallots, julienned mango, sheesh, almost full-sized salad bar of options. I was craving it again last Friday (when this handsome couple came over) but vowed to keep it simpler, trying to distill it to its most essential parts — it’s the garlic, lime, and fish sauce marinade that I crave most — and landed on this, and it was so good, it’s officially in the summer rotation now.
Because this is an assemble-your-own situation, getting the ingredient amounts exactly right can be tricky. If your people love noodles, you might need more. If they don’t eat noodles but love steak, get extra; a half-pound per person is a fairly safe bet for crowds. Some people love the dressing (my kids, even!), others devour entire bowls of green beans before people arrive (coughme). What I’ve written below works for our family of four on a weekday night. The leftovers keep well, too, so don’t be nervous about scaling up.
Garlic Lime Steak and Noodle Salad
As we discussed when we made Crispy Tofu Pad Thai, fish sauce brands can vary a lot in their salty intensity so any recipe that uses it should be adjusted to taste. It’s not written this way below because the dressing should be all you need for flavor, but I usually toss my cucumber slices with a splash of rice vinegar, a splash of toasted sesame oil, and two pinches of salt because certain small people in my family seem more inclined to eat them this way. 1 pound of green beans is probably a bit much for most people; they’re a family favorite here so I tend to overdo it.
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, light or dark
- 3 to 4 tablespoons (45 to 60 ml) fish sauce, to taste
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) lime juice
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Thai chili powder, red chili flakes, or thinly sliced Thai/bird’s eye chili to taste
- 1 1/4 pound (565 grams) flank steak
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) vegetable or another neutral oil, plus more for grill
- 8.8-ounce (250 grams) package thin rice noodle
- 1 pound (455 grams) green beans, trimmed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces (225 grams) cherry tomatoes, halved (mixed colors are lovely here)
- 12 ounces (340 grams) Persian-style small cucumbers, unpeeled, thinly sliced
- About 1/2 cup chopped mix of fresh cilantro and mint
Make marinade and dressing: Combine brown sugar, smaller amount of fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, and chili heat of your choice in a medium bowl. Taste it; you want it to be salty and sour first, followed by sweetness and heat; I usually find I need more fish sauce.
Place steak in a sealable freezer bag. Pour in about 1/3 of this mixture and press all of the air out of the bag so it stays on the meat. Place steak in the fridge for about an hour and up to a day. I am usually in a rush, and just marinate it for as long as I am prepping everything else.
Slowly whisk 3 tablespoons oil into remaining marinade; this is now your dressing. Adjust flavors, again, to taste. Set aside until needed.
Prepare other salad ingredients: Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil. For regular sized green beans, cook them for 2.5 minutes; for haricot vert (skinny green beans), cook them for 2 minutes, then scoop out with a slotted spoon and drop into a bowl of ice water to cool, then drain and transfer to a bowl.
I use the water again to cook the noodles according to package directions; mine say to remove the boiling water from the heat, add the noodles, and let them soak for 5 minutes, until softened. Drain, place in bowl, and set aside until needed. If they get sticky, you can run cold water over them, or toss them with a splash of oil.
To grill steak: Get your grill really hot and lightly coat grates with oil. Remove steak from marinade and cook for about 3 1/2 minutes, and up to 5 minutes, per side, depending on thickness. Season both sides with salt and pepper as you grill. (I did 4 minutes per side in the thinnish flank steaks shown, and they were too medium for our tastes, but your mileage may vary.) Remove Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing very thin and putting on a serving plate.
To serve: Place cherry tomatoes, cucumbers (see Note), and herbs each in their own bowl with a spoon for serving. I like to put out extra sliced bird’s eye chili on the side, splashing a little rice or plain vinegar on it for extra kick. Put out your noodles, steak, and salad dressing too. A tiny ladle is ideal for the dressing, because mine always separates, and this allows people to stir a bit before spooning it over.
To eat! We like to start with a small pile of noodles, followed by a few slices of steak, big spoonfuls of each vegetable, a few chilis, and a ladle of the dressing, followed by the herbs (don’t skimp; they’re perfect here). Repeat as needed.