While teaching in Cleveland this spring, a good friend and former chef I had not seen in several years invited me to lunch. The talented cook served a light main course he called Pacific Rim Salad. A glorious entree with Asian flavorings, the salad was assembled with a trio of greens -- romaine, basil and mint -- that were combined with cucumbers, shallots, bell peppers and grape tomatoes. These ingredients were tossed with a distinctive sweet and sour dressing made of lime juice, sugar and Thai fish sauce accented with bits of ginger root, garlic and red pepper flakes. Atop the salad there were thin slices of marinated, grilled sirloin steak. This colorful melange made an impressive luncheon dish.
The robust tastes of my host's creation were irresistible. So as soon I put down my fork, I asked for the recipe.
At first glance, the ingredient list seems long, but most of the items are found in any supermarket. And much of this entree can be prepared ahead. The night before, you can whisk together the marinade and add the steak and also prepare the salad dressing.
The next morning, the greens can be cleaned, wrapped in moistened paper towels, placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated, and all the vegetables can be sliced. At serving time, all that will be necessary is to grill the meat and quickly assemble the salad.
To accompany this Pacific Rim Salad, I'll offer a basket of warm, crusty peasant bread, bought at a local farmers' market, and for dessert there will be fresh strawberry sorbet and pecan shortbread cookies.
Tom Johnson's Pacific Rim Grilled Steak Salad
Makes 4 to 5 servings, as a light main course
FOR MARINATING STEAKS:
1 1/2 pounds boneless sirloin steak, about 1-inch thick, trimmed of excess fat
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons chopped ginger root
1 large garlic clove, chopped
vegetable oil for oiling grill or grill pan
FOR SALAD DRESSING:
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce (see note)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoon chopped ginger root
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 large head romaine lettuce
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 cup loosely packed mint leaves
5 to 6 large shallots to yield 1 cup sliced shallots
1 medium cucumber
1 medium yellow bell pepper
1 cup (6 ounces) grape tomatoes
Place steaks in a shallow dish or a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. Whisk soy sauce, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger root and garlic in a bowl and pour over steaks. Marinate in the refrigerator, turning occasionally, 6 hours or over-night.
For the dressing, place Thai fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, ginger root and red pepper flakes in a food processor or blender and process, pulsing on and off, several seconds until ginger root and garlic are finely minced and ingredients are well blended. (Salad dressing can be prepared 1 day ahead and stored in a nonreactive bowl. Cover and refrigerate.)
For the salad, tear romaine leaves into bite-sized pieces and tear basil and mint leaves in half. (Greens can be prepared 6 hours ahead; wrap in slightly moistened paper towels and place in a large plastic bag and refrigerate.) Peel and thinly slice shallots to yield 1 cup. Peel cucumber and slice thinly. Remove and discard stem, seeds and membranes from pepper, then slice into thin julienne strips. Halve tomatoes. (Vegetables can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
When ready to serve, oil a grill rack and arrange it 4 to 5 inches from heat source. Prepare grill for a hot fire (high temperature). Or oil a stove-top grill pan and place over medium high heat. Remove meat from marinade and pat dry. Grill meat until medium rare, about 4 to 5 minutes per side for 1-inch thick steaks. Remove and let rest 5 minutes.
Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss with dressing. Mound salad on a platter. Cut steaks into 1/4 -inch-thick slices and arrange on top of the salad. Serve immediately.
Note: Thai fish sauce is available in the Asian food sections of many supermarkets. It is also available in Asian markets.