Asian Beef Salad

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Another foray into the magazine archives and something I was quite excited to come across.

This time, it’s the July 2001 issue of Food and Travel. The Swift Suppers section features recipes from Vatch’s Southeast Asian Salads: 6 salads from all over south east Asia.

I needed to work with what I knew to be readily available so I ended up combining two of the recipes: the Vietnamese grilled beef salad and a Burmese salad, thoke. Now, a quick google of thoke will bring up lots of recipes that are all completely different from what follows. What I liked about this salad was that it was different. Here in Adelaide we’re fast approaching BBQ season and mostly the repertoire of salads is pretty limited, so I like to keep an eye out for recipes that are quick to put together but that also represent a departure from a bit of lettuce, cucumber and tomato.

Let’s begin with the beef. Make a marinade by whisking together 5 tbsp of lime juice, 4 tbsp of fish sauce and 2 tbsp of sugar. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. For a change, I actually followed these proportions because I do appreciate that in this type of food getting the salty/sweet/sour/hot balance correct is important! Once the sugar is dissolved stir in two young lemon grass stalks, very finely sliced and some finely sliced chilli. I used one small fataali chilli. As this marinade won’t be cooked, don’t be tempted to substitute chilli flakes – fresh will be much better.

Leave the marinade to stand until you need it.

When you’re ready to eat, take a piece of rump steak (approximately 500g) and cook it on a hot grill (or BBQ, or just in a hot pan) for only a minute or two on each side. You want plenty of colour on the meat but typically you want the meat nice and rare. (If you really can’t stand that idea, cook the meat to your liking). When the meat is cooked, remove from the pan, slice thinly and toss through the marinade, ensuring it’s well coated.

Leave the meat in its marinade for at least 30 minutes.

Traditionally, the meat would be served up on a salad of beansprouts, basil, mint and salad leaves. However, I knew I wouldn’t be able to track down the requisite quantities of basil and mint so I ended up tossing the meat (and marinade) through some vermicelli noodles. Tasty, but somewhat anaemic looking! Next time I’ll make the effort to put together the appropriate salad.

The thoke was easy to make: finely slice some white cabbage and cut some carrot and cucumber into fine matchsticks. Mix them together in a bowl and toss through some beansprouts.

Heat a little oil in a fry pan and fry a couple of thinly sliced garlic cloves until crisp (keep an eye on them – you want them golden but not burnt!). Drain the garlic and add to your vegetables. Finely slice half an onion and fry in the same oil until crisp, then add to the vegetables.

Sprinkle the salad with 1/2 tsp of turmeric, some chilli powder (to taste), a little salt and a very generous squeeze (or two) of lime juice. Toss everything together (you want that chilli powder to be evenly distributed) and serve.

This was really delicious – incredibly easy to make, and very fresh, crunchy and (dare I say it?) healthy. Next time you’re asked to bring a salad, give thoke a go!

Sugar Cane Vietnamese Restaurant

THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.

date of visit: Friday 24 Sept 2010

Like our visit to the King’s Head Hotel, another Friday night, another unplanned restaurant visit. We settled on Vietnamese very early in the piece and toyed with heading down Gouger Street, before wandering down King William Street to check out Sugarcane. Our logic was that if it was full or didn’t appeal we could nip around to The Greek on Halifax. OK – that’s slightly weird logic, if you’re after Vietnamese food, but bear with me.

Sugarcane is a very visually appealing restaurant – when it finally warms up there’s an outdoor seating area (it’s far enough down King William Street for sitting outside to be contemplated) and the restaurant itself is large, reasonably spacious and with decor that, while perhaps not to everyone’s taste, is clean and coherent with a definite Asian theme.

The meal started in a promising manner, when the restaurant door was swept open for us and we were ushered to a table. Well, the door part is true … and we were whisked through the restaurant only for the waiter to reaslise, suddenly, that there was no table for two ready. We were instructed to wait while a table was sorted out – and of course, while waiting we managed to confuse at least one other waiter who also tried to fix us a table.

Confusion was very much the theme of the service throughout the meal. One waiter had a minor panic attack when he realised we’d been seated for a while but did not have drinks. He could have stayed calm and taken an order … but he rushed off to get us water and then forgot to take a drinks order. Another waiter eventually took the drinks order, by which point we were ready to order food … which was a mistake, because our food order ended up confused. My entrĂ©e and main arrived together, leaving Andy foodless. While quite a few waiters observed us with food at our table but not touching it, none approached us and when we did attract attention, the waiter rushed off only to rush back to find out what we had actually ordered.

As the restaurant wasn’t packed (I’m always prepared to cut some slack if I can see staff are genuinely run off their feet) I can only assume that someone at Sugarcane doesn’t take customer service seriously and certainly isn’t instilling good customer service practices in the staff.

While service is a large part of the restaurant going experience, we can’t ignore the food. Although billed as a Vietnamese restaurant we were a little disappointed by the route the menu took. While I can’t claim to be an expert on the regional cuisines of either China or Vietnam the menu has, to the untrained eye, a very definite Chinese feel. In fact, every dish has its name written out … in Chinese. Not a jot of Vietnamese roast pork in sight, although there are hot pots.

My original order was to start with pork and prawn cold rolls followed by a beef salad, while Andy was going to start with a chicken pancake and enjoy Mongolian sizzling pork for his main course. After a long period of contemplating my food, we ended up with all the food on the table at once. Of these dishes, the beef salad was definitely the stand out – very fine slices of beef, barely cooked, with a lime and chilli dressing, tossed in amongst green salad. The level of heat from the chilli was good, the salad was fresh, and the dressing was light and oil free … perfect for mopping up with a bit of rice when everything else was finished. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I came home and looked for recipes so I could make this myself (perhaps with a hint more coriander and mint though …).

I was less impressed with the cold rolls: they were too heavy on the noodles and too light on the mint. Very definitely in the OK basket rather than something to write home about.

Both of Andy’s dishes were too sweet for me although Andy didn’t have a problem with them (I am very picky about sweetness in savoury dishes). The chicken crepe was served in the same style as crispy duck pancakes – without the crispy or the duck, as the chicken was in a plum style sauce. The Mongolian sizzling pork was dished on to its sizzling plate at the table, covering the table (and, to a limited extent, us) with a fine spray of hot fat. From Andy this dish rated a ‘quite nice but nothing special’.

That does quite a good job of summing up the whole experience. Aside from the shambolic service, everything was ‘quite nice’ but certainly not special enough to warrant a return visit.

Bottom line: $66 for 2 people, 2 courses, 2 beers and green tea.

Sugar Cane on Urbanspoon

Vietnam Sunrise

date of visit: March 2010

The relatively recent acquisition of a reliable car has meant that culinary forays can be made a little further afield than the CBD. An outing to Thebarton Theatre provided the perfect opportunity to pay a flying visit to Vietnam Sunrise.

I love Vietnamese food for its light, fresh flavours – a crude description could be “Thai without the chilli”, and I’d driven past this unprepossessing restaurant enough times to take note of it. It shares its shop frontage with a supermarket, a pasta shop and a charity shop on Henley Beach Road, just opposite Holbrooks Road. As you drive past it looks tiny and possibly a little dark and maybe even shabby.

Reality could not be further from this. The restaurant is deep, well lit and furnished with well spaced tables and bright red chairs. We wandered in just after 6pm on a Thursday evening and were seated at the front, giving us the perfect opportunity to watch our fellow diners.

Hmm, just one table to people watch then … but during the course of our meal the restaurant began to fill up (and, as is depressingly common, noise levels increased). I suspect that were you wishing to dine on a Friday or Saturday evening a booking would be well advised.

As we were on a schedule there was time just for main courses. I couldn’t convince Andy to try a Vietnamese beer, so beverage wise our choices were limited to a James Boags and a pineapple juice. Food wise I couldn’t go past the Vietnamese roast pork. In a manner, I’ve had this dish before but I wasn’t entirely sure what I would get – but as long as it contained plenty of belly pork with crackling I knew I would be happy. Andy chose the Seafood Treasure Basket, which promised scallops, squid, king prawns and mussels in a crisp noodle basket. As the evening wore on it became obvious that this was a very popular choice amongst Vietnam Sunrise’s diners.

When my pork arrived I couldn’t have been happier … 2 huge slices of crispy, crunchy belly pork with perfect crackling, accompanied by pickles and a ton of salad, including plenty of fresh mint and coriander. Being me, and lacking instructions otherwise, I ate everything separately, reserving my mint and coriander for my vermicelli noodles. It turns out that what I should have done is wrap my pork in lettuce leaf and add the salad, pickles and noodles to the package. Well, I know for next time!

At first, Andy’s seafood basket looked a little short on the seafood front, but as he dug through to the bottom there were no complaints. He enjoyed the sauce, which softened the bottom of the basket, making it easy to eat (although, personally, I enjoyed the crispy edges!).

Both dishes were generously proportioned and priced at under $20 and we left spending under $50 for our entire meal. On subsequent visits I’d be inclined to share (both entrees and mains) in order to maximise exposure – there’s no way I could manage 2, let alone 3 courses.

Aside from needing instructions with my roast pork, the only criticism of our meal would have to be the noticeable wait between the arrival of my pork and Andy’s seafood basket. Given that we were only a table of two in a restaurant less than 50% full when we ordered the gap was disconcerting.

We left Vietnam Sunrise full and happy. We’ll definitely be heading back!

Good value Vietnamese

Excellent, cheap Vietnamese food in a bright restaurant just out of the city centre.

Rating:4.5 stars
****1/2