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Beef “Ceviche” with Lemongrass

Beef “Ceviche” with Lemongrass (Pla Neua) - Pla made with beef is a rare find. If a restaurant serves pla nowadays, it is most likely made with shrimp. In its original form, pla is made by cooking raw beef or shrimp with the acidity of lime juice, so this dish is like a magical cross between carpaccio and ceviche. In the era of food-borne illness outbreaks, people have slowly moved from raw towards medium-rare and even well-done proteins. I’ve decided to briefly sear the exterior of the steaks for food safety and added flavour. I’d also like to report that all my recipe taste-testers have had the same reaction to this dish after their first bite: “Wow.”

Serves: 4 as an appetizer, 2 as an entrée
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Special Tools: Mortar and pestle for making the dressing (optional)
Do-ahead Tips: Sear the beef and make the dressing in advance.
Pla = A type of Thai salad; Neua = Beef
Beef “Ceviche” with Lemongrass

Ingredients

FOR THE SALAD
  • As needed Vegetable oil
  • 9 oz Beef tenderloin or another tender cut of steak
  • 3 Tbsp Lime juice
  • 2 inches Lemongrass, bottom half only, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp Shallots, thinly julienned
  • ¼ cup Mint leaves, chopped
  • 2–3 Kaffir lime leaves, very thinly julienned
  • 5 sprigs Cilantro, leaves chopped, stems reserved for the dressing
  • 2 Tbsp Toasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds (see note)
  • For garnish Spur chili or red bell pepper, short juliennes
  • For garnish Small mint leaves
  • For serving Crisp lettuce leaves

THE DRESSING
  • 3–4 cloves Garlic
  • 1–3 Fresh Thai chilies
  • 5 Cilantro stems, chopped
  • 2 tsp Palm sugar, finely chopped, packed
  • 2 Tbsp Fish sauce

How to make Pla Neua

  1. Drizzle vegetable oil on the steak and rub to coat. In a sauté pan, heat a little vegetable oil over high heat until the oil is very hot. Place the steak down and sear for 20–30 seconds until well-browned, flip, and repeat on the other side. Sear the edges of the steak briefly by holding it up with tongs. Let rest for at least 5 minutes while you make the dressing.
  2. For the dressing, pound together the garlic, Thai chilies, and cilantro stems using a mortar and pestle until there are no chunks. Add the palm sugar and pound to dissolve, then add the fish sauce and swirl the pestle to mix. Note: Without a mortar and pestle, you can finely mince all the ingredients.
  3. Slice the beef into very thin, bite-sized strips and transfer to a small mixing bowl. Pour the lime juice over the beef and mix well; let sit for at least 5 minutes until the meat has cooked slightly.
  4. Pour the dressing over the beef and toss to mix. Add the lemongrass, shallots, mint, half the kaffir lime leaves, and half the cilantro; toss to mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  5. To serve, spread the beef in one layer on a large plate. Sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds, julienned peppers, small mint leaves, and the remaining kaffir lime leaves and cilantro. Serve with lettuce leaves, which you can use to wrap the beef. Serve on its own as an appetizer, or with jasmine rice as part of a meal.

Note: The toasted pumpkin seeds serve as an element of nuttiness and crunch; you can also use peanuts, cashews, macadamias, or pine nuts.
PLA NEUA IN POETRY
I felt compelled to include pla neua in this book because of its romantic story. King Rama II was as much a poet as he was a gourmand. In the early 1800s, he composed several poems that sing the praises of many Thai dishes, with an intention to compliment his wife’s culinary skills. Pla neua was one of the dishes mentioned in his most famous poem, giving it a unique historical and literary importance.

THE BREAKDOWN
The Protein Beef
The Vegetables Pumpkin seeds, lettuce on the side
The Herbs Lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, mint, cilantro, shallots
The Dressing Garlic, chilies, cilantro stems, fish sauce, palm sugar, lime juice
Flavour Profile Leads with sour, followed by salty, and barely detectable sweetness.