Spicy Beef Salad

green cabbage

Spicy Beef Salad

In my quest for deliciousness via gluten-free goodness, I’ve been experimenting with a lot of international flavors. A friend suggested I begin with the regions of the world where wheat isn’t grown, such as Thailand, and as a huge fan of Thai food, I thought this was a capital idea. One of my favorite dishes is laab, a spicy beef dish (a salad, really) which is normally made with ground pork, beef or chicken, all housed in cabbage leaves. I’m a beef girl, and prefer a sliced steak for texture, so this is my riff on the idea.

Warning: Be careful with fish sauce. The one I buy is from an Asian market, and its ingredients are simply anchovies, salt and sugar. Check the label to ensure there are no wheat derivatives.


1-2 tablespoons toasted Jasmine rice (instructions below)
6 oz. skirt steak
1 teaspoon olive oil
juice of 2 limes, divided
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1-2 teaspoons dried chile peppers, ground, to taste [See Chef’s Note]
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 medium head of cabbage
Mint sprigs (optional)
Additional cilantro sprigs (optional)

Special Equipment

Mortar & pestle


For the toasted rice:
Heat a small skillet and add in rice, swirling occasionally as it begins to toast. Let the rice toast to a golden brown, then transfer to a mortar and pestle. With a twisting motion, grind the rice into very small pieces. If you pound the rice you will end up with one hell of a mess in your kitchen, so be gentle. The toasted rice adds texture to the dish, but is very crunchy, so you don’t want large pieces. Transfer to small dish and set aside.

[Chef’s Note: You can grind the chile peppers in the same manner.]

For the beef:
Slice the skirt steak into very thin slices. Add to a bowl along with the juice from one lime. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. Heat medium-sized skillet over a medium-high flame and add olive oil, heating until the oil shimmers. Add in the beef and stir until just cooked. Remove the beef and its juices to a large bowl.

Assemble the salad:
Add the onions, remaining lime juice, ground chile peppers, fish sauce, cilantro and mint leaves, and half the toasted rice. Stir until well mixed. Serve on a large plate with additional fresh herbs, if desired, and sprinkle some of the remaining toasted rice on top.


Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage and cut in half. Pull away largest outer leaves and serve on a platter with additional mint and cilantro sprigs. To eat, take a large cabbage leaf and spoon some of the beef salad into the center. Add fresh mint or cilantro sprigs if desired. Wrap up into a small bundle and crunch away!

Photo: Vanessa Bucceri