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The first Donna Hay recipe I made, 13 years ago now, fit into a 3-square-inch space on a page nestled with eight other recipes, each minimal ingredient list worked into the instructions, each extending no more than ten lines. The recipe—pappardelle with brown butter, pine nuts and Parmesan—impressed my dinner guests and forever turned me onto Hay’s recipes, which so nicely mix pantry staples with fresh ingredients, amounting to cooking that's fast and no-fuss without compromising flavor.
This steak salad with coconut dressing from Hay’s Off the Shelf fits that same efficient model, calling for a 3-ingredient dressing and a 6-ingredient salad, its assembly explained succinctly. It’s a mix of romaine, cucumbers, and fresh herbs tossed in a coconut-lime dressing and tastes like the inside of a Vietnamese summer roll. Grilled steak, sliced and tossed with the vegetables, makes it a meal.
As with many composed salads (and many of Hay’s recipes), this one can be used as a guide, and if you keep in mind these four points, you’ll no doubt have success:
Use a healthy amount of fresh herbs, the most tender leaves if possible: cilantro, mint, basil, chives, tarragon, etc. would all work well here.
Include something crunchy: I’ve used cucumbers, but carrots, jicama, or green mango or celery, as the original recipe suggests, are all good options.
Use a warm protein (as opposed to leftover roast chicken, canned beans or marinated tofu), which not only nicely contrasts the cool, crisp vegetables but also gently wilts them, releasing their juices and adding more flavor to the dressing.
Be sure the dressing, a mix of coconut milk, lime juice, and fish sauce, has some bite. It may taste too fishy on its own, but when tossed with the vegetables and steak, its pungency tempers. I’ve added a little sugar to counter the acidity, but this balance should be adjusted to taste.
In un-Hay fashion, I’ve complicated the recipe by throwing half of the romaine and the scallions on the grill, lightly charring their surfaces to add another dimension of flavor to the salad. It’s cooked meets raw meets fresh meets pantry, and while I may have compromised its efficiency, I think Hay would still approve.
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Neutral oil
- 1/2 pound hanger, skirt, or flank steak (see notes above)
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- 2 heads romaine lettuce
- 1/2 cucumber, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced into half moons or julienned
- 4 to 5 scallions, ends trimmed
- 3/4 cup fresh herbs; a mix of cilantro and mint is nice
What's your least-effort-biggest-payoff recipe? Tell us about it in the comments.