A 6-Ingredient Steak Salad That's Open to Interpretation

July 27, 2016

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.

Grilling the romaine, left, and right, the grilled salad parts pre-assembly. Photo by Alexandra Stafford
  • 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.

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


Ali S. July 27, 2016
Dang. You always find the best recipes!!
Alexandra S. July 27, 2016
Ahhh, thanks, Ali!!
Fresh T. August 2, 2016
I agree, she does! I love Donna Hay recipes and I can't wait to try this one. You're the best Alexandra! (Oh, and I just made your Deborah Madison corn fritters and another batch of Chow Mein-ish!) love love love