And after eating about a thousand examples of yam with him in Thailand, each less like salad than the next, I started to feel embarrassed about using the English word to refer to these dishes, like an uncle who still refers to the people of Asia as “Orientals.”
That is, until I watched him make a dish called yam khai dao. I mean, look at this dish! There are carrots and onions! There’s lettuce! Not only does it look like a Western salad, but it’s also about as easy to make. After you fry a couple eggs (in particularly hot oil, so the edges get brown and crispy), you make the sweet-sour-spicy-salty “dressing” and toss everything together. —JJ Goode
2 to 6 people as part of a meal
For the eggs and dressing:
large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons
lime juice (preferably from Key limes or spiked with a small squeeze of Meyer lemon juice)
Fry the eggs: Heat a wok or nonstick frying pan over high heat, then add just enough oil to reach a depth of a generous 1/4 inch. Once the oil begins to smoke, carefully crack in the eggs (holding them close to the oil to avoid splatter) and decrease the heat to medium. The eggs should spit, bubble, and crackle wildly. The whites should puff and develop large transparent bubbles.
Once the whites get crispy and deep golden brown at the edges, 45 seconds to 1 minute, use a spatula to flip the eggs (try not to break the yolks, but if you do, it’s fine) and keep cooking until the bottom is golden brown and the yolks are set but still molten, 30 to 45 seconds more. Transfer the eggs to paper towels to drain. Discard the oil, then rinse and wipe out the wok and let it cool. You can fry the eggs up to 15 minutes or so before you make the salad.
Make the dressing and assemble the salad: Add the lime juice, simple syrup, fish sauce, garlic, and chiles to the wok, set it over medium heat, and heat the mixture just until it’s warm to the touch, 15 seconds or so. Turn off the heat.
Quarter the eggs through the yolks and add them to the wok along with the remaining ingredients. Stir gently but well, then transfer the salad, liquid and all, to a plate in a low heap, so that most of the herbs end up near the top, and serve.
I help chefs write cookbooks! I’ve co-authored several, including Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand (Ten Speed) with Andy Ricker, A Girl and Her Pig (Ecco) with April Bloomfield, and Truly Mexican and Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales (Wiley) with Roberto Santibanez.