I've been glued to the house for the last week babysitting a hive of roofing contractors. Haven't been able to go shopping so have been working down the fridge and the freezer. I was actually past thinking I could squeeze in one more lemongrass dish when I noted that all I had on hand yesterday to make dinner out of was a wad (literally) of frozen chuck steaks (not the blade cut, but oddly boneless) and some salad greens. Closer investigation revealed some forgotten leftovers from a couple Asian dishes I'd made for a pinot party last Saturday, like half a head of napa cabbage, a third of a head of romaine, a few strands of wilting Thai basil, and suddenly I realize I had kind of a Larb-thing going, 'larb' being the Vietnamese name for a salad that usually includes some kind of grilled meat or seafood.
Working without a recipe, I bruised my last piece of lemon grass and covered it with white wine vinegar and corn oil. I heated that mixture lightly in the microwave to encourage the lemongrass to release more flavor, then seasoned that with a large clove of garlic, a pinch of brown sugar, salt and a few drops of red chili oil. The salad mix was daikon radish sprouts, thai basil, whole cilantro leaves, chiffonaded napa cabbage and romaine hearts, thin chips of fresh red radish, thin slices of red onion and my last roma tomato. I mixed the salad with the dressing when the steaks (which had been marinated with soy, garlic, oil, lime juice and sugar and then pressed into coarse pepper) came off the grill, giving the flavors time to soak in a bit while the steak rested.
An Australian cabernet that had a nice sweet twinge to it made the perfect pairing for the salad's bold flavors.
The result was, in a word, wonderful. In fact, it's the best steak salad I've ever made. What was really just an accident of opportunity formed the basis for shall most definitely be a new summer standard.