One disadvantage of being the only female in the house is that it’s quite difficult to campaign for main dish salads as dinner fare. It’s not that it’s impossible, because I’ve done it before. But there’s always the chance that the salad just wasn’t filling enough, and then they end up having cheese-and-hot-sauce sandwiches for dessert. (It’s happened.)
But Tom just re-built our grill, and was excited to use it. So I figured this was my chance to plan a main dish salad with something grilled. In my mind, I imagined a nice Asian salmon salad, and figured I could serve it with some sushi rice on the side to help boost the full-ness factor.
Then I walked into Costco and saw packages of gorgeous slabs of beef short ribs, minus the bone. And of course, I instantly thought of kalbi. I am, after all, the daughter of a former Philippine military attache assigned to South Korea. One look at how Tom gazed longingly at the beautifully marbled beef, and I decided to ditch the salmon plans and concoct a kalbi beef salad instead.
Kalbi beef is ridiculously easy to make. I made it for a family dinner in the Philippines during my last visit, unfazed by the prospect of having to make 25 pounds of it. All I’ll say is that I never saw meat disappear that quickly. The few latecomers never had a chance.
My plan was to make kalbi on the grill two ways: thinly sliced on a skewer and left whole. We also marinated some baby bella mushrooms with the same kalbi marinade, and grilled those as well. The dressing? My favorite Asian-style dressing, which is simply fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, sweet Thai chili sauce, and some water. I’ll sometimes add a touch of salad oil to it, but really, you can use it without the oil, which makes it a tad healthier than regular vinaigrettes. Sometimes I’ll throw in a bit of grated carrots and a touch of garlic and/or hot pepper for some bite.
When Tom was done grilling, we plated the salad while letting the meat rest. Spring greens on the bottom, then julienned vegetables that were tossed in the dressing along with chopped cilantro. Kalbi beef and mushrooms on top, a handful of salted roasted peanuts and fried onions for some crunch, and I added a few slivers of jackfruit for some sweetness. (You can use mangoes instead of jackfruit.)
How good was this salad? All I’ll say is that we had it three dinners in a row. We had the skewered version the first night, and the sliced-from-whole version the following nights. I much preferred the sliced-from-whole version. I love how flavorful the fish sauce dressing is, which means you also don’t need much of it on the salad. Tim didn’t care much for the Asian dressing, so he used a simple balsamic drizzle. You can certainly use your favorite dressing for this.
Kalbi Beef Salad
Serves 4 to 6
For the Asian-style dressing:
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons finely grated carrots (optional)
1 to 2 tablespoons salad oil or light olive oil (optional)
just a little bit of finely grated garlic, to taste (optional)
minced hot pepper, to taste (optional)
For the marinade (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated):
1 pear, peeled and diced (it’s going into the blender, so no need to be precise)
8 cloves garlic
1 knob ginger (about 3/4″ in length), sliced into coins so you don’t get long fibers
1 whole Thai bird pepper (optional, only if you like it spicy)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup scallions (optional, substitute 2 teaspoons onion powder or 1/2 medium regular onion)
1/4 cup cilantro (optional)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
For the salad:
3 pieces beef short rib meat, boneless (around 2 pounds)
10 ounces baby bella mushrooms, washed and cleaned (optional)
3 small bell pepper, preferably different colors, julienned
1 small zucchini, julienned
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 small cucumber, sliced into thin coins
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup canned jackfruit, drained and julienned (or fresh ripe mangoes)
roasted salted peanuts
fried onions (optional)
Korean hot bean paste (optional)
Mix all the dressing ingredients together. Add water to taste, and set aside.
Blend the marinade ingredients together until smooth. Marinate the beef for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. If using mushrooms, marinate mushrooms as well 1 hour before grilling.
Mix the julienned and sliced vegetables together in a bowl. Dress lightly with some of the dressing and the chopped cilantro. Set aside.
Grill the beef and mushrooms to desired doneness. Plate the salads while letting the meat rest. Put a generous amount of salad greens in each plate. Top with the dressed vegetables. Garnish with jackfruit, peanuts, and fried onions. Top with beef and mushrooms. You can add a small amount of hot bean paste on top if desired.
The great thing about this salad is that you can skip the salad greens and serve this with the dressed vegetables on a bed of rice instead. The meat is absolutely tender and packed with flavor. If you want to make this completely vegetarian, skip the beef and double up on the mushrooms. The kalbi marinade really makes the mushrooms taste even meatier. (Oh, and if you’re making this vegetarian, don’t forget to skip the fish sauce and use salt or soy sauce instead.)
Ah. Kalbi. It’s one of the reasons I will be forever grateful that my dad’s final assignment was in Korea, and that I was old enough to truly appreciate the introduction to such a wonderful world cuisine.