Recipe by Jack Jaroen, executive chef, Lanna Thai
I grew up in Bangkok with three siblings. My mom was always in the kitchen preparing and cooking for us. At dinnertime, we all helped out in the kitchen — all six of us. It was a nice time of memories.
I came to the States to get an MBA. I went to the Study Abroad Center in Bangkok and they told me that the University of Toledo didn’t have any hurricanes or tornados and they spoke regular English there. The program there accepted me, so I went. Toledo was a good place for school. There was a lot of grass and cows and soybeans — nothing to distract me. We had a Thai student organization there, and we had cookouts together.
After school in 1999, I traveled around the states and heard that San Diego is a beautiful city with beautiful weather so I moved here in 2001. Even though I had my MBA, I still loved cooking. I was a waiter in school and I wanted to cook for someone else, not just my friends. So, I opened Lanna Thai. The food there is similar to the food my father cooks in Thailand. He is very health-conscious and always got up at five in the morning to go for a walk when I was growing up. He uses less oil when he cooks and doesn’t use too much salt or spice. At Lanna Thai we offer healthy choices like brown rice, salads, and fish and chicken.
I miss Thailand and go back to visit, but I consider San Diego to be my home now. I love going to the beach when I’m not working. When the water is warmer I do a lot of snorkeling and swimming. I work almost seven days a week, so most of the time my friends come to our restaurant for birthdays or friends’ birthdays. When I do have friends over to the house, one of my favorite dishes is a Thai salad. There are so many different kinds of them: green-bean salad, chicken laarb salad, grilled-steak salad. Salads are light, healthy, and perfect for a hot day. In Thailand it’s very hot and humid, so salad is the perfect meal. There are so many flavors — a little spicy, a little sour, and a little sweet.
1 lb. skirt steak or flat iron steak
2 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
3–5 fresh Thai chilies, sliced thin crosswise or 1/2–1 tsp ground roasted dried Thai chili
3 T fish sauce
6 T lime juice
1 T sugar
1 small red onion, sliced very thin
7 sprigs fresh mint (leaves only)
5 sprigs cilantro (stems removed)
2 T roasted rice powder (see recipe below)
1 heart of romaine lettuce
1 Roma tomato, sliced crosswise
1/3 cucumber, sliced crosswise
HOW TO DO IT
Marinate steak with soy sauce, sesame oil, and ground coriander for 20 minutes. Grill or broil the steak until medium-rare. Trim off any fat. Cool and slice into pieces approximately 2 inches across and 1/8 inch thick.
Mix chilies, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar in a small bowl. Add the sliced meat and toss with red onion, mint leaves, cilantro, and roasted rice powder. Taste and add more chilies, lime juice, or fish sauce if desired.
Make a bed of the lettuce on a serving plate. Place the steak on top. Garnish with cilantro, sliced tomatoes, and sliced cucumber.
Roasted Rice Powder
1 cup uncooked sticky rice
5 kaffir lime leaves, chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, chopped
1/3 small galangal, chopped (optional)
Roast rice in a hot skillet (cast iron is good) or wok over low to medium heat until golden brown (about 12 minutes). Stir constantly so that it does not burn. Mix in chopped lime leaves, lemongrass stalk, and galangal into the skillet and keep stirring for about 5 more minutes. Grind in a mortar with a pestle or clean electric coffee-grinder until pulverized. Some small pieces of rice may still be visible. This will make about 1 cup of roasted rice powder and it can be used in other kinds of Thai salads. Keep in a sealed container and store in a dry cool place for up to 2 to 3 months.
Note: You can purchase galangal and other fresh southeast Asian ingredients from Specialty Produce in San Diego: 1929 Hancock Street, 619-295-3172 or at Asian markets such as Vien Dong and 99 Ranch.