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Beef dish can solve low-carb conundrum

| Sunday, Aug. 31, 2003

Many of my friends are struggling to take off unwanted pounds. They have tried one diet after another and are now trying the low-carbohydrate regimens that are the latest rage.

Take, for example, the two 40-something women who work with me testing recipes each week. In the last month, they have been reluctant to taste more than a mouthful of pasta, rice, potato or pastry dishes because they are on low-carb diets. This situation sometimes happens when I entertain -- when invited, a number of guests hint that they are limiting carbohydrates.

I love a culinary challenge, though. It occurred to me that Asian cuisines might provide an answer. My husband and I just returned from Paris, where we regularly dined in some of the city's Thai and Vietnamese cafes. At one of these, I routinely ordered a dish of sliced grilled beef served with a tangy dipping sauce and a garnish of crisp lettuce leaves with beautiful bright green mint and cilantro sprigs. I would place a slice or two of meat on a lettuce leaf, add some herbs and a sprinkle of peanuts, then gently roll the leaf up and dip it into the sauce.

Flavors exploded in my mouth with each bite: salty, hot, sweet and sour accents provided by the sauce, a smoky taste from the grilled beef and, finally, the assertive notes of the herbs.

At home, I worked diligently to reproduce this dish, then proudly offered it as a main course for lunch to my two assistants. They fell in love with the delectable tastes and textures of this simple preparation, but pointed out that there was sugar in the sauce, something to avoid or use sparingly on their diets.

They reassured me, however, that the small amount was acceptable. They said they couldn't wait to serve this main course to family and friends.

For a delicious menu low in carbs, they suggest a salad of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, plus steamed green beans seasoned with sesame seeds and sesame oil as good side dishes.

Thai fish sauce, known as "nam pla," is a staple of Thai cooking. A dark salty sauce made with fermented fish, it has an assertive scent and can be used as a condiment or as a seasoning. It is available in some supermarkets and in Asian food stores. Thai Kitchen is a brand available in many supermarkets.


Grilled Steaks with
Thai-Style Dipping Sauce

For the sauce:

  • 6 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • 6 tablespoons lime juice
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the salad:

  • 1 medium-size head green or red leaf lettuce
  • 1 bunch mint, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and patted dry
  • Vegetable oil, for oiling grill rack
  • 2 pounds boneless sirloin or New York strip steaks, trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup toasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped

For the sauce, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, sugar, cilantro, mint, crushed red pepper and salt in a bowl and whisk well to combine. Ladle the sauce into 6 small ramekins or nonreactive bowls. (The sauce can be prepared 2 hours ahead and left, uncovered, at cool room temperature.)

For the salad, separate the lettuce into leaves; rinse and pat dry. Arrange 5 to 6 of the leaves in an attractive bouquet on one side of a dinner plate, then top the leaves with some mint and cilantro sprigs. Set a bowl of dipping sauce on the plate. Repeat to make 5 more servings.

To cook the meat, oil a grill rack and arrange it 4 to 5 inches from the heat source. Prepare a grill for a hot (high temperature) fire. Lightly salt the meat. When the grill is hot, add the meat and cook until medium-rare, for 4 to 5 minutes per side.

Remove the meat from the grill and slice thinly. Divide evenly and arrange overlapping slices on the prepared dinner plates. Garnish the meat with a sprinkling of nuts.

To eat, place 1 or 2 slices of meat and some of the nuts in a lettuce leaf, then add a sprig of both mint and cilantro. Roll up and dip in the sauce.

Makes 6 servings.

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