“Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. A lot of people, that’s their story. Good times, noodle salad.” —Jack Nicholson, “As Good as It Gets”
What else can I say? This probably in no way resembles the kind of noodle salad invoked above, but it’s a noodle salad all the same. The recipe was originally featured in an older post extolling the virtues of marked-down meat at the grocery store, but it’s high time it had its own page. Not only is it simple to make and a proven crowd-pleaser (good times, noodle salad), it’s a great antidote to all those heavy seasonal braises and gratins that start to get a little old about now. Judging by the view out the window, Punxsutawney Phil (“the world’s most famous prognosticating rodent,” according to Wikipedia, where I went to look up how to spell Punxsutawney) is not planning to deviate from his 13% accuracy rate any time soon.
The amounts below are for two servings.
• 8 oz. steak (I used sirloin because it was $1.99/lb. at Winco): $1
•4 oz. noodles (rice, buckwheat, or even egg, if that’s all you have): 25 cents
For the marinade:
• 1 stalk of lemongrass, lower 4 inches only, outer leaves removed, sliced crosswise (a huge bundle of this at the Asian market is 64 cents; when I saw what it costs in the supermarket I almost fell down, so you may want to wait to make this until you have access to an Asian market): 5 cents
• 1 garlic clove: 1 cent
• 1/2 T fish sauce: 3 cents
• 2 tsp soy sauce: 3 cents
• 1 tsp sugar: 1 cent
• 1 T vegetable oil: 3 cents
• 1/4 tsp sesame oil: 3 cents
TOTAL: 19 cents
For the nuoc cham*
• 1 1/2 T lime juice (1/2 large lime): 17 cents
• 1 T sugar: 5 cents
• 1 T plus 1 tsp fish sauce: 6 cents
TOTAL: 28 cents
*This might make more than you need; add in some sliced chiles and it makes a great condiment for rice, vegetables, or anything that needs a little Southeast Asian flavor.
• 1/4 cup Thai basil leaves, roughly torn: 10 cents
• 1/4 cup mint leaves, roughly torn (I had to buy this for the first time in months, darn frost), torn: 10 cents
• 1/4 cup cilantro leaves: 10 cents
• 1/2 large cucumber, peeled and sliced into half-moons: 35 cents
• 1 T toasted rice powder (this may be an Asian-market-only item; it’s not a make-or-break ingredient, but it definitely makes a huge difference): 11 cents
TOTAL: 76 cents
GRAND TOTAL: $1.25 + .19 + .28 + .76 = $2.48/2 = $1.24/serving
-Beef needs to marinate at least 4 hours.
Combine the lemongrass and garlic cloves in a food processor, process until minced.
Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, vegetable oil, and sesame oil and purée. Combine the steak and marinade in a Ziploc bag and chill for at least 4 hours, turning once.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the broiler. Remove the steak from the marinade. (Don’t worry about pieces of lemongrass on the meat; they will caramelize and soften in the oven.) Broil the steak about 3 inches from the heat for about 5-6 minutes per side depending on thickness. Tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing thinly.
Cook the noodles according to package directions. If you’re using rice noodles, err on the side of undercooking and be sure to use a lot more water than you think you need to boil them; they can release a lot of starch and become congealed. Cool under cold running water. Drain well, transfer to a bowl.
For the nuoc cham: combine the lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce with 1/2 cup water. I like to do this in a small pint jar and then shake it up, but you can also whisk it in a small bowl. This should make about 3/4 cup. Toss the noodles with about 1/4 cup, adding more to taste. I usually use about 1/2 to the whole 3/4 cup, depending on the type of noodles I’m using.
Gently mix in the Thai basil, mint, cilantro, and cucumber.
Divide the noodle mixture between two plates. Sprinkle the rice powder over both servings, then top with the sliced steak.