Healthier choice recipe: Beef up your salad

We are at the tail end of Chinese New Year and eating will be stripped down, at least in my household.

So meals will contain no carbohydrates or, at most, very little of it.

And if any, it will only be complex carbohydrates: brown rice, brown bee hoon and multigrain rye or spelt bread, but no wheat.

I now do not eat much wheat, which causes bloating in my case.

There are plenty of vegetables on the table - often two servings, each large enough for a family, for just my husband and me.

And if possible, we will eat the greens raw or just lightly cooked.

I still love my red meat, however, and will put it on the menu occasionally.

But only in small amounts and only the lean cuts.

The United States Department of Agriculture has declared that there are 29 cuts of beef that can be categorised as lean.

Of these, five have been named extra-lean.

The leanest cuts, in order of the least proportion of fat, are: eye round (boneless cut of meat from the buttock of the cow), sirloin tip (part of the hip), top round (top of the buttock), bottom round (bottom of the buttock) and top sirloin (centre of the portion in front of the buttock).

Each 100g portion of such steak cuts has less than 5g of total fat, of which 2g is saturated fat and 95mg is cholesterol.

Indeed, as a rule, any cut labelled round (from the buttocks) is good, as it would have come from the hard-working muscular parts of the cow and, hence, is less fatty.

And, if you can get it, beef from grass-fed cows is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher in omega-3 fatty acid, which is considered heart-healthy.

But whichever the cut, I still assiduously trim any visible fat from the meat before cooking it.

Sure, fat adds flavour and moisture, but it also contributes to the fat content of the dish.

And I would grill, rather than fry, the meat, so that fat can be drained away.

If you are opting for lean cuts with little fat, do marinate them, for this gives extra flavour and helps tenderise the meat.

Adding an acidic ingredient, say wine, vinegar or lemon juice, also helps with the tenderising.

Most importantly, I offer only small amounts of meat.

My steaks are all served sliced, so that my family members help themselves to just a few slivers.

Even so, these will deliver the benefits of the nutrients of meat, which are many.

Beef is packed with protein, which is critical for muscle growth and recovery.

It is also high in iron and vitamin B2, which boost the immune system and keep red blood cells healthy.

To cook this Vietnamese beef salad, I used two strip loin steaks, which came from the short loin, the portion of the cow between the ribs and the sirloin. A 100g portion of this cut has 6g of total fat, of which 2.3g is saturated fat.

But you can also choose from any of the extra lean cuts.

The meat was rubbed with paste made from lemon grass and garlic, left to marinate overnight in rice wine and fish sauce, and grilled.

It was then served on a bed of lettuce, enlivened with fragrant herbs.

Truly nice and still within the bounds of healthy post-festive eating.


Vietnamese beef with herb salad
(Serves four to six)


4 lean steaks, about 2 to 3cm thick, weighing 400g in total
1 tsp peanut oil
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tbs rice wine
2 lemon grass stalks, white part only
3 cloves of garlic
1-2 tsp honey
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 head butter lettuce, washed and drained, leaves separated
1 sprig each of fresh coriander, basil, laksa and mint, leaves only
2 red chillies, chopped


1. Trim all visible fat from the steaks.

2. Rub peanut oil over the steaks and season them with rice wine and one teaspoon of fish sauce.

3. Chop or pound the lemon grass stalks with two cloves of garlic and rub this paste over the steaks. Leave the marinated steaks covered in the fridge overnight.

4. Cook them just before serving. Spray a grill pan with oil and heat it over the stove top till it becomes sizzling hot.

5. Sear the steaks for a length of time based on how cooked you want the meat to be - two minutes on each side for rare, three minutes for medium. Rare meat will feel soft and medium cooked meat will feel slightly tender to the touch.

Leave the meat to rest for five minutes.

6. In the meantime, mix honey, olive oil, lemon juice and one teaspoon of fish sauce to make the dressing. Taste it to adjust the amount of seasoning, if needed.

7. Prepare the lettuce, coriander, basil, laksa and mint leaves. Lay the leaves on a plate.

8. Slice the steaks and lay the pieces on the greens.

9. Scatter chopped chillies and one clove of chopped garlic on top of the steaks and greens.

10. Just before serving, toss everything with the dressing.

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