This week for my current series, I’m cooking a dish from Mark Jensen’s lovely cook book, The Urban Cook. There are some absolutely lovely recipes in this book, but for some reason I’ve never cooked anything out of it. I’m rectifying that today and making his pork mince salad with Thai basil. As always, I can’t help but change some small things here and there, but this is still very true to his original recipe.
I’m a big lover of Thai basil, but poor Key doesn’t like the strong aniseed flavoured herb, so he picked around it. I’ll definitely be making this one again as I’m a sucker for Vietnamese flavours. Next time I’ll leave the coriander and Thai basil on the side so that Key doesn’t have to pick out those ‘evil’ herbs from his dish :)
If you have ever eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant, then you will probably recognise the taste of the dressing on this salad. It’s perfectly balanced with sweet, salty, sour and umami and has just a light chilli kick. And look at how pretty it looks in Vietnamese:
Nước Mắm Chấm
I have day dreams about eating fresh rice paper rolls dipped in this sauce, big hot bowls of pho and banh mi in Vietnam. Wait…this is not a post about Vietnamese food, I got sidetracked, I just love Vietnamese flavours.
Back onto the subject at hand. Mark’s cook book is all about cooking and eating for a sustainable future. I’m the first to admit that I need to try harder to think about these factors when shopping, cooking and eating. It’s packed with gorgeous photos of tasty looking dishes as well as some easy to read facts and figures about sustainable ingredients.
Errr…looks like I need to clean my window frames.
I have always turned to Luke Nguyen’s Nuoc Mam Cham recipe when I’ve wanted to make that perfectly balanced and iconic Vietnamese sauce. Turns out, Mark Jensen’s recipe is exactly that same! Mark is married to Luke’s sister after all.
Their recipes both state to wait until the fish sauce and sugar mix is quite cool before adding in the chilli and garlic, however I like to add it when it’s still quite hot as I find that it cooks some of the sharpness out of the raw garlic. Do wait until it has cooled down though to add the lime juice. You don’t want that fresh lime juice flavour to cook out.
Some people suggest substituting normal basil for Thai basil but I think it’s quite different. Thai basil has a strong aniseed flavour and is really refreshing. If you can’t find Thai basil then I would just leave it out and add more of the mint and coriander as opposed to substituting normal basil for it. Your call though of course :)
Make your nuoc mam cham. Assemble your salad. Quickly cook the pork. Toss it altogether. Easy!
Lemongrass is quite woody but has a great taste. Bash it with the handle of the knife or a pestle before chopping it up as finely as you can.
Let the lemongrass and garlic turn a light golden colour, then stir fry the pork mince, breaking it up with a spatula as it cooks.
This salad is such a light and refreshing lunch or dinner and would also make a great shared salad as part of an Asian themed banquet.
Mark Jensen’s Spicy Pork Mince Salad with Thai Basil
Ingredients – Serves 2-3 as a main dish
- ½ red onion, peeled and finely sliced
- ¼ cup of fresh Thai basil leaves
- ¼ cup of fresh mint leaves
- ¼ cup of fresh coriander leaves
- ½ cup of snow pea shoots
- ½ cup of shredded wombok cabbage
- ½ cup of shredded iceberg lettuce
- 1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, bashed and finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
- 260g of pork mince
- ¼ cup of nuoc mam cham plus a few tablespoons extra to serve
- 2 tbs of roasted, crushed peanuts plus some extra for garnish
- In a large mixing bowl, toss together the red onion, herbs, pea shoots, cabbage and lettuce.
- Heat a good splash of neutral oil in a wok or frying pan over a medium heat. Cook the garlic and lemongrass in the hot oil until they start to turn golden.
- Add the pork mince and cook, stirring and breaking up with a spoon, until all of the meat is cooked through. Season the mince with a pinch of salt and ground white pepper.
- While the meat is still hot, add it to the salad mix with ¼ cup of nuoc mam cham and 2 tbs of the peanuts and toss it altogether to lightly wilt the salad leaves.
- Serve while still warm, garnished with extra peanuts and with extra nuoc mam cham on the side.
Nuoc Mam Cham
Ingredients – Makes about 1 cup
- 3 tbs of fish sauce
- 3 tbs of rice wine vinegar
- 2 tbs of fine white sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 long red chilli, finely chopped
- 2 tbs of fresh lime juice
- Combine the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and a pinch of sea salt flakes with ½ cup of water in a medium saucepan.
- Heat over a medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, let the fish sauce mix cook until it is simmering and then remove it from the heat.
- Add the chilli and garlic and let it sit, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes for it to cool slightly before adding the lime juice.
- Keeps well in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week. Use as a dipping sauce or dressing.