Let’s get the business of talking up this recipe out of the way up front, it’s story time. This Thai Beef and Mango Salad on Vermicelli is packed with incredible flavour, with a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and savoury. I prepared the beef using my sous vide precision cooker to achieve a juicy and delicious steak to top off this meal salad. I’ve also listed the instructions for how to prepare the steak in your oven, if you haven’t taken the leap of faith into sous vide cooking just yet.
Last week I told the story about the time I went to visit the endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda. After my placement at Contact FM in Kigali drew to a close I went travelling in Tanzania with my then boyfriend.
We climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, reaching the summit on Canada Day 2010 and then went on to do a safari in the Serengeti Desert and capped the whole thing off with a beachfront stay along the clear blue waters of Zanzibar.
Given that I’m not outdoorsy and I actively resent the idea of having to shop at Mountain Equipment Co-op, I insisted that we take the least strenuous and shortest route to the summit of Africa’s highest peak.
In spite of my total disdain for MEC, I was forced to buy a few outfits there to ready myself for the rugged terrain. I actually think I’m allergic to MEC, as soon as I walk in I begin to sneeze. Which is not altogether surprising because the mere thought of having to spend $200 on “technical apparel” that gives me the silhouette of SpongeBob sends me into anaphylaxis.
Our guide was named Stuart who wore a SunIce winter jacket that was faded to a soft shade of millennial pink from what was once fire-engine red. He was calm and methodical, smiled often and spoke little. Our porters lugged our heavier items up the mountain, picking their way up the steep paths with ease, as we struggled and gasped in their wake, carrying nothing more than lightweight backpacks with water and lunch provisions.
On each of the five days we would climb through one of the five distinct climate zones of the mountain. On day one we passed through the lush farmlands and into the rainforest zone. On day two we progressed into the heather and moorland zone. On day three we plodded through the seemingly endless highland desert and, finally, summited shortly after sunrise on day four in the arctic zone.
Each night we made camp in shared cabins and ate dinner with other climbers at big communal tables. The meals were always a spartan affair, often comprised of “biscuits” (read: digestive cookies) and “vegetable soup” (read: flavourless broth with a single floating cube of implacable root vegetable).
Even though we started our journey in late June and reached the summit on July 1, on the evening of our final ascent the temperature was a teeth-chattering -35 degrees with the windchill.
On day three, after six hours of trekking through the moorland zone and into the arctic desert, we arrived at the final camp where we would rally to make our ascent. We ate dinner upon arrival and were instructed to sleep. We were roused at 11:45 p.m. for tea and biscuits and prepared to set out for the summit, with the goal of reaching Uhuru Peak at sunrise.
Well friends, the air is thin, and it’s cold, and you’re walking uphill, with Stuart constantly reminding you to lean forward as you kick the toe of your boots into the loose shale footing, to prevent from tumbling backward into the abyss and taking all of the hikers behind you down like a row of dominos. So, to say it was unpleasant would be an understatement.
At sunrise we were still two hours from the summit and I was MISERABLE. I desperately wanted to turn back by my boyfriend cajoled, coerced, and convinced me to carry on.
In spite of his best efforts, I had a total meltdown 45 minutes from the summit. I cried and whined. I was so cold and so tired. In a last ditch effort to achieve what we’d set out to do, he forfeited his down parka so that I was now wearing my own parka and his, like the goddamn Michelin man.
At long last, we reached the peak. We took three photos and then quickly turned around as Stuart was concerned about my symptoms of altitude sickness. We took off my boots, where I’d earlier stuffed one of those heat packs, (which had been doing absolutely nothing other than squishing my toes because those things actually require oxygen to get warm and the air is pretty thin at that height) and found my little toes were shockingly colourless. The first signs of frostbite. From that point, Stuart made no bones about getting us back to the camp – he was also probably just so done with my shit.
The descent went much faster than the climb. With our hiking poles in hand, we “skied” down the loose gravel on the side of the mountain. It was really fun at first but after about 20 minutes, your knees alert you that they are absorbing all the impact of racing down a cliff-face of rocks and feel like they are going to explode. Stuart had no sympathy for me or my joints.
Luckily we made to the base camp and took a much-needed rest. By the end of the next day, we were back at the base of the mountain, grimy and sore. So, if anyone tries to tell you they absolutely LOVED climbing Kilimanjaro, ask them how they feel about MEC first. If they are enthusiastic at the prospect of overpaying for the privilege of looking like a fucking rectangle in merino wool, maybe take their advice with a grain of salt.
Thai Beef and Mango Salad on Vermicelli
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil for searing
- ¾ lb beef tenderloin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup sweet chili paste
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 8 oz (250 g) vermicelli rice noodles cooked, drained and cooled
- 2 green onions sliced into ½-inch pieces
- 1 cup red onion finely slivered
- 1 large mango cut into slivers
- 1 red pepper finely diced
- ½ cup loosely packed fresh coriander coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint coarsely chopped
- ⅔ cup salted cashews coarsely chopped
- Lime wedges
- coriander sprigs (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Heat oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Generously season tenderloin with salt and pepper. Sear in oil until well-browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Place in oven and cook to medium-rare, about 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads an internal temperature of 140°F.
Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature, slice thinly and set aside.
Preheat your Precision Cooker to 131.5°F. Allow the water bath to come ot temperature before adding your steak.
Season the steak generously with salt and pepper and then slide it into a vacuum-seal or heavy-duty zipper lock plastic bag.
Drop the bag in the water bath, making sure not to block the intake or output of your Precision Cooker. If properly sealed, the steak should sink. Cook for 45 minutes.
Remove the seak from the bag and palce it on a paper towel-lined plate. Pat it dry very carefully on both sides.
Turn on your exhaust and open windows. Place a heavy cast iron or stainless steel skillet on high heat with 1 tbsp of vegetable oil. Gently lay the steak in the skillet using tongs. After 15 to 30 seconds, flip the steak. Repeat flipping the steak until it has a nice brown sea – about a minute and a half in total.
To make dressing, whisk together sweet chili paste, fish sauce, lime juice and vegetable oil in a large bowl.
Stir in noodles, green onion, red onion, mango, red pepper, coriander and mint. Toss to combine. Let sit for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed.
Divide salad amongst plates, top with sliced tenderloin and sprinkle with cashews. If desired garnish with lime wedges and sprigs of coriander.
Recipe adapted from: Wilson-Vuksanovic, Tania. “Thai Beef and Mango Salad on Rice Noodles.” Food & Drink. Winter 2008.