KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — It feels unseasonably hot.

(Or perhaps seasonally so, given the time of year. Who knows nowadays, given the scourge of climate change?)

My Thai friends remind me that it’s less than a month to Songkran, their national holiday marked by water pouring rituals for purification (or raucous water fights, if you end up in the streets of Silom).

Songkran is also the hottest time of the year for Thailand. Maybe we are getting some of that heat too.


Which makes me long for some yum neua yang or spicy Thai steak salad. When it’s served chilled, it absolutely soothes the soul.

That is till the prik ki nu (bird’s eye chillies or as we know them, cili padi) in the dressing kicks in. Tiny chillies, big heat.

Perhaps it’s a case of fighting fire with fire. The spicy dressing does, in its own roundabout way, bring the temperatures down.


Either way, it’s a tasty dish to make this weekend. So what are you waiting for?

Make some, dig in and wonder if the ice bucket challenge might make a comeback this year...

Yum Neua Yang (Spicy Thai Steak Salad)

Though there are many ingredients in this recipe, the method itself is rather straightforward. Plenty of marination and mixing.

Choose your preferred cut of steak, be it sirloin or skirt steak. Don’t worry if it’s a tougher cut; the marinade will help tenderise the meat.

Use the freshest vegetables you can find for the salad.
Use the freshest vegetables you can find for the salad.

Given the simplicity of the dish, do make sure to use the freshest vegetables you can find for the salad. Many might consider the steak the highlight or the spicy dressing the key feature, but do not neglect the colourful vegetables.

We eat with our eyes first after all, and by selecting and preparing an assortment of sliced vegetables, we are presenting a rainbow of appetising textures for the senses.

Be patient when dry-frying the beef: don’t be in a hurry to flip the meat and risk leaving a good chunk stuck to the wok, especially when we aren’t using additional oil.

An assortment of sliced vegetables.
An assortment of sliced vegetables.

I find that this dry-frying method sears the meat better and helps retain its juices. On that note, do not forget to rest the steak before slicing, else you might lose all its precious meaty juices.

Of course, you can mix all the ingredients yourself and serve the salad to your guests, ready to eat.

But I find that one’s palate is teased deliciously when these colourful ingredients are carefully arranged and the dressing served on the side so your guests can partake in the fun of tossing their own salad.


  • 3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 300g steak (choose your preferred cut)
  • ½ cucumber, sliced into coins
  • 4-6 shallots, finely sliced
  • ¼ stalk lemongrass, finely sliced
  • ½ stalk spring onion, finely sliced
  • 60ml chicken stock
  • 2-3 cili padi (bird’s eye chillies), finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • Fresh mint leaves, for garnishing


Mix ingredients for the steak marinade — minced garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, oil and freshly ground black pepper — into a large bowl and mix well.

Add the pieces of steak and combine till every piece is well coated with the marinade. At this point, cover and keep in the fridge for at least 4 hours, to allow the flavours to further infuse.

Dry-frying the beef helps sear the meat and retain its juices.
Dry-frying the beef helps sear the meat and retain its juices.

You may also marinate the beef overnight. Just remember to bring them out half an hour before cooking to bring them back to room temperature so that the meat can cook more evenly.

Prepare the salad by slicing the cucumber, shallots, lemongrass and spring onion. Set these sliced vegetables aside by keeping them chilled in the fridge until ready to use.

Heat a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. You don’t need to add oil to the wok as the beef has already been marinated with a little oil.

The cooked sliced steak.
The cooked sliced steak.

Dry fry the pieces of beef, allowing it to sear for about 2 minutes without disturbing it. Flip the pieces after 2 minutes and sear the other side until lightly browned, another 45-60 seconds.

Set the beef aside on some kitchen towels to absorb any juices that might leak out. Allow to cool before slicing into bite-sized strips. (The resultant doneness should be medium, with a slightly pink centre.)

While the cooked beef is resting, combine the chicken stock, bird’s eye chillies, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar in a bowl to make the spicy dressing. Stir until well mixed.

The colourful ingredients are carefully arranged before being tossed in the dressing.
The colourful ingredients are carefully arranged before being tossed in the dressing.

Carefully arrange the sliced beef and vegetables on a plate. Serve with a small bowl of the spicy dressing on the side. (This allows guests to spoon the dressing over the steak salad according to their preferred level of spiciness.)

Gently toss to combine. Garnish with mint leaves. Eat immediately.

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