This Cambodian grilled beef salad recipe makes nhoam sach ko, a simple but refreshing salad made with lightly grilled marinated beef, infused with fresh fragrant herbs, in a classic Cambodian dressing of lime juice, fish sauce and garlic. It’s a fantastic dish to share alongside a few other barbecue dishes, a soup and a curry or two.
This Cambodian grilled beef salad recipe for nhoam sach ko (also spelt gnoam sach ko) makes a super-easy salad of lightly marinated beef that’s grilled quickly, dressed with a classic Cambodian salad dressing of lime juice, fish sauce and garlic, and is perfumed with fresh fragrant herbs.
While you could eat this Cambodian grilled beef salad on its own with steamed rice – salads such as these are always eaten with rice in Cambodia – it’s a dish that in a Cambodian home or restaurant is typically shared as part of a family-style meal alongside a soup, perhaps a plate of stir-fried vegetables, such as morning glory in garlic, a Cambodian curry, and another Cambodian barbecue dish or two, such as these grilled pork ribs or beef skewers.
Our Cambodian grilled beef salad recipe is next in my series on the best Cambodian barbecue recipes and follows our previous recipe for grilled pork meatballs with rice paper, noodles, salad, and pickles. Other dishes in the series – which we hope you’ll browse for some summer BBQ inspiration if you live in the northern hemisphere or warming winter dishes if you live in the southern hemisphere – include char-grilled eggplant with minced pork, pork spare ribs with star anise, and beef and pork belly skewers (stuffed beef skewers).
A rendition of this Cambodian grilled beef salad recipe recipe will be in the Cambodian cookbook we’re working on, a comprehensive first-of-its-kind Cambodian culinary history and Cambodian cookbook which we’ve been researching, writing and photographing for the last seven years, which we’re seeking supporters for on Patreon.
Cambodian Grilled Beef Salad Recipe – How to Make Nhoam Sach Ko
When it comes to beef salads in Cambodia, there are essentially two types. There is one salad where the raw beef is marinated in lime juice and herbs (lemongrass is essential for this) and served after it has been ‘cooked’ in the lime juice in the same way that a ceviche is. This kind of cold salad is called a p’lear or plea in Khmer and along with beef you’ll find fish and seafood salads made this way.
The other kind of salad makes this Cambodian grilled beef salad recipe, where the meat is marinated for a short amount of time and grilled quickly over charcoal before being dressed. This kind of salad is called a nhoam or gnoam and this refers to salads where the key ingredients, such as beef, chicken, fish or seafood, are actually cooked in a wok or on a grill, before being combined with raw or lightly cooked vegetables, aromatic herbs, a dressing, and ingredients that add texture such as dried shrimp or peanuts.
With the raw beef salad, p’lear sach ko or plea sach ko, the beef is marinated for at least two hours, with the marinade cooked off to help flavour the finished salad. With the cooked beef salad – where the beef is seared quickly – it’s important to not marinate the beef for too long otherwise the beef will be tough.
With the raw beef salad (which is best compared to an Italian beef carpaccio), which we’ll provide a recipe for soon, it’s really important that the beef (usually sirloin) is very fresh and has been well refrigerated. The best place to try the raw beef salads in Cambodia are at Siem Reap’s best restaurants for authentic Cambodian food, such as Mie Cafe, Cuisine Wat Damnak, Embassy, and Lum Orng, where the chefs typically use vacuum packed premium Australian beef sourced from a good wholesaler who they trust.
With the cooked salads, many chefs use pork as it’s cheaper and generally has as great flavour here in Cambodia. With the beef, there are, however, two styles of preparation when it comes to the marinade process. One is to leave the steak whole, marinate it, and slice it after it’s cooked. The other is to pre-slice the beef and marinate it for a shorter time, and cook it very quickly.
Keeping in mind the quality of beef we have access to, which is typically local Cambodian beef, we prefer the latter option as, firstly, we can partially freeze the beef to make it easier to get consistently thin slices, and, secondly, because it takes the marinade better.
Tips for Making this Cambodian Grilled Beef Salad Recipe
Just a few tips for this Cambodian grilled beef salad recipe. The first tip is to use premium beef if you have access to it. If you can get great beef, you could use a topside steak, but we’ll go for tenderloin any day.
The second tip is: don’t waste that great steak by marinating it too long or overcooking it. If you slice it a little thicker than we do (our slices are so thin they are almost transparent), the beef should be only cooked to medium rare. The reason is that it will still ‘cook’ when in contact with the lime juice in the marinade.
Here in Cambodia, the beef would typically be grilled on a traditional clay brazier outdoors using charcoal (we like these coconut charcoal BBQ briquettes), but if it’s raining and I have to grill indoors I will use my Korean-style stovetop BBQ grill pan. If we had more room on our Siem Reap balcony, I’d love to use one of these outdoor barbecues or grills if I could get hold of one. Back in Australia, I’d be using a Weber.
The third and final tip for our Cambodian grilled beef salad recipe is to only bring the salad together just before serving. There’s nothing worse than a limp salad. If serving with other grilled dishes or a hot curry, assemble this dish last.
Cambodian Grilled Beef Salad Recipe
- 500 g tenderloin steak cut into thin slices
- 2 shallots thinly sliced
- 1 head leaf lettuce
- 1/2 bunch anise basil leaves separated
- 1 red bird’s eye chilli
- 2 tbsp bean sprouts
- 2 tbsp roasted peanuts peeled
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 4 tbsp lime juice
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
- Marinate the beef slices in 1 tbsp fish sauce and 1/2 tbsp of lime juice for 20 minutes.
- Sear the beef slices quickly over a charcoal grill.
- In a bowl, mix together the dressing ingredients until the sugar is dissolved.
- In another bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients together, except for the peanuts. Pour over the dressing and mix well.
- Build the salad, starting with the lettuce leaves and then adding the rest of the ingredients. Sprinkle the peanuts over the finished salad. Serve with other grill dishes, such as grilled pork ribs and marinated beef skewers.
Do let us know if you make this Cambodian grilled beef salad recipe either in the comments below, on Instagram or by email, as we’d love to hear how it turns out for you.