I remember vividly when Patsy opened the black lacquer painted door when we (my Korean friend and I) were standing in front of her tall Georgian terrace house in London Islington fifteen years ago. She had a big smile on her face. My then future landlady is tall with fair skin and thick blond hair, she has a friendly face with a confident voice, “come on in!” she said. We walked into the light drenched hallway where a massive golden framed mirror hung on one side, and at the end of the hallway, a small potted palm tree stood at the bottom of the stairs. We were immediately leading up the stairs laid with dark blue carpet, all the way to the top of the house. We went into a room to the left of the landing which was small but flooded with light. There were a bed, a desk, a wardrobe stood next to a wooden shelf all arranged neatly inside the room. An unusually large sash window (in relation to the room) next to the bed, overlooking to the back garden and the neighbouring houses afar. I fell in love straight away with the room, that very room where I eventually lived in (on and off) for a good few years, it was the one place I felt the most ‘home’. As Patsy always said, it was her favorite room in the house because it was like the tower of a castle where the beautiful princess joyfully lived. For me, the room was my sanctuary where I could be myself, where I could relax and look out of the window from high above while I was sitting at my desk working on my university projects; or I could curl up on my bed with a book that would take me to a completely different world. I still remember how the light came into the room through the soft white curtain, and the smell of the old antique wardrobe and desk which had accompanied me for many years of my student life.
Patsy loves international food as much as she loves her cup of tea and cheese and pickles sandwich. I learned awful lot about British food from her, as she was the first English person I had ever lived with (although she is originally from Ireland but has been living in London all her life), as well as experienced the English/Irish culture first hand. I often cooked at home as I could not afford to eat out all the time as a student. So every now and then we would be cooking together in the kitchen. We adored each other’s food besides learning each other’s culture and rich heritage. We sometimes even cooked for each other when one of us was busy with work. I absolutely loved the one dish that she made: oven baked pork belly marinated in a delicious spicy barbecue sauce from Mark & Spencer (one of Patsy’s favorite shops, ‘Marksies’ she called it) served with crispy potatoes (sometimes with long grain rice) and a coleslaw. The pork belly was crispy and slightly burnt on the edges and it was gloriously succulent on the inside. The fat that released from the meat flavored the pre-boiled potatoes brilliantly while they were snuggling up cosily in the same baking tray. The coleslaw was just the right element to cool everything down. Even after I moved out of her house years later, she would still cook this dish for me whenever I came for a visit.
In turn, I had introduced Patsy to the world of Asian food, at the time, Thai food was one of my favorite cuisines and there were plenty of great ones around the city. Whenever I had a chance to eat out in a Thai restaurant (which was not that often), I would try to remember how the food tasted like and tried to recreate them at home (that is what poor students do!) My favorite dishes were Thai green curry (with beef, prawn, chicken etc) and Thai glass noodles salad, so I determined to master these two dishes. Naturally the kitchen became the test kitchen, and Patsy would do the tasting. Fortunately she loves both the curry and the salad, and she even asked me for the recipes. She told me years later that she would cook these dishes for her friends from time to time. After many years we have became very good friends and we remain friends until this day even though we are living in different countries. We will talk on the phone sometimes about what we cook and send each other photos of the food that we used to enjoy together. It was one of the happiest and the most exciting times of my London life, so whenever I cook these two dishes, it reminds me dearly of Patsy and my beloved city – London, the memory that forever anchors to my mind, the memory of the significance.
Notes: This salad is unbelievably versatile, you can replace steak with minced beef or pork, prawn or even serve it without the meat as a vegetarian side dish or starter. Do not skip the crushed peanuts (unless you are allergic) though, it gives the dish a real crunch and it pairs really well with meat and sharp citrus flavour.
Thai Steak Noodles Salad
For the steak:
- 2 beef filet steaks (thin cut)
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Chili flakes (optional)
- vegetable oil
For the salad:
- 1/2 courgette, sliced into ribbons with a vegetable peeler or mandoline
- 1/2 cucumber, halved, deseeded and julienned
- 1 small carrot, peeled and julienned
- 1/2 bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
- 2 tomato, quartered and halved again (8 pieces)
- one small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves picked (save the stems for the dressing)
- 1/2 small red onions (or 1/4 of a large one), finely sliced
- Juice of half a lime, (save the other half for serving)
- 50g of dried mungbean noodles, soaked in boiling water, covered, for 5 minutes then drained
- 1 large handful of peanuts, shelled and skinned
For the dressing:
- 1 stick lemongrass, removed outer layer and finely chopped
- The stems of the small bunch of coriander (see above), finely chopped
- 1/2 -1 fresh chili, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. grated ginger
- 4 tbsp. of fish sauce
- 1/2 tsp. of palm sugar (or regular sugar)
- 2 tbsp. of chicken stock (I use stock cube, just dissolve it with hot water)
- Juice of one lime
First prepare the steaks, seasoned them with salt, pepper and chili flakes (if used). Set aside for at least 20 minutes.
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients and mixed well. Have a taste and adjust if needed, it should be sharp with a tangy, salty and a bit sweet taste to it at the same time. Set aside until just before serving.
Combine the red onions and lime juice (from the salad ingredient list) in a bowl for at least 15 minutes before assembling the salad.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the vegetables, noodles, and onions and toss well with your hands. Set aside.
Toast the peanuts in a dried frying pan until golden brown, removed and roughly chopped. Set aside.
Heat a splash of vegetable oil in a cast iron griddle pan or non-stick frying pan until hot, sear the steaks until cooked through (about 2 minutes each side) (or less if you prefer it medium). transfer them to a plate and let them rest for a couple of minutes.
While the steaks are resting, pour the dressing over the salad, and mix well with salad servers. Divide the salad on two plates.
Slice the steaks in thick batons and lay them on the bed of salad, pour any resting juice on the beef and salad, sprinkle with toasted chopped peanuts and an extra squeeze of lime juice if desire. Served immediately.