Well past time to use my betel. It's two weeks old at this point and a little faded. A little late on the blog post too; sorry about that. Mussels were on sale at Whole Foods and you've got to bump them to the front of the queue.
This recipe is a take off of a betel leaf salad recipe I found on ImportFood.com with some elements from the ubiquitous ground-beef-wrapped-in-betel-leaves recipe added in, plus some adjustments to compensate for the tiny amount of betel I've got and some adjustments that just seemed like a good idea at the time. Pretty standard origin for me, really.
1/2 cup betel leaves, shredded
1/2 cup carrot, shredded
1 small handful cilantro, well stemmed and roughly chopped
1-2 sprigs mint, chiffinaded (is chiffinade a verb?)
1 medium-hot chili, seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 pound tender beef, sliced into strips and cut into sensible lengths
marinated in fish sauce and lime juice with a little sugar and a little cilantro
2 Tablespoons roasted unsalted peanuts
1 Tablespoon dried shrimp
ground together or crushed in a mortar and pestle
2 teaspoons tamarind pulp dissolved in 5 teaspoons water
juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tablespoon palm sugar or any sugar with some molasses left in
1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
1. If your betel leaves, like mine, are a bit soggy from moisture expressed during storage, lightly toast them to dry them out. Only a few minutes or they'll start to crisp up. Hmm...betel chips; I've got to make a note of that.
2. Mix the betel leaves, carrot, cilantro, mint and chili in a large bowl.
3. Heat a cast iron pan over high heat, add a little oil and heat some more. Drain the marinade from the beef. Add the beef to the pan and cook, stirring but not stir frying, until cooked though and maybe a little browned. Remove to a bowl. Feel free to add them to the vegetables, actually.
4. Strain the tamarind mixture into a small bowl. You'll have to force it through the mesh and scrape it off the bottom of the sieve most likely. Add the lime juice, sugar and soy sauce. Don't measure, just mix them to your taste.
6. Mix together the beef, peanuts and shrimp with the vegetables. Add the dressing bit by bit just until the vegetables are coated. I used about half, myself. Add salt if necessary and maybe a little more lime or sugar until the flavors are balanced.
OK, let's give it a try. This is my first time using raw betel, and I've seen a fair number of complaints about its strong medicinal flavor, so I'm not sure how this is going to turn out.
Oh, this is very nice indeed.
The betel is the foreground flavor, but it's not overbearing. The sweetness of the carrots, emphasized by the tamarind, and the tangy tartness of the dressing blend with it for an pleasantly interesting whole. And there's just a bit of aroma from the herbs floating above the bolder flavors.
It could use a little more heat--I shouldn't have seeded the jalapeño I used--so I added just a little sriracha. That helps and adds just a touch of burn in the aftertaste which I like. Brought up the acid a little too which isn't a bad thing.
Each bite has a slightly different character; I particularly like it when the beef-betel-peanut combinatination of flavors comes out.
Texturally, it's mostly the crunch of the carrot and the chew of the beef. The herbs have wilted a little but there's still a little leafiness in there.
I think it helped that my betel's flavor was faded. If I were working with perfectly fresh leaves, I think I'd boost the carrot and add some shredded daikon to thin it out. That would help making this more than two small or one large serving, too. The original recipe I based this on actually has double the betel to carrot ratio. I can't see that working, at least for my palate. I'm curious to try a properly authentically prepared Thai dish using betel leaves. I think Robert from Possum Trot is the only one growing piper betel locally. I know he's unlikely to be reading this; anyone else know if he's supplying any local restaurants?