This dish is very different from the kind of food people in the west usually associate with Chinese cooking, and yet it is a traditional favourite in the south of China.
For some reason in British cooking we never associate mint with beef, only with lamb – and yet this is a wonderfully fresh tasting combination, and together with the crunchy cucumber and the slightly spicy dressing it is a really delicious ‘salad’.
I first ate this at a Yunnanese restaurant here in Beijing called ‘In & Out’ (see my blog review here). Then when I stayed in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan, I realised that it was on many restaurant menus. I’ve now eaten it in a variety of Yunnanese restaurants, and I always love it – and although here in China it is served together with several other dishes, I think that on its own it makes a wonderful start to a western dinner. Yunnan is the most southerly province in China and borders both Vietnam and Burma, it also has the largest number of ‘Ethnic minority’ groups living in the province, so the culinary influences are many and various.
I have not been able to find a recipe for this, so have, by trial and error devised my own.
The result is very close to the original version, and it is simplicity itself to prepare. As you will see when you read through the recipe, most of it can be prepared hours in advance and it just gets assembled at the last minute.
To serve 6
600-700g beef fillet, plus Tbspn of oil for browning 1 large cucumber
3 -4 handfuls of fresh mint
Salt & freshly ground black pepper 1 Tbspn ready made chili and garlic sauce or sambal olek 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 Tbsp light soy sauce 2 Tbsp rice vinegar or fresh lime juice
2 tsp fish sauce (Nam pla) ½ tsp sesame oil
The beef should be prepared at least 4-5 hours in advance in order to become completely cold.
Pre-heat oven to 220 C Tie the fillet of beef into a neat shape if necessary, season with salt and pepper. Put the Tbsp of oil into a frying pan and when it is really hot add the fillet, allowing it to sizzle. Keep turning it so it is browned on all sides – you are not cooking the fillet at this stage just searing the outside, it will take about 5-10 minutes at most. Remove the fillet from the pan and place in a roasting pan. Put the browned fillet into the pre-heated oven and cook for 10-15m. I know it seems a ridiculously short time but trust me, you want this beef medium-rare. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature then put it into the fridge to cool right down.
Make the dressing by combining the Chili & garlic sauce with the grated ginger, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil. Whisk together and then set aside.
Wash the mint if you have bought it – if it is from your own garden you will know whether it needs washing or not – pat it dry with a kitchen paper towel. Strip the leaves from the stalks which can be discarded. Leave the leaves whole.
Wash the cucumber, and if it has a very thick bumpy skin (as cucumbers here in China often do) give it a light peel. Then cut the cucumber into fine matchstick strips.
Once the beef is really cold use a sharp knife to cut it into thin slices. Allow three slices per person.
Lay the slices out on your work surface, divide the mint leaves between the slices so that each slice has a good amount, then roll the beef slices up and hold them closed with a toothpick. Put the prepared slices back in the fridge until ready to serve.
Just before serving the meal, divide the cucumber matchsticks between 6 serving plates and spoon some of the dressing over them. Place three beef and mint rolls, toothpicks removed, on top of the cucumber on each plate.