Lettuce Salad with Hot Beef Dressing

Ceramic bowl of romaine lettuce with hot beef dressing, garlic, and ginger

We came across this lettuce salad with hot beef dressing in Inner Mongolia, a place where Siberian and Mongolian worlds meet and are cross-blended with the traditions of the people who have moved into the region from many other parts of China. We don’t know if this is a fusion dish of some kind, perhaps showing a Russian influence, but we do know that it’s unusual and very appealing. Torn romaine is tossed in a hot dressing flavored with ground beef and warm seasonings. The crunch of the barely wilted lettuce is a beautiful contrast to the full-flavored warmth of the vinegar-spiked beef sauce.–Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Lettuce Salad with Hot Beef Dressing

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 20 M
  • Serves 4
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  • For the hot beef dressing


Place the lettuce in a wide salad bowl or serving dish and set aside.
To make the hot beef dressing, place a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds, then add the ginger. Stir-fry over medium-high to medium heat until slightly softened and starting to turn color.
Add the meat and use your spatula to break it up so there are no lumps at all, then add the salt and stir-fry until most of the meat has changed color. Add the soy sauce and vinegar and stir to blend. Add the warm water and stir. (The hot beef dressing can be prepared ahead to this point and set aside for up to 20 minutes. When you are ready to proceed, bring to the dressing to a boil.)
While the beef dressing mixture is coming to a boil, place the cornstarch in a small cup or bowl and stir in the cold water to make a smooth paste. Once the liquid is bubbling in the pan, give the cornstarch mixture a final stir, add to the pan, and stir for about 1 minute; the liquid will thicken and become smoother.
Taste for salt, and add a little salt or soy sauce if you wish. Add the sesame oil and stir once, then pour the hot dressing onto the lettuce. Immediately toss the salad to expose all the greens to the hot dressing. Serve immediately (or see Note).
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Note on texture

  • If you use romaine lettuce, the salad will have good crunch as well as some wilted softer textures when you first serve it. We love the contrast. If you prefer a softer texture, either let the salad stand for 5 minutes before serving it, to give the greens more time to soften in the warm dressing, or use leaf lettuce instead of romaine.

Recipe Testers Reviews

Simple, accurate, and delicious—that’s how I’d describe this recipe. Whether you make this salad for yourself or a huge platter of it for a crowd, it takes just minutes to prepare. I’d highly recommend sticking with romaine lettuce (especially the hearts), as the texture is addictive when slightly wilted. Other leafy lettuces may get too soggy with the weight of the ground beef and the thickened sauce. Tip: Read labels carefully when shopping for black rice vinegar—there are brands that sell “black vinegar” that are not made with rice. I used Gold Plum’s Chinkiang vinegar (another name for black rice vinegar) purchased at a local Asian grocery store. If you can’t find black rice vinegar, use balsamic vinegar.


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