I once read that food writing should really be called writing about eating. The food is only one part of what is the overall eating experience. It is the people we are with, the weather, the location, the sense of occasion, or lack thereof. It is our frame of mind; what, in that moment, or evening, or hurried lunch break, do we really crave.

Sometimes the circumstances of a meal are just as delightful or enjoyable, or odd as the food itself. This week I have particularly enjoyed a Thai beef rice salad: chopped tomatoes, cucumber and capsicum, finely sliced green chilli, nutty brown rice and perfectly medium rare steak. However, eating this salad while on a school trip with 70 or so kids at Titahi Bay to learn about beach safety is slightly less kosher.

Would this salad have tasted so fresh and clean, so wholesome and so lightly spiced with chilli heat if I hadn’t been eating it from a plastic container at a plastic table in the sandy and slightly damp Titahi Bay surf lifesaving club? If I hadn’t been wearing jandals, trackpants and an oversized polar fleece jersey of my father’s? The club room was full of damp and sandy children. I overheard a few jokes about SAND-wiches, jam beginning to dribble from their slightly squished cheese rolls.

Fog and drizzle rolled across the beach, almost following the waves, and Mana Island became hazy and blurry in the distance. On the beach the remains of a sand castle building competition were starting to collapse, wet sand creeping out from their carefully constructed forms – survivor island, volcano island, a two-headed sea turtle and an orange road cone covered in sand and twigs.

As I ate my salad and looked out over the water – the colour of slate – I wondered if this salad would have tasted any less delicious on a warm summer evening, perhaps sitting outside wearing a sun dress, drinking a cold beer and the Thai beef brown rice salad served on a lovely platter? Probably not.

Thai Beef Brown Rice Salad
Serves 2-3

2 beef steaks (I used porterhouse)
2 cups of cooked brown rice, warm
1-2 chopped tomatoes
handful diced cucumber
handful diced red capsicum
1 small green chilli sliced very finely
1-2 finely sliced spring onions.

Dressing:
juice of 1 lemon or lime
splash of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
salt and pepper
the remaining meat juices

Cook the steaks for 3 minutes each side. Wrap in tin foil and leave to sit for 10 or so minutes. Place the cooked brown rice and chopped tomato, cucumber, capsicum, spring onions and chilli on a platter.

To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients together, except the meat juices. Leave to rest for several minutes, if not longer, to let the flavours develop.

After the meat has rested, pour the meat juices which have gathered in the tin foil parcel into the dressing. Mix well.

Place the steaks on a board and slice. Arrange the slices of steak on the rice and pour over the dressing.

Great for lunches at the beach or a light meal outdoors in the sun.

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