Life has been hectic as of late. I am in the process of moving house and saying goodbye to my first Sydney home and the beautiful light the big windows provided. I have been dividing my time between cleaning, packing and doing a bit of home repair with only a nominal amount of time left to cook. This recipe, a concoction of odds and ends from the pantry, was simple, quick and full of flavour. Rolled into a lettuce leaf, the spicy salad is edible on the go and keeps for a couple of days in the refrigerator.

Raphaelle Peale, Still Life with Steak, c.1817
oil on panel, 33.97 x 49.53 cm, Munson Williams Proctor Museum of Art

Visual characteristics of the slab of raw beef in Raphaelle Peale’s Still Life with Steak are repeated within other elements of the composition. The curve of the cabbage is mimicked by the curve of the fat and the veins of the leaf are also found in the white threads of sinew of the beef. By using the same visual language to represent the steak and cabbage, Peale is able to connect two seemingly disparate objects. According to Alexander Nemerov in his book The body of Raphaelle Peale: still life and selfhood, 1812-1824, Peale included the cabbage in the position where a skull would be found in a vanitas painting – a play on the phrase ‘head of cabbage.’

{Steak Salad in a Lettuce Leaf with Fresh Herbs}

Yield: 4 servings

1 red chili
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 pound lean porterhouse steak
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 small head butter lettuce
handful fresh mint
handful fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 lime, juiced

The night before serving salad, thinly slice the red chili and place in a small bowl with the cider vinegar. Let sit overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.

Prepare the steak by removing fat and place in a bowl. Pour over the rice vinegar and cover with the Chinese five spice and brown sugar. Rub the spice & sugar into the meat on all of the sides and let sit for 20 minutes. Place a dry frying pan over high heat and begin to cook the steak, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and let rest on a cutting board.

Clean the lettuce and herbs. Place one large lettuce leaf on each plate; add herbs and the pickled red chillies, dividing the portions evenly among the lettuce leaves. Thinly slice the steak and add to each salad.

Mince the ginger and mix with lime juice. Drizzle 1 teaspoon over each salad. Roll the lettuce leaf around the salad and eat with hands.