Nam Tok Thai beef waterfall salad is a popular salad in the Northeast of Thailand using marinate grilled steak. The beef is typically cooked rare than sliced to place over a salad made with shallot, lemongrass, mint, cilantro, green onion, chili flakes, fresh lime juice, and fish sauce and most important, the dry toasted ground rice powder. This authentic recipe is the perfect dish to wrap up your summer grilling.
What is waterfall beef salad?
Nam Tok Nua or waterfall beef is a very popular dish you can find throughout Thailand. For my recipe, the steak is marinaded with delicious flavors and grilled to perfection on high heat. Mix the sliced beef with a refreshing salad full of fresh herbs and top with toasted rice powder for extra crunch and you have yourself a delicious Thai beef salad! The flavor profile for waterfall beef salad is essentially the same as Larb, a very popular Thai salad made with ground meat. You can check out my delicious Thai Chicken Salad recipe here.
Why this recipe works:
- This warm beef salad is so easy to put together, you’ll have your healthy and extremely tasty salad on the table in less than 30 minutes. Minus the marinating time, of course.
- The salad can be made on the stove top too, not just for the grill. Cooking via the skillet is a fast and easy option that help you enjoy Nam Tok all year round.
- Nam Tok is a great appetizer to have for your guests at dinner parties before serving the main meal. It is light but so very tasty.
- The beef salad is a healthy and tasty option to add to your list of healthy Thai dishes to make if you are looking for more healthy recipes
- The recipe is easily adaptable to be a more mild dish. Simply add less chili flakes!
What goes into this recipe:
Here are some of the unique Asian ingredients that you’ll need to make authentic Nam Tok salad:
- Ground white pepper. This has a very distinctive flavor that adds an earthly and peppery zing to the warm salad. Black ground pepper is fine as a substitute. To learn more about the different types of spices in Thai cooking, check out my blog post here.
- Fish sauce. Fish sauce is also an important ingredient in this recipe. However, not all fish sauces are created equal, I tried 3 different brands and each yielded a different result. I recommend starting with 1 Tablespoon, using what you have at home, slowly add more as needed for the marinating sauce. Adjust as needed.
- Thai thin soy sauce. This is a type of soy sauce typically used in Thai cooking. You can substitute with regular soy sauce if you are unable to find Thai thin soy sauce. To learn more about the different sauces for Thai cooking, click on this link.
- Oyster sauce. Oyster sauce is key in marinating the beef. It has an umami flavor that helps add a rich flavor to the meat. I typically use a Thai brand for all my sauces (Link). But you should be able to easily find oyster sauce at most Western grocery stores in the international section.
- Lemongrass. Lemongrass can be difficult to find outside of Asian markets. I suggest a fun trip to your local Asian market for most of these unique ingredients. If you haven’t been, it’s worth the adventure, I promise.
- Mint. Mint is crucial in adding the freshness to the Nam Tok recipe. It is easy to find in most mainstream grocery stores. Don’t skip it!
- Steak. The type of steak use for this Nam Tok recipe matters very much. Choose a cut that does well with marinating and grilling. Using meat with a bit of fat is highly recommended for the extra juiciness and flavors. I tested my recipe with top sirloin, rib eye and flank steak. My favorites are the sirloin and the rib eye cut.
- Roasted rice powder. This is a very important piece that helps bring all the ingredients together. The extra earthly and crispy texture of the roasted rice adds the distinct taste of authenticity to Nam Tok dishes.
Below are the specific brands of sauces and ground white pepper I used for the authentic Thai waterfall beef salad. These are all found at the Asian markets near me. Feel free to take the photo with you to show the workers at the Asian markets for help finding these brands.
How to make Nam Tok:
Nam Tok is very easy to make using your favorite cut of beef that’s specifically great for grilling. Marinate the meat, toast and ground the rice, cook the meat for a few minutes on each side, make the salad and combine it all together for a refreshing salad.
Check out the easy step by step photos below on how to make Nam Tok recipe.
- Dry toast the rice, let cool.
- Use a spice grinder and ground the rice until almost to powder, leave a few pieces in larger chunks for the extra crunch. Set aside for the salad.
- Mix all the marinating ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.
- Rinse the meat, pat dry with paper towel, then place the meat in the marinating sauce in the bowl until all sides are covered well.
- Place the meat in a zip lock bag. Pour the remaining sauce from the bowl into the bag and shake the bag a little bit to blend in the meat pieces. Squeezed out the air and seal the bag tight. Place on a plate and refrigerate for 1-5 hours. If you are short on time, check out the expert tips on marinating. Let the meat sit 30 minutes at room temperature before grilling.
- Turn the grill to medium high and grill the meat for 8-10 minutes each side or until meat is at a desired rare or medium rare temperature. Remove from the grill and let the meat rest 10-15 minutes before slicing. Use aluminum foil to wrap the cooked steak and also to hold in the tasty juices from the grilled meat.
- Prepare the salad, add all the ingredients except the toasted rice and chili flakes in a medium sized bowl. Let the salad sit for 5 minutes while you get ready to slice the meat.
- Slice the steak against the grain into 1-2 inches long, save all the juices, very important!
- Place the meat over the salad, mix together lightly and sprinkled on toasted rice powder and mix well.
- Add chili flakes, more lime juice or fish sauce to your liking and that’s it! Serve with sticky rice, jasmine rice or just eat it plain as a hearty and delicious salad!
How to cook the steak:
It’s important to note that you want to cook the beef on the rare or medium-rare side for this recipe. The lime juice used in the salad dressing will continues to cook the meat even further after the grilling.
If you are short on time, marinate the meat for 30 minutes at room temperature. To help speed up the process of marinating, make sure to massage the meat, in a sealed zip lock bag where the meat is mixed in with the marinating sauce for 1-2 minute on each side every 10 minutes. This technique will help speed up the marinating process by letting the sauce seep into the meat quicker.
For the best result, I recommend marinating the meat before heading to work in the morning or if working from home, marinating it around lunch time for at least 3-4 hours ahead of time.
Cooking on a stove top skillet:
Nam Tok can be cooked in a stove top skillet as well if grilling is not an option. During the winter months or when I’m short on time, the skillet is my go-to cooking method for this recipe. If the meat dries in the skillet before it is cooked, you can either add a bit of oil or water to the skillet to help keep the meat from sticking to the pan. Cook the meat until it’s rare to medium rare on the skillet just as you would on the grill.
Kao Khua or Toasted Rice Powder:
Adding the toasted rice is the final step to making Nam Tok. It’s what makes the dish authentic and a step I wouldn’t recommend skipping for this recipe. The extra crunchy texture also helps bind all the ingredients together in the finished dish. It’s super quick and easy to make so don’t skip out on this part! You may use either sticky or jasmine rice. Check out my recipe on how to make toasted rice powder.
How to make Kao Khua:
- ½ cup uncooked sticky or jasmine rice. Place rice in a pan to dry roast over medium-high heat. Stir often after the rice starts to turn golden brown to prevent burning. Cook for 5-8 minutes until rice is mostly light brown.
- Remove from the pan and transfer to a plate to let the rice cool for at least 10 minutes.
- Use a spice grinder to roughly ground up the rice. Make sure it’s not obliterated into powder, which is very easy to do. Leave some large chunks in for the extra crispy texture in the salad.
- Store the leftover in an airtight glass container for up to 1 month.
Why is it called waterfall beef salad:
The name waterfall is referring to the sizzling sound of the juices dripping or falling into the hot fire while being grilled over high heat. Also, the waterfall is often believed to be the dripping of blood of the grilled meat as it’s being sliced for the salad. The rendered blood is from the meat being grilled at rare temperature and looks like water descending into a stream like a waterfall. The Thai language is quite poetic, isn’t it? (:
How to eat Nam Tok:
This salad is typically served with sticky rice, lettuce, sliced cabbage, and peeled cucumbers to help cool off the spicy heat from the ground dry chili flakes. The salad is also best eaten fresh in one meal. It doesn’t do well as leftovers as the toasted rice gets soggy and absorbs all the flavors from the meat and the salad. Enjoy!
Try these recipes for a similar flavor profile that you will also enjoy making!
- Toasted Rice Powder, Khao Khua
- Thai beef salad
- Larb Gai, Thai chicken salad
- Papaya salad
- How to make sticky rice
- Yum Woon Sen