Got 30 minutes? You’ll flip over this easy, Thai-inspired meal-in-a-bowl. It’s fresh, vibrant, healthy and super delicious!
My kids laugh because they know that when I get my mind on perfecting a recipe I’m relentless, till my goal is accomplished. When they were growing up, that might mean the family ate the same thing for dinner several (sometimes many) nights in a row until I was satisfied. These 30 Minute Thai Basil Beef Bowls are a perfect example of my relentlessness.
Cait and Nick (our grown children) also say they learned that they’d probably never have it again after that. Once the mission was accomplished, I’d be onto something new. Wanna know the really bad part? If, a few month later, they would say, “Hey mom, remember that ______ you made for us a while back? Could you make it again?”, I wouldn’t have a clue as far as how to repeat it! The problem was, I rarely wrote the ingredients down. I haven’t changed much over the years, except now I have a food blog. Because of you, I’m even more determined to get each recipe just “right”. And these days, I carefully measure and document everything!
The first time I served these Thai Basil Beef Bowls, it was just Scott and I for dinner. After taking the first bite, I said, “Wow, I believe this one’s perfect, right out of the gate!” Scott was busy enjoying his meal, but after a minute or two, he looked up. “I wouldn’t mind, if you tested this recipe for the next week or so. It might need more tweaking and testing.”, he said, with a sheepish grin on his face. I had to laugh, because I knew exactly what he meant. He loved it and didn’t want the recipe slipping into the Café archives before he had a chance to enjoy it a few more times.
I went along with him and pretended that he was right, as I also loved these delicious, decently-healthy rice bowls. I “tested” them out for several others to0, and the consensus was unanimous – definitely a winner!
Basil Beef is a dish you’ll find in many Thai restaurants. They also often have a chicken and/or shrimp version. Thai Basil beef is usually prepared with some type of beef steak, but I chose to create an easy, quick rendition with ground beef. Although I didn’t follow this recipe, I was inspired by the use of soy sauce and sweet chili sauce for the main ingredients. I love how the combination is a really easy way to add sweet, spicy and salty, with only two ingredients! In addition, there’s fresh ginger, garlic and lemongrass along with a splash of fish sauce, all combining for a super delicious flavor profile.
Oh, and lots of fresh basil. Actually two layers of the vibrantly flavored green leaves. Half of the sliced basil is added while the beef mixture is still being cooked, so it wilts and melds with the other ingredients. The other half is added right before serving, so it stays nice and green and adds a fabulous fresh flavor. I like to use a handful of small basil leaves for garnish also, if I have them, but it’s not necessary.
The other ingredients are your choice – whatever looks fresh at the market. I used thinly sliced seedless cucumber, prepackaged shredded carrots, sugar snap peas and finely sliced red cabbage. Sliced peppers in any hue would also be nice, as would edamame, steamed broccoli, fresh cilantro, green onion, avocado, bean sprouts… See what I mean? The sky really is the limit! I also love adding a small handful of cashews or peanuts on top for a nice crunch.
The dressing (or sauce) is my version of Nước chấm which is a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce – usually a combination of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic and a bit of heat. I know I’m crossing nationality borders just a bit from Thailand to Vietnam, but the sauce goes so nicely with the beef, adding moisture to everything and another layer of vibrant flavor. I love that it’s a no-fat, low calorie sauce that’s wonderful drizzled over all the components of these Thai Basil Beef Bowls.
You’ll need just a few other ingredients on your shopping list. Low sodium soy sauce is important, so the beef doesn’t end up too salty. And don’t skip the fish sauce. It’s one of those ingredients that give this dish lots of authentic, vibrant Thai flavor. Just a warning though, it’s best not to smell it. To be honest, it stinks – but don’t let that deter you. The flavor it adds is nothing like the smell! I really like Red Boat Fish sauce. It’s been rated as the number one fish sauce by Cook’s Illustrated. You can usually find it at special stores like, Whole Foods, Trader Jo’s, Sur La Table and online.
So, if you’ve got 30 minutes, that’s all it will take to put together this wonderful dinner. Like Scott, I have a feeling your family/friends will be requesting it again and again!
What I used to prepare and serve these 30 Minute Thai Basil Beef Bowls
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh garlic 3-4 medium cloves
- 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger or ginger paste*
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh lemongrass or lemongrass paste*
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 ½ pounds lean ground beef I use 90%, anything less will be too fatty
- 1 medium yellow onion finely diced
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce***
- 5 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
- 1 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, divided
- For the rice bowls:
- 1 medium seedless cucumber thinly sliced
- 2 cups sugar snap peas
- 2 cups thinly sliced red cabage
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- 3 cups cooked jasmine rice*
- nuoc cham see recipe below
- 1/2 cup salted,roasted cashews roasted cashews
- small fresh basil leaves
- Combine the garlic, ginger* and lemongrass* in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Heat coconut oil in a large, tall pot** over high heat until very hot. Add ground beef and break apart with a metal spatula to cover the bottom of the pot. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes or until meat is beginning to brown on the bottom. Turn meat, breaking up again with the metal spatula and redistributing to cover the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring once or twice until beef is uniformly cooked all over. It won’t be super brown at this point, just nicely cooked through. At first, a lot of moisture will come out of the beef but, as it cooks, the moisture will be reabsorbed. You shouldn’t have much fat in the pan (if you’ve used lean beef) but if there is fat accumulated after meat is cooked, pour it off and discard most of it.
- Once meat is cooked, lower heat to medium and add chopped onion. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until onion is softened and becomes translucent.
- Spread beef mixture to the edges of the pot with a metal spatula, leaving an approximately 3-inch cleared area in the center of the pot. Add the sesame oil and heat for 30 seconds, then add the garlic/ginger/lemongrass mixture (from step 1) and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring continuously. (Don’t worry if a little of the beef gets into the mix.)
- Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and sweet chili sauce to the beef mixture, and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently until meat mixture is a nice golden brown. (This means the sugars from the chili sauce will have caramelized, creating even more deliciousness.) Add 1/2 cup of the finely chopped basil and stir for another 30 seconds or until basil begins to wilt. Remove pot from heat and cover to stay warm.
- Add the remaining basil and stir to combine just before serving.
- To make the rice bowls, scoop about 1/2-3/4 cup rice into one side of a bowl. Spread a little of the rice over the bottom of the bowl but keep most of it in a little pile on one side. Add a scoop of beef (about 1/2-3/4 cup) next to the rice and then 1/2 cup size portions of the veggies. (If I'm using sugar snap peas, I like to steam them in the microwave.. I just put them in a microwave-safe bowl with a tablespoon of water and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Then I cook it on high for 45 seconds, remove from microwave, uncover and cool.) Garnish with cashews and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with some of the nuoc cham. Serve and enjoy!
* Sometimes lemongrass is hard to find. You can find lemongrass pastehowever, in many larger grocery stores (in the produce section), including Super Walmart. It's a good sub and you can keep it in the freezer for a long time. Just thaw slightly before using.
They also have ginger in these little tubes. It tastes very fresh and makes meals like this quick and easy.
** You can actually make this in a large sauté pan, but I hate making a big mess on my stovetop. If you use a tall pot, you eliminate most of the spatter that comes from cooking the beef.
*** don't skip the fish sauce. It's one of those ingredients that give this dish lots of authentic, vibrant Thai flavor. Just a warning though, it's best not to smell it. To be honest, it stinks - but don't let that deter you! The flavor it adds is nothing like the smell! I really like Red Boat Fish sauce. It's been rated as the number one fish sauce by Cook's Illustrated. You can usually find it at special stores like, Whole Foods, Trader Jo's, Sur La Table and online.
- ⅓ cup water
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce
- Combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl. Stir to combine.