Isaan Beef Pasta Salad

Isaan Beef Pasta Salad

Isaan beef also known as Nam Tok Neau is loaded with limes and herbs and it occurred to me that it would make a great refreshing pasta salad dressing! I love pasta salad, and I am always looking for an excuse to make a new version in the spring and summer months! This version had everything I was looking for – bright flavors from the lime juice, and fresh flavors from the herbs to balance the savory steak and pasta!

The inspiration for this recipe

I love cooking fresh ingredients on a crisp spring day. My friend was coming over and I wanted to grill up a steak, but I was thinking Thai flavors.  I love the freshness of an Isaan beef salad, so I used that flavor profile as inspiration, making the same dressing, but tossing it all into some pasta!  This big bowl of freshness was just what we all wanted to eat on a sunny day in April.

Toast the rice

Isaan beef is typically topped with toasted rice, so even though this is a pasta salad version, I still wanted to have that rice crunch. Slow toast the rice in a pan for about 45 minutes to an hour until it is browned like in the photo below. Then crush it up in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle.

toasting the rice

Marinate the beef

I used skirt steak for this. The marinade is garlic, shallot, lemongrass, soy sauce, fish sauce, honey, thai chili powder, and lime juice.

marinate the beef

Cook the Isaan Beef

Add the meat to the pan first and cook to char on both sides. Then add the rest of the marinade as well as a little beef stock. This will form a nice sauce in the pan. The name Nam tok neau actually translates to waterfall beef, because of the sound of the meat sizzleing!

grilling the steak

Add the Isaan beef to the pasta

I have the chopped up beef here, lots of limes, and the sauce from the pan.

all the ingredients ready for the pasta

Boil the pasta and then add these ingredients while the pasta is still hot. Then let the pasta cool fully for a few hours.

Add the beef and lime juice to the pasta

Prepare the herbs

Rip up a bunch of basil, mint, and cilantro, and chop some scallions. Add it all to the pasta once fully cooled.

lots of herbs finish off the Isaan beef pasta salad

Serving the Isaan Beef Pasta Salad

Serve it up and let everyone top it with the crispy rice powder! Such a tasty fresh spin on pasta salad! Because you toss the Isaan beef into the pasta when it is still warm, the flavors in the sauce really permeate the noodles!

Isaan beef pasta salad

A perfect cool dish for any warm summer night!

Isaan steak pasta salad

Twists on Isaan Beef Pasta Salad

The main thing I get asked with a recipe like Isaan beef pasta salad is can you swap out the fish sauce. Sure you can, but I would encourage you to use a little to start and you will realize how tasty it is in a recipe like this. Before you know it, you will start adding twice the amount I list in the recipe!

If you are interested in an traditional recipe for nam tok beef, check out this one!

For more fun twists on thai recipes, check out my sloppy sub inspired by pad gra prow or these chicken wings inspired by laab!

Isaan Beef Pasta Salad

Fresh flavored Thai style Isaan beef salad served with some pasta, extra sauce, and lots of herbs!
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
rest2 hours
Total Time2 hours 40 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 570kcal


steak and marinade

  • 1.25 pound skirt steak
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 4 limes juice
  • 1 teaspoon Thai chili powder
  • 4 cloves garlic sliced thin
  • 1 shallot diced
  • 2 tablespoons lemongrass paste
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup beef stock

The crispy rice topping

  • 1/4 cup medium grain rice

The pasta salad

  • 8 ounces penne pasta
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sambal chili paste
  • 5 limes juice
  • 1/2 cup torn mint
  • 1/2 cup torn basil
  • 1/2 cup torn cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions



  • Mix the steak ingredients except for the beef stock in a bowl and add in the steak. Allow to sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
  • Preheat a large cast iron skillet to medium high heat. Remove the steak from the marinade and allow the excess to drip off. Add the steak to the pan and cook 3 minutes per side to sear and brown.
  • Turn heat to low and add in the remaining marinade along with the beef stock. Bring to a simmer and stir often. Flip the steak once more after a few minutes, and then cook until the internal temp reaches 140/145 for medium.
  • Remove the steak to a plate, and pour the sauce out of the pan and into a small bowl.

Make the crispy rice powder

  • Add the rice to a frying pan and turn it on medium low. Toast the rice slowly for about an hour, tossing it every 5 minutes to brown evenly. If it doesn't look like any progress has been made after a half hour, you can turn it up a bit. Alternatively turn it down if it is browning too soon. You want it to cook for at least 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Allow the toasted rice to cool for 20 minutes, then pulse it in a spice grinder or crush it in a mortar and pestle.


  • Bring a heavily salted pot of water to a boil and add in the pasta. Cook to package instructions.
  • Strain the pasta and add it to a bowl. Stir in the reserved sauce from the steak.
  • Stir in the fish sauce, worcestershire sauce, and sambal. Stir in the juice from all 5 of the limes. Stir in any juices that have come out of the steak as it has cooled.
  • Transfer the steak to a cutting board and slice it thin against the grain. Then cut the thin slices into one inch pieces. Add the steak and any more juices to the pasta mixture.
  • Put the pasta into the fridge to cool fully.
  • Once the pasta is cooled, add in all the herbs and scallions.
  • Serve with the crispy rice powder on the side for everyone to sprinkle on as needed.


Calories: 570kcal | Carbohydrates: 85g | Protein: 42g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 85mg | Sodium: 1290mg | Potassium: 1050mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin A: 893IU | Vitamin C: 51mg | Calcium: 144mg | Iron: 6mg

One Comment

  1. *Goes and turns the BBQ on* This looks amazing – bookmarked and will be trying this on the weekend!

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