Some would define the classic Thai flavours as simply Sweet, Salty, Sour, which they are, but I like to think that it is a quintet that makes for most Thai food, not just a trio. And like any great band, it is harmony of playing together that creates memorable moments.
When the Napa cabbage and basil showed up in my CSA box this past week, it was Thai flavours that sprung to mind … and with the exception of the cilantro and limes (and well, the peanuts too), all of the fresh ingredients in this dish came from either my CSA bin or my own garden. As such, this salad is all about eating in season … it’s all about the incredible flavours of summer and what can be accomplished by playing in unison.
There is no real culinary art to this dish. All it requires is a sharp knife and some good chopping skills … and, even if you don’t have the skills, this is a great dish to hone them. But for god’s sake, if you don’t own a good chef’s knife, use this as your excuse. Buy one and call it an investment against eating out … and for eating in season. The only trick is described below in making the salad dressing and it is what I allude to above. Create harmony between these flavours. My recipe is a guide, but you’ll likely need to adjust based on the particular ingredients you buy: not every lime tastes the same, not every brand of vinegar or tamari are identical. Don’t worry — if you screw up, just rebalance it. The dressing will keep for weeks with the acid and oil preserving it all.
Here’s to summer and all things fresh ….
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: N/A minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Thai Salad with Napa Cabbage
- 400-500 grams (1 lb) Napa cabbage, shredded
- 2 medium carrots, grated
- 1 medium cucumber, chopped into matchsticks
- 1 small red pepper, julienned
- 1/2 cup of mint, chopped chiffonade
- 1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped chiffonade
- 1/4 cup of basil, chopped chiffonade
- 1/4 cup of chives, diced
- 1/2 cup of dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped
Dressing (yields 1 cup)
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 2½ tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2½ tablespoons of agave syrup or brown sugar
- 1½ tablespoons tamari sauce
→ or substitute soy sauce*
- 1 teaspoon chile-garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* Note: Traditional soy sauce contains wheat and is not gluten-free. Tamari sauce, on the other hand, is gluten-free.
- Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and ‘shred’ the cabbage by slicing it across the leaves into thin, ½cm (¼”) strips. Toss them into a salad spinner, rinse well, and spin dry then place them into a large salad bowl.
- Remove the mint, cilantro, and basil leaves from their stems so you’re left only with the leaves. Throw them into the salad spinner, rinse, and spin dry. Remove and roughly chop them chiffonade. Add them to the salad bowl.
- Grate the carrots into long strips by holding the carrots at a steep angle. Add to the bowl.
- Cut the cucumber into matchsticks by slicing it, then laying the slices flat, cut them.
- Julienne the red pepper; chop the chives and add them to the salad.
- Use nature’s perfect salad tongs … you fingers and gently toss all the ingredients together until evenly mixed.
- Using a food processor, finely chop the peanuts but be careful to not pulverize them into dust … or into peanut butter. Set aside.
- Make the dressing by adding all the ingredients into a graduated glass measuring cup. Contents together should make for about 1 cup of dressing. The aim here is for a perfect balance between sweet (agave), sour (lime/vinegar), salt (soy) and spice (chile paste). You will need more or less water and agave syrup depending on how ‘sour’ and strong are the limes and vinegar you use. Don’t be afraid to adjust to your taste. Mix together and set aside.
- At this point, portion out the amount of salad you’ll be serving. The rest of the salad will keep, undressed, in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Remix the dressing and drizzle enough just enough to coat the salad. Don’t drown it or overdress. Mix well and serve. Garnish with chopped peanuts and freshly cut lime.