Not everyday is as productive as last Friday. In about 2 hours, I made a fantastic salad, discovered a new cooking technique, and finally learned how to achieve that elusive sweet-salty-tangy-spicy balance in a Thai vinaigrette. It's all thanks to Lynn Rossetto Kasper. As if I'm surprised.
I am a huge fan of Lynn Rossetto Kasper. I'm a loyal listener to her "The Splendid Table" podcast, and I absolutely loved her pithy and clever "How to Eat Supper" podcasts, which she co-hosted with TST producer Sally Swift (until recently, when they suddenly stopped coming out...) So I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that it took me until last week to sign up for Lynn's "Weeknight Kitchen" newsletter. Now maybe it's too soon to pass judgement, seeing as I've only gotten two issues. But this is Lynn Rossetto Kasper. Every recipe is a run-to-your-kitchen recipe. As expected, just one day after the email landed in my inbox, I was at the counter, surrounded by heaps of green cabbage.
The recipe in last week's edition was for a Thai cabbage salad with tofu, cashews, and pineapple. D was quick to point out that I cut my pineapple slices so large as to intimidate my guests (sorry, ya'll! Hope the yellow didn't scare you away) so in the future, I'll make my pineapple more....welcoming. But aside from that, I found this salad delightful. It's got really well-layered flavor: the bitter freshness of cabbage, the tangy sweetness of pineapple, a generous handful of cashews, scallions and herbs, and a biting vinaigrette rounded out with fish sauce (one of Lynn's favorite ingredients: it's got tons of umami, or glutamate, which helps give that extra something to...well, almost anything.)
I threw together a small plate of this salad before serving it to make sure that the flavors were balanced. One bite led to two, then three, and before I knew it, my plate was clean. Yep, flavors were balanced alright. I've had the salad for two lunches and a dinner, and a wee bit of it is with me at jury duty today. Now go pick yourself up and make it.
Also, now that I have your attention, apologies for the shameless self-promotion, but if I can't do it here, where can I? I'm super excited to announce that I'm featured in this week's Washingtonian Blogger Beat! Check it out!
Thai Cabbage Salad with Cashews and Chili-Coconut Dressing
This dressing is truly amazing. Heating the chili in the oil really opens up the flavors (the new technique I learned), and the fish sauce is really key in rounding out this dressing: if you've never used it before, don't be afraid! It can smell funky, but the flavor is very subtle. Not one of the guests to whom I served this salad thought there was fish sauce in the dressing. Also of note: this sauce goes way beyond cabbage salad: Cook some tofu and vegetables, add this sauce, and you've got thai curry.
For the Roasted Chile-Coconut Dressing: 1/2 cup expeller-pressed canola oil (or other oil, such as safflower or grapeseed 4 generous teaspoons coarse ground Aleppo chile (I use Penzey's, which Lynn recommends), or other flavorful medium-hot to hot ground chile 4 large garlic cloves, chopped fine 1-1/3 cups coconut milk (canned is fine) 2 to 2-1/2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce 4 tablespoons sugar 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon salt Juice of 1 to 1-1/2 large limes
For the Salad: 3 large handfuls mixed greens 8 leaves of Napa or regular cabbage, cut crosswise into thin slivers. (If using regular cabbage, as I did slice as thinly as possible; use a mandoline if you have one) 4 whole scallions, thin sliced 1-1/2 cups bite-sized pieces pineapple, fresh, or canned in pineapple juice and drained 1/2 cup salted broken cashews, or peanuts (I like them toasted) 1-1/2 to 2 cups diced firm tofu, cooked and diced tempeh, chicken, or seafood 1/2 light-packed cup fresh mint, coriander (cilantro) or basil leaves, torn (I used mint and cilantro) Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1. Make the dressing by combining in a 12-inch straight sided sauté pan the oil, chile and garlic. Heat slowly over medium so flavors will open up but nothing will burn (about 2 minutes). Stir with a wood spatula until the garlic begins to sizzle (don't let it brown).
2. Quickly add the coconut milk and boil, stirring, for 30 seconds, or until it's a deep red-gold. Stir in the fish sauce (start with the smallest amount), sugar and salt and boil 30 seconds, or until thickened with glossy bubbles and the sauce is the color of caramel.
3. Immediately scrape all the sauce into a bowl to stop the cooking. (Sauce could be refrigerated for several days). Rinse and dry the pan and keep it handy for reheating the sauce.
4. Make the salad by blending the greens and cabbage together and dividing between 4 dinner plates. Divide the remaining ingredients between each serving, scattering them over the greens. Season the salads with salt and pepper.
5. Warm the dressing in the pan until it comes to a bubble and drizzle it over each serving. Then squeeze generous amounts of fresh lime over the salads and serve.