So here's something that just occurred to me: It's ironic -- cruelly ironic -- that the season of resolutions (and trying to keep them) coincides with the season of trying not to freeze here on the east coast. The food pages hawk salads and smoothies; bluster and chill begs for stew and hot cocoa. Perhaps we should mark the new year in May, or just move to California. Or Australia. Alas, I don't have much pull with the folks who set the calendar - and I may have even less sway when it comes to convincing my wonderful wife that the west coast would suit us well. DC friends, rejoice: we're not leaving.
Instead, we're hunkering down under fleece blankets and finding one too many excuses to make hot cocoa. But even the frigid depths of January and February require occasional salads. We can't subsist entirely on soup (though rest assured, I have tried). Here's what I have to say about those winter salads: they don't always want leaves. They certainly don't want to be nibbled, or speared politely with a small fork. These are hungry days; we want to shovel our salads with a spoon, in big heaps, and let them fill our bellies.
And I think I speak for all of us when I say that January salads need not be so salad-y. I'll take my winter greens with crunchy croutons, fried shallots, crispy eggs, and maybe even some steak. In this case, I went for a handful of the un-salad additions, and lo, I did not regret that decision. There were plenty of fried aromatics (shallots, garlic; even lemongrass one time); crunchy non-vegetable things (peanuts, pickled ginger); and a zippy little dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar that I can't get enough of these days. There were also out-of-season tomatoes, which really were not worth adding. Resist the urge.
Tomatoes or not, this salad is punchy and crunchy. It's partially a riff on Naomi Duguid's recipe from her wonderful book, Burma, The elements of her recipe - pickled ginger, crunchy vegetables, a zinger of a dressing - are all here. I added cabbage and daikon because I wanted a more substantial, slaw-like salad. But when you set out to make it, know that only the ginger and the dressing are mandatory; everything else is optional, and you can build the salad however you'd like, or however the contents of your fridge allow.
And just now, I realized that despite nay-saying the new years resolution crowd, I've posted not one but two salads over the past few weeks. Apologies! I think it's time I dunk my head in a big vat of chocolate pudding and set things straight.
I tried several methods of pickling my own ginger for this salad, hence the various types of ginger you see in the photos above. If you’ve got the time and the drive, definitely do it, using either of the recipes I linked here. The first is sweeter, the second more savory; the results from both are really worthwhile. If you do pickle your own ginger, a 6-8-inch knob produces about 1 cup fresh, or 3/4 cup pickled ginger. It’s worth making more than you need, as the leftovers are great in all sorts of things. But salads shouldn’t be complicated, and I’m happy to report that jarred pickled ginger — widely available — works just as well here.
As for everything else, this recipe is extremely flexible. Aim for 5-6 cups leaves and vegetables; 3/4 cup of nuts and seeds; and about 1/2 cup crisped alliums. What you use is entirely up to you.
One other note: to make this salad, you crisp shallots and garlic in some oil, and then use that oil in the dressing. 1/4 cup of frying oil should leave you with about 2 tablespoons left for the dressing, but if not, feel free to supplement with more of whatever oil you used.
For the salad:
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup pickled ginger, sliced into thin strips
10 oz (about 5 heaping cups) radicchio, cabbage, or a mix, shredded
1/2 cup shredded daikon (optional)
1/2 cup grape or plum tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size (optional)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons roasted salted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons oil from fried shallots/garlic (supplemented if necessary)
2 teaspoons fish sauce or soy sauce, more to taste
6 tablespoons lime juice (from 2-3 limes)
1 thai chile, sliced (seeded if less spice desired)
Fry the shallots and garlic: Line a small plate with paper towel and set next to your stove. Heat oil in a small pan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add shallots in a single layer (do this in batches if necessary), reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 5-7 minutes, turning once or twice, until shallots are uniformly golden brown. Strain well, and transfer to towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining shallots, if cooking in batches. If oil looks low, add an extra tablespoon or two.
Add sliced garlic to pan, and cook for 2-4 minutes, until golden brown. Strain and transfer to plate. Reserve oil for dressing.
Make the dressing: Combine all ingredients in a jar, seal, and shake thoroughly, until sugar is dissolved and ingredients are emulsified. Dunk a finger in the dressing and taste it; add more fish/soy sauce, lime juice, or sugar to taste.
Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl, and pour most of dressing over top. Mix well, then taste, and add remaining dressing if necessary. Serve within 30 minutes of dressing the salad – the fried alliums don’t stay crisp for too long.