There are probably as many ways to eat your salad as there are countries. If you are getting a little tired of your favorite salad dressing, here are some salad ideas inspired by lesser-known cuisines from around the world.
Go Ethnic with Your Summer Salads
Many of us familiar with this Korean pickled dish probably think of it as a condiment made with pickled cabbage. In fact, kimchi can be made with almost any vegetable, and despite its reputation as a pickled item, can actually be consumed the day it is made. Other than cabbage, try using radishes, cucumber, carrot, or green onion. There are many recipes for making homemade kimchi; generally they require the initial salting of the vegetables to “sweat off” the excess liquid, and then mixing in various spices such as garlic, sesame seeds, and a Korean chili paste called gochujang. The resulting mixture is then left to ferment for days, weeks, or sometimes even longer, so that the sugars in the vegetable are slowly converted to acids. Kimchi eaten the day it is made has all the same basic flavors, but will not taste as acidic as when it’s left to ferment.
This popular Middle Eastern palate cleanser goes well with grilled mains or other heavily seasoned dishes. The main ingredients in tabbouleh are mint, parsley, green onion, bulgur, and tomatoes, seasoned simply with freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Unlike what you may see in your local deli or supermarket, authentic versions of this salad contain generous amounts of the greens (parsley and/or mint) and stay very light on the grain (bulgur). Janet Helm of Nutrition Unplugged has a great authentic recipe that contains detailed step-by-step instructions, including specifics of the ingredients to buy.
Look to hot-weather countries for some refreshing twists on salads. Fans of Malay or Indonesian cuisine know to order gado-gado, essentially a salad with spicy peanut sauce as dressing. Vegetables often used are cooked potato chunks, blanched bean sprouts, green beans, fried tofu, cucumber, and blanched dark leafy greens called kangkong (sometimes found in Chinese markets as on choy or water spinach). For an express version of the spicy peanut sauce, start with old-fashioned unsalted crunchy peanut butter and add sauteed garlic, shallots, hot chili pepper, palm sugar (or brown sugar), and salt to taste. Blitz this mixture in a food processor, adding water gradually until the mixture is runny enough to pour over the assembled salad. If you like, you can top the salad with chopped hard-boiled eggs.
Rujak or Rojak
A second type of salad that is equally popular in Malay or Indonesian cuisine is rujak or rojak, which tends to be a fruit-and-vegetable combination. While recipes vary by region, the dressing is mainly sweet and spicy, with tartness from tamarind juice. To make the dressing, use palm sugar (or brown sugar), a little bit of peanut butter, tamarind juice, salt, and hot chili pepper. To be more authentic, add in a teaspoon or two of shrimp paste (called terasi). Add a few spoonfuls of water and blend well; the dressing should be almost as thick as molasses in consistency. For the salad, use a combination of sliced pineapple, mango (unripe if possible), jicama, cucumber, and grated sweet potato or yam. Those that like a bit of extra saltiness will often sprinkle a mixture of salt and cayenne pepper over the salad before serving.
This Middle-Eastern salad is not as well-known as tabbouleh. Two specific ingredients make this salad distinctive: pomegranate molasses and the lemony deep-red powder called sumac (both should be available in Middle-Eastern grocery stores). The salad also uses toasted or fried pita chunks that are added in just before eating, in the same way you would add croutons to a Caesar salad. To make the dressing, whisk finely minced garlic, salt, lemon juice, sumac, pomegranate molasses and extra virgin olive oil. For the vegetables, use romaine lettuce, purslane or arugula, radish, cucumber, green onion, and bell pepper. Toss the prepared vegetables in the dressing and sprinkle on the pita bread chunks, then serve immediately.
The Bottom Line
Salads are great for summer for two reasons: They are refreshing, and the no-cook nature means there is no need to sweat it out over a hot stove! Pick and choose from the above ideas to find new salad favorites for your family this year.
Do you eat, or prepare, the above salad dishes often? If so, share with us your tips and tricks and comment below!