Fresh, hot, sour, salty, and sweet -- Thai cuisine, and this salad, hits every pleasure point. The dressing alone is like money in the bank, it improves nearly anything it touches.
Experimenting with the recipe proved a long-held theory: when using spices in uncooked dishes, warming them gently gets rid of their raw edge and opens up all their individuality.
Inspiration for this dressing recipe came from Thai food writer and restaurateur Su-Mei Yu's cookbook, The Elements of Life (Wiley, 2009).
Cook to Cook: In Thailand, this would be made with the small, fiery-hot dried Thai chiles. We prefer the Aleppo chile's sweet, fruity warmth, but you could use other chiles. Use ancho for a milder chile, for more heat try mulato, cascabel, guajillo, cayenne or Thai.
The dressing can be made in advance and warmed when needed. Rice noodles are a good addition to this.
Wine: Pour yourself a glass of the super consistent and readily available dry Riesling from Washington State's Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Roasted Chile-Coconut Dressing:
- 1/2 cup expeller-pressed canola oil
- 4 generous teaspoons coarse ground Aleppo chile (I use Penzey's), or other flavorful medium-hot to hot ground chile
- 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1-1/3 cups coconut milk, or to taste
- 2 to 2-1/2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Juice of 1/2 a large lime
- 3 large handfuls mixed tart greens such as the tender yellow hearts of escarole, arugula, curly endive, mizuna, watercress, purslane, lambs ear and baby spinach
- 8 to 10 leaves of Napa cabbage, cut crosswise into thin slivers
- 4 whole scallions, thinly sliced
- 1-1/2 cups bite-sized pieces of pineapple, fresh, or canned in pineapple juice and drained
- 1/2 cup salted, roasted and broken cashews, or peanuts
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups diced firm tofu, cooked and diced tempeh, chicken, or seafood
- 1/2 lightly-packed cup fresh mint, coriander or basil leaves, torn
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Juice of 1 to 1-1/2 large limes
1. Make the Dressing: In a 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan, combine the oil, chile and garlic. Heat slowly over medium heat so flavors will open up but nothing will burn, about 2 minutes. Stir with a wood spatula until the garlic begins to sizzle but do not let it brown.
2. Quickly add the coconut milk, raise the heat to medium-high and boil the coconut milk 30 seconds, or until it's a deep red-gold. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the fish sauce or more to taste. Then mix in the sugar and salt and boil 30 seconds, or until thickened, with glossy bubbles, and the sauce is the color of light caramel.
3. Immediately scrape the sauce into a bowl to stop the cooking. Rinse and dry the pan and keep it handy for reheating the sauce.
4. Make the salad: Toss the greens and cabbage together and divide them between 4 dinner plates. Divide the scallions, pineapple, cashews, tofu, and mint between each serving, scattering them over the greens. Season the salads with salt and pepper.
5. Warm the dressing in the pan to a bubble, stir in the juice of one half the lime. Then drizzle the warm dressing over each serving. Squeeze generous amounts of fresh lime over the salads and serve.
Work Night Encore: Supper Spring Rolls with Roasted Chile Dressing
Moisten rice paper rounds under warm running water. When they soften, roll up some cold cooked chicken or seafood with the dressing, or with the leftover salad.