Assembling a salad is not unlike arranging flowers. Freshness is essential and attention must be paid to color, texture and the overall compatibility of the arrangement. Oriental cooks are renowned for cleverly manipulating fresh, colorful and exotic (to Americans) ingredients to produce eye-pleasing dishes.
Whether the need is for a stunningly colorful entree salad featuring fresh seafood or poultry or a complementary side salad with an intriguing flavor, the oriental manner of preparation and presentation offers new depth to your salad bowl and unlimited elbow room for the improvisational cook.
Washington-area grocery stores are stocking more and more unusual fruits and vegetables as well as fresh herbs, and if these don't provide enough salad options, local Asian markets stock an almost astonishing array of exotic produce, herbs and aromatics. They also have bottles, tins and packets of interesting and useful ingredients for salad making.
The following recipes feature some of the favorite flavor combinations of several Asian countries. The dressings are particularly suited to the fruits, vegetables, meats and seafoods they have been coupled with, but substitutions can be challenging and successful when they suit your produce, menu or mood.
The exotic ingredients in the recipes are available in most area oriental markets. OYSTER AND CHILI SALAD SINGAPORE (4 servings as a main course, 6 to 8 as first course) 1 pint shucked oysters Juice of 2 lemons 1/2 teaspoon salt plus extra to taste 1 bunch scallions, minced Juice and seeded pulp of 2 lemons 2 to 4 tablespoons sweet chili sauce 1 cup water chestnuts, rinsed and sliced 2 firm ripe avocados, cubed 1 fresh red chili, seeded and minced 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced Lettuce leaves for serving Lemon wedges for garnish
Rinse oysters in cold water, drain, pat dry and quarter. Combine with lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Marinate 1 hour. Drain. Combine next seven ingredients and toss gently with oysters. Chill 1 to 2 hours. Just before serving add salt to taste if needed, mound some oyster mixture into individual lettuce cups and serve immediately with lemon wedges. YEE SANG (Cantonese New Year Salad) (4 servings)
This unusual ceviche-type salad is traditionally eaten between the seventh and 15th days of the Chinese New Year. It is delicious when made with monkfish, though any firm-fleshed white fish will do. 1 pound monkfish fillets 1/4 cup lime juice 1 teaspoon salt 4 carrots, peeled and cut in long shreds 2 cups daikon radish, peeled and cut in long shreds 6 ounces wei chuan pickled cucumbers 1 tablespoon shredded preserved red ginger for garnish FOR THE DRESSING: 3 fresh ma grood leaves, shredded, or substitute the zest from 1 lime 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, shredded 3 tablespoons lime juice 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, crushed 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, crushed 2 to 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce Salt to taste Dash Chinese five-spice powder
Wash and pat dry the fish fillets; cut in uniform strips about 1 1/2-by- 1/4-by- 1/4-inch. Toss together with lime juice and salt; marinate 1 hour. Arrange shredded carrot, daikon and wei chuan pickled cucumber on a platter. Drain fish and mound in the middle of the vegetables. Combine dressing ingredients, pour over salad and garnish with preserved ginger. Toss before serving. THAI SQUID SALAD IN GINGER AND CHILI DRESSING (6 to 8 servings)
Squid is finally coming into its own in America and makes a delicious low-cost ingredient for a seafood salad. Its delicate flavor harmonizes particularly well with oriental flavors. 3 pounds squid 3 carrots, scraped and julienned 2 large green peppers, julienned 4 scallions, white part only, julienned 1 cup fresh bean sprouts 1 cup ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and julienned FOR THE DRESSING: 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1 tablespoon rice wine 2 tablespoons ginger root, grated 1/4 cup lemon juice and pulp 1 teaspoon nam pla (fish sauce) 1/2 teaspoon sugar 2 fresh red or green chili peppers, seeded and chopped 1/2 cup scallion tops, minced Coriander sprigs for garnish
Clean squid by pulling head and tentacles out of body. Cut away head, including eyes and beak, and discard. Reserve tentacles. Remove cartilage and innards from body and peel off mottled-looking skin. Wash body and tentacles thoroughly in cold water and drain. Cut squid in 1/4-inch rings and if large, cut tentacle section in halves or thirds.
Bring a large kettle of salted water to a boil and add squid pieces. Cook 1 minute, drain and set aside. Blanch the carrots 1 minute in boiling water. Refresh under cold water and drain.
Combine dressing ingredients and taste for balance. Toss half the dressing with warm squid and the other half with vegetables. Make a nest with the vegetables and spoon the squid in to the center. Serve at room temperature garnished with coriander sprigs. KOREAN MANY PART SALAD (6 to 8 servings)
This salad is best served on a large round platter. The ingredients are arranged in a radiating pattern around the outside of the platter with a bowl of dressing in the center. Individuals can help themselves to the various ingredients and add the dressing as they wish. Use 1 1/2 cups each of any six of the salad ingredients listed below. FOR THE DRESSING: 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 1/4 cup soy sauce 2 tablespoons scallions, minced 1 clove garlic, finely minced 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced 1 fresh green chili, finely minced 4 teaspoons toasted ground sesame seeds 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 teaspoon oriental sesame oil 1 tablespoon lemon juice FOR THE SALAD: Omelet: Use three beaten eggs. Cook in batches over medium heat without stirring. Turn once. Omelet should be 1/8-inch thick. Cool and cut into thin strips. Sweet peppers: red or green, cored, seeded amd juliened Bean sprouts: blanched 30 seconds in boiling water and immediately plunged in ice water. Drain thoroughly. Bean thread: Cover a 2-ounce bundle of bean thread with boiling water and allow to cool to room temperature. Drain and cut in 2-inch lengths. Pat dry with a towel. Snow peas: String, cut in thirds lengthwise and stir-fry in 1 teaspoon oil until bright green, about 1 minute. Cucumber: scrubbed, seeded and cut in julienned strips 1/2-inch long Daikon radish: peeled and cut in 1 1/2-inch julienne Scallion: cut in 1 1/2-inch julienne Mushrooms: stems removed and caps thinly sliced Chicken breast: lightly poached, skinned, boned and shredded along the grain in thin strips. Shrimps: lightly poached, peeled, deveined and cut in half lengthwise. Cooked beef: should be rare, julienned Cooked veal: should be medium rare, julienned Cooked pork: should be slightly pink and moist, julienned
Combine dressing ingredients; set aside. To serve, divide each ingredient in two equal amounts and place them opposite each other on a round platter. Take care to stack julienne strips in neat parallel piles. Continue with remaining ingredients. Arrange piles for greatest color contrasts. Place a bowl of dressing in the center. JAPANESE GINGER ORANGE TOSSED SALAD (6 servings)
The tangy ginger dressing for this salad is also delicious on traditional tossed green salad. FOR THE DRESSING: 1/2 cup scallions, chopped 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, chopped 1/4 cup celery leaves, chopped 1 teaspoon tomato sauce or ketchup 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1/4 cup rice vinegar 1/4 cup orange juice 1 teaspoon orange zest 1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice (to taste) 3/4 cup salad oil FOR THE SALAD: 4 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded, or substitute the leafy parts of napa cabbage 3 ripe tomatoes peeled, seeded and thinly sliced 1 red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced 1 cucumber, seeded and very thinly sliced 1 cup red radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced
Combine dressing ingredients in the container of a blender and process until smooth. Toss with other ingredients and serve immediately. PHILIPPINE SPICED CRAB SALAD (6 to 8 servings)
The spicy crab mixture makes an excellent first course stuffed into a scooped-out tomato or spooned into a lettuce cup. FOR THE DRESSING: 2/3 cup rice or coconut vinegar 2/3 cup water 2 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves (optional) 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon sambal oelek FOR THE SALAD: 1 pound backfin crab meat, picked over 1 onion, finely chopped 1/4 cup salad oil 1 pound snow peas, strung and cut in half diagonally 2 large sweet red peppers, cored, seeded and cut in shapes similar to the snow peas 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, chopped, plus extra for garnish
Combine dressing ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil, simmer 10 minutes, cool and strain through cheesecloth.
Put half the crab meat in a glass container, add onion, remaining crab and the oil. Refrigerate crab mixture 30 minutes. Pour cooled dressing over crab meat taking care to moisten it all over, cover and refrigerate 24 hours.
One half hour before serving, blanch snow peas 1 minute in boiling water, until they turn bright green but remain very crisp. Immediately plunge in ice water to stop cooking, drain and pat dry. Arrange around outside edge of a platter. Arrange cut peppers in a ring just inside the snow peas. Gently toss crab meat mixture with fresh mint and mound in center. Garnish with mint. Serve immediately.
Note: After your guests have been overwhelmed by the beauty of this salad and if it is being served buffet style, it is advisable to toss the salad before people begin helping themselves. Confirmed crab lovers have been known to lose all sense of proportion and fair play when presented with an untossed crab salad. SPINACH SALAD WITH SHITAKE AND TEA EGGS (4 to 6 servings)
The contrast of the bright green spinach leaves and slivers of black mushrooms is reinforced by the beautifully marbled tea eggs. 1 pound fresh young spinach leaves, washed and trimmed of their stems 4 eggs 1/4 cup soy sauce 1 clove garlic 8 large Japanese dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, stemmed, and thinly sliced 8-ounce can water chestnuts, washed, drained and sliced 2 tablespoons toasted crushed sesame seeds for garnish FOR THE DRESSING: 3 tablespoons soy sauce 1/2 cup scallions, white part only, thinly sliced 1/4 cup salad oil 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar or to taste 1 teaspoon oriental sesame oil 2 to 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Thoroughly chill washed and trimmed spinach. Place eggs in their shells in a small saucepan with cold water just to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer covered 8 minutes. Remove to a bowl of cold water and very gently crack shells all over with back of a spoon, taking care that shell remains attached to egg, giving a mosaic appearance. Return to saucepan, add soy sauce and boiling water to cover. Simmer 5 minutes and allow to cool in soy water. For a deeper color contrast, allow eggs to sit in soy water overnight in refrigerator.
Combine dressing ingredients and shake thoroughly to mix.
To assemble salad, place spinach in a large wooden bowl rubbed with a clove of garlic. Add shiitake mushrooms and water chestnuts, and toss with dressing. Garnish with peeled, wedged eggs and toasted sesame seeds. CAMBODIAN CHICKEN SALAD (6 servings)
This salad makes wonderful use of the fresh mint that grows with enthusiastic profusion this time of the year. Though dark meat is preferable to white meat in this dish, chicken breast may be substituted if care is taken not to overcook it. 6 chicken thighs Juice of 1 lemon 2 teaspoons salt, plus extra to taste 1/2 teaspoon payasook (chili paste) or freshly ground black pepper 1 medium onion 1/2 cup white vinegar 2 tablespoons oil 1 clove garlic, finely minced 4 cups fresh bean sprouts 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves plus extra for garnish
Place chicken thighs in a saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil 1 minute. Add lemon juice, cover, and turn off heat. When cool enough to handle, skin and bone thighs, reserving stock for another use. Shred chicken and rub immediately with salt and payasook.
Peel and slice onion paper-thin and toss gently with vinegar. Leave to soak 15 minutes. Drain and rinse lightly in cold water. Drain again. Heat oil in a wok to a low temperature and add garlic. Stir constantly for 10 seconds, taking care not to let it brown. Add sprouts, increase heat to high and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until they are thoroughly coated with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and remove to a serving dish.
Toss chicken together with onions and mint and put on top of sprouts. Serve at room temperature garnished with mint. CITRUS AND SESAME SALAD (6 servings)
This salad is an excellent accompaniment to grilled meat satays, especially lamb and also very refreshing prepared served with roast duck or leg of lamb in winter. 2 pink grapefruit 4 navel oranges 1 bunch watercress, washed and trimmed of stems 2 to 3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted and crushed FOR THE DRESSING: 2 teaspoons lemon juice 2 teaspoons lime juice 3 tablespoons salad oil 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard Dash sugar Salt to taste Ground black pepper to taste
Peel grapefruit and oranges and cut sections out, leaving membrane with pith and core. Combine. In a glass bowl place a layer of watercress, then a layer of fruit and some sesame seeds and repeat until the ingredients are all used up. Combine dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Cover and chill one or two hours before serving. TROPICAL FRUIT SALAD MALAYSIAN STYLE (8 to 10 servings)
The luxurious flavor and appearance of this salad elevate it to a luncheon entree, or accompanied by macaroons it can be the finale to a special summer dinner. FOR THE DRESSING: 1/2 cup thick coconut milk 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated 1/2 teaspoon lime zest, finely grated 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, carefully sliced in thin strips Dash of salt to taste 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice FOR THE SALAD: 1 ripe papaya, peeled, seeded and cut in bite-sized pieces 1 ripe pineapple, peeled, cored and cut in bite-sized pieces 20-ounce can whole seedless longans in heavy syrup, drained 20-ounce can whole seedless lychees in heavy syrup, drained 1 small persian or honeydew melon, peeled, seeded and cut in bite sized pieces 1 cup black cherries, cut in half and seeded 2 kiwi fruit, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced. Fresh mint sprigs for garnish
Combine dressing ingredients and taste for appropriate sweet-tart balance. Arrange fruits in separate piles in a large flat bowl, leaving space in the center for a pitcher filled with dressing. Arrange fruit for maximum color contrasts. Garnish with mint; serve at room temperature.