Servers at chef Susur Lee's Zentan restaurant boast enthusiastically that this slaw, piled high with goodies and suitable as a main course, contains many ingredients. That might not necessarily be a bonus to the home cook, but the time and effort required to gather and assemble the components pay tasty dividends.
Make Ahead: The pickled onion can be made a week ahead; you'll make more than you need for this recipe. The plum dressing can be made several days in advance. The onion oil can be made a month ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. The pickled onion can be refrigerated for several weeks.
Yield: (2 servings per bowl)
- For the onion oil
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable oil
- 2 cups loosely packed chopped leeks, white parts only (cleaned)
- 2 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- For the pickled onion
- 1 small red onion, peeled and cut into thin strips (julienne)
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig thyme
- For the dressing
- 1 cup salted plum (ume) paste (available at Asian markets)
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup mirin
- 1 teaspoon dashi (available at Japanese markets)
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger root
- For the slaw
- 2 scallions, white and light-green parts, cut into long, THREE-INCH PIECES AND CUT INTO thin strips (julienne) (1 CUP)
- Vegetable oil, for frying (about 6 cups)
- 1 (4 ounces) taro root, peeled and cut into very thin julienne (may substitute a russet potato)
- Salt, as needed
- 2 ounces rice vermicelli noodles, pulled apart into 2 sections
- 1 large (1 pound) unpeeled English (seedless) cucumber, cut into julienne (2 cups)
- 1 large (6 ounces) carrot, peeled and cut into julienne (1 1/4 cup)
- 1 small (1 pound) jicama, peeled and cut into julienne (3 1/2 cups)
- 1 (7 ounces) daikon radish, peeled, trimmed and cut into julienne (3 cups)
- 2 large (8 ounces) Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut into thin slices
- 4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
- 6 teaspoons crushed toasted hazelnuts
- 4 teaspoons fried shallots (available in Asian markets; may substitute 1 large shallot, cut into thin slices and fried)
- 4 teaspoons edible flower petals
- 4 teaspoons micro purple basil
- 4 teaspoons micro beet greens
- 4 teaspoons daikon sprouts (available at Asian markets)
- 2 tablespoons pickled ginger
For the onion oil: Combine the oil, leeks, scallions and onion in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 50 to 55 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions and leeks are crisped and browned. Remove from the heat; strain the oil into a bowl, discarding the solids or reserving them for another use (such as adding to the slaw). The yield is 1 1/2 cups.
Let the oil cool before transferring it to a jar. It can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.
For the pickled onion: Place the onion in a medium bowl. Combine the vinegar, water and salt in a small saucepan over high heat; bring to a boil. Wrap the peppercorns, fennel seed, bay leaf and thyme in a small piece of cheesecloth tied with kitchen twine to create a sachet; submerge it in the mixture and continue to boil for 5 minutes. Pour the hot mixture over the onion in the bowl, discarding the sachet; let the onion sit for 1 hour. The yield is 1 3/4 to 2 cups.
For the dressing: Combine the salted plum (ume) paste, rice wine vinegar, mirin, dashi, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the onion oil, sugar and ginger in a blender; puree until smooth. The yield is 2 cups.
For the slaw: Soak the scallions in a bowl of very cold water to keep them crisp.
Line 2 large plates with several layers of paper towels.
Heat a large pot of oil over high heat to a temperature of 350 degrees. Add half of the taro root and fry for 2 minutes or until crisp and light gold in color. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and lightly season with salt. Once the oil has returned to 350 degrees, repeat with the remaining taro root.
Once the oil returns to 350 degrees, add half of the vermicelli and fry for a second or two, or just until the noodles curl. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate; once the oil has returned to 350 degrees, repeat with the remaining vermicelli.
To assemble: Remove the scallions from the bowl and blot them on paper towels.
Divide the vermicelli equally among 4 wide,shallow pasta bowls, forming tall, tapering mounds.
Combine the cucumber, carrot, jicama, daikon radish, tomatoes, 1 cup of the pickled onion and scallions in a large bowl; mix well, then distribute even portions of the mixture among the 4 plates of vermicelli. Top with equal amounts of the fried taro root.
Sprinkle each portion of slaw with equal amounts of the sesame seeds, hazelnuts, fried shallots, flowers, micro basil and micro greens, daikon sprouts and pickled ginger. Serve the slaw with salted-plum dressing on the side (4 tablespoons of dressing per bowl should be ample); furnish the guests with the appropriate utensils so that they can toss the slaw themselves.
Adapted from chef-restaurateur Susur Lee and Zentan restaurant in Thomas Circle.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
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