by Betty Thompson
Photo by Cheryle Easter
THAI SALADS ARE COMPOSED OF CRISP refreshing raw or lightly cooked vegetables dressed with zesty chilies, pungent fish sauce and tart citrus juices. Sometimes crunchy peanuts or coconut are added.
Often bits of meat or seafood are tossed with fresh scallions, basil, cilantro or lemon grass, mixed with the dressing, and placed in mounds alongside the vegetables. These salads make wonderful appetizers or a whole meal easily prepared in less than an hour.
Thai salads can range from the very simple -- one vegetable and a dressing -- to a complicated restaurant showpiece that includes beautifully carved vegetables. Thais have a sharp eye for color, shape and arrangement. Beauty and taste are equally important. Rather than tossing all ingredients together, the salad components are arranged attractively on a bed of large leaf salad greens. To eat, spoon a bite of salad into the lettuce leaf with a mint or cilantro leaf.
In addition to all the familiar produce we can buy, more unusual vegetables such as tiny round white and green eggplants, bitter gourd and Chinese okra are consumed. In Thailand tropical trees and shrubs also provide a wide assortment of salad ingredients which are unavailable except perhaps in large Asian markets. They may be aquatic plants like swamp cabbage, creeping jungle vines and plants which do not translate into English names, or fresh bamboo shoots, white turmeric and lotus stems.
It is not necessary to have these exotic vegetables to make a good salad. Let what is available on the North Coast and your taste be a guide for selection. If mint is not to your liking, substitute young celery leaves or basil.
The most common dressing ingredients are lime juice, fish sauce (available in many stores or substitute soy sauce, but it is not the same), chilies (tiny Thai versions are available at the Asian markets or use jalapeno or serrano or dried red ones), shallots, garlic, pounded dry shrimp (found in small packages in the Mexican foods), lemon grass (found fresh in larger markets or substitute grated lemon or lime peel), chopped peanuts, crisp fried onion or garlic flakes, chopped mint or coriander leaves, unsweetened coconut and roasted rice powder.
Salads are not served in any particular order. They come with all the dishes to be savored while eating curries and other spicy dishes.
This is a hearty salad of meat or seafood in a bracing, chili-lime dressing laced with fresh herbs. Recipe is taken from "Real Thai" by Nancie McDermott.
1 pound grilled beef rib-eye or flank steak (A very quick substitute are 1/4 inch thick slices of deli roast beef cut as directed)
1/3 cup chicken stock
2 green onions, coarsely chopped including some green
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
A handful of fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon roasted rice powder (dry fry 1 tablespoon rice until golden, cool and grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground red chili
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
Leaves of leaf lettuce
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced thinly crosswise on the diagonal
5 cherry tomatoes cut in half
A handful of fresh mint
Thinly slice the cooked beef crosswise into 2-inch strips and set aside. In a small sauce pan, bring the chicken stock to a gentle boil over medium heat. Add the beef and warm it in the stock for 1 minute, turning occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Add the green onions, shallot, cilantro, rice powder, chili, sugar, fish sauce and lime juice to the beef. Toss well. Taste the dressing and adjust it to your liking with additional fish sauce, lime juice, sugar or chilies.
Arrange the lettuce leaves on a serving platter. With a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to the platter, placing it in mounds on the lettuce. Drizzle the beef with additional sauce from the pan and garnish with the cucumber, tomatoes and mint.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
This salad has a sharp citrus flavor plus the bite of fresh chilies. It is taken from "Thai Cooking Class" by Miller and Lake. Try any other favorite seafood in place of the prawns.
1 pound green (uncooked) prawns shelled, deveined with tails intact
2 tablespoons lemon juice
11/2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons water
2 onions finely sliced in rings
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 tablespoons thinly sliced lemon grass (bulbous part only)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chilli
Lettuce leaves, to serve
Place the prawns, lemon juice, fish sauce and water in a stainless steel saucepan. Stir and heat slowly until prawns turn pink.
Taste to see if extra lemon juice or fish sauce is needed. Remove from heat.
Add onions, shallots, lemon grass, mint, coriander and fresh chilli. Toss gently and serve on a bed of lettuce leaves. Garnish with mint leaves and thin slices of lemon.
This fast and easy salad layered in colorful rings of blanched cabbage, carrot, green pepper and chicken is taken from "Discover Thai Cooking" by Chaslin and Canungmai.
1/2 head cabbage
1/2 pound cooked chicken breast
2 carrots, grated
1 green pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Shred the cabbage and plunge it into a pan of boiling water, preferably in a blanching basket, for 1 minute. Transfer it immediately to ice-cold water. Drain and pat dry. Shred the chicken breast.
Arrange the cabbage around the edge of a serving dish. Working toward the center, arrange a ring of carrots, then peppers, with the chicken filling up the middle of the dish.
Sprinkle with toasted almonds. Mix the dressing ingredients together and serve with the salad.
Betty Thompson has taught cooking classes locally since