Suffolk private chef Lilian Hiw gives us summer inspiration with her Asian inspired salads
What lovely sunny days we are getting now, summer is definitely here. Beautiful warm days like these are ideal for eating salads, would you agree? We are truly spoilt as there are so many great salad choices out there nowadays. For me, a good salad has an interesting variety of greens, some sweetness, some creaminess, some crunchiness and a dressing with a good balance of sweet, sour, salty and a depth of umami.
Made by tossing the ingredients in a dressing to mix them. Well chilled ingredients and a light hand creates the best and freshest tossed salad. A good example is the Caesar salad, invented by an Italian chef, Caesar Cardini, who owned a restaurant in Mexico. He was running low on food one day and put together whatever ingredients was left over at that service and served them to his guests tableside with dramatic flair.
These two words - tossing and dramatic, bring memories of the annual salad eaten during Chinese new year, known as ‘Yu Sang’ in the Cantonese dialect or ‘Yu Sheng’ in Mandarin. More famously known as the ‘Prosperity salad’, it consist of raw fish, a selection of finely sliced vegetables, smashed peanuts, prawn crackers, toasted sesame seeds, some sweet pickles and a dusting of Chinese five spice powder tossed together in a plum dressing.
The fish in the dish symbolises abundance and surplus flowing over to the new year. Typically radish, carrots and lettuce are added as the base for the salad - carrots is the colour of gold (wishes of wealth), lettuce symbolises good energy and good life and the plum sauce wishes a sweet year ahead. Red being an auspicious colour, you will find candied pickled vegetables dyed red and stripes of red chillies in the salad too.
So, what is so dramatic about this prosperity salad you ask? Well, traditionally, on the seventh day of Chinese new year, family and friends would gather, everyone holds a pair of chopsticks and stand around the platter of prosperity salad. You are supposed to toss the ingredients together to mix with the dressing. It is believed that the higher you can toss the salad, the more abundance of good luck, fortune and prosperity will follow you into the new year! A communal tossing to usher in all things good. Nowadays, this salad is eaten everyday throughout the fifteen days of the Chinese new year celebrations. Some people also refer to the act of eating (tossing) Yu Sheng as ‘Lo Hei’. Directly translated, ‘Lo Hei’ means ‘tossing up’ in Cantonese and the implied meaning is to stir up more good fortune and luck for the new year!
This salad is most celebrated in Singapore and Malaysia and especially popular with businessmen. I have seen people climbing onto dining chairs so that they can toss the salad the highest. What won’t you do for a bit of fun and good luck huh?
Korean Smashed Cucumber Salad
Light, refreshing and leaves your mouth tingling from the punchy chili paste.
Smash the whole cucumber (a classic Chinese technique to crack the skin and split the flesh into appealing craggy pieces releasing the seeds and get the dressing absorbed right into the cucumber). Mix rice vinegar, soya sauce, gochujang (Korean fermented chili paste) and toasted sesame oil for the dressing, toss in the cucumber, sprinkle over sesame seeds. Quick and easy! Omit the chilli paste if you prefer a non-spicy version but I would recommend you try it at least once.
It is a salad of many ingredients that are not tossed together but, instead, conscientiously arranged, whether in a pile or side by side, on a plate or in a bowl, with attention to presentation of colours and complimentary flavours. Composed salads are generally hearty and can be served as a main. The salad dressing is either drizzled on top of the salad or served on the side.
The perfect example of a composed salad must be the Gado Gado salad from Indonesia! Gado is the Indonesian word for ‘mix’, so this much-loved salad’s name literally translates as ‘mix mix’. A medley of lightly blanched vegetables like cabbage, green bean and beansprouts are mixed with raw ingredients like cucumber, sometimes tomatoes, hard boiled eggs and boiled potatoes. Traditionally, you might find fried tempeh (a fermented soybean block) or tofu added to the salad for a hit of protein, and cubed lontong (compressed rice cake wrapped in banana leaf) to make it a filling dish . But you can use a poturri of your favourite seasonal vegetables and create your own ‘mix’! Whatever the choice, gado gado is served with a peanut dressing and something crunchy like prawn crackers or emping crackers (a type of Indonesian chips made from belinjo nuts that have a unique bitter taste).
To make the peanut dressing, blitz together a couple of spoonful of peanut butter, a spoonful of kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soya sauce), a clove of garlic, some fresh red chilli, about four spoonful of coconut milk to get the consistency of a runny dressing, lime juice and salt to taste.
Ingredients are bound together with mayonnaise or a thick dressing. Coronation chicken and Waldorf salad are good examples. The coronation salad was created for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and the Waldorf salad was so named after New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel and was conceived by their Chef Oscar Tschirky.
I first ate this salad twelve years ago and fell in love immediately with the crunch of crispy instant noodles on a bed of creamy and tangy vegetables. This is so quick to make and taste so wonderful. Cut cabbage and carrots into strips, finely slice red onions or spring onions (I used both), a squeeze of mayonnaise and I added a little dollop of salad cream for sweetness and extra tang. Mix the vegetables and dressing together, crush the noodles in its bag, sprinkle on top of the salad just before you serve. Brilliant for picnics and pot luck parties.
Char vegetables like asparagus, young corn, bell peppers, baby leeks, courgettes or romaine lettuce on a hot grill then toss them in a vinaigrette straight from the grill to sponge up all the flavours. A great way to enjoy vegetables in season and to accompany any barbecue.
To make a quick Asian vinaigrette, mix soya sauce, rice vinegar, honey and sesame oil. This flavour combination is so delicious.
Chargrilled Courgette With Miso Glaze
Miso is a thick paste produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and kōji (a type of fungus cultivated on rice and other grains) and allowing the mixture to age for months or even years. Sometimes rice, barley, seaweed, or other ingredients are added.
For centuries, miso has claimed a central spot in the Japanese culinary world. In recent years, miso has grown in popularity across the globe, used to add savoury notes to dressings, butters, sauces and used to balance the sweetness of baked goods and caramels etc.
Brush this glaze on vegetables, fish or meat to give it an instant hit of flavour and umami. To make the glaze simply mix miso, some mirin (Japanese rice wine that is slightly sweet) to thin it down and give it some sweetness, and some sesame oil for a nutty fragrance. Slice courgette thinly, brush with the glaze and grill till it is cooked but still firm to the touch. Serve as you would any grilled vegetables.
I hope you will like the Asian salad ideas I am sharing. My Indian and Korean classes give other ideas for barbeques and side dishes, check out my cookery classes on www.lilianskitchen.co.uk or email me for more details.