Thai cuisine is known for harmonizing sweet, sour, pungent, salty and spicy flavors into dishes that burst with flavor. Unfortunately, many of the dishes on Thai restaurant menus in the U.S. are weighed down with vegetable oils and sugar, and served with heavy portions of rice and noodles. While we can’t promise that Tara Gravenstine’s “Thai-Inspired Salad of Awesome” (submitted for the Reader-Created Cookbook Contest) will demolish any last hankerings you have for Pad Thai, we can say that it will satisfy cravings for the complex flavors that make Thai food so addictive.
What really makes the flavor in this salad pop are three herbs easily found at any grocery store or farmers’ market: basil, mint and cilantro. Fresh herbs bring surprising flavor to any type of salad, not just this one, and are an easy way to make your daily salad a little more interesting. In Tara’s salad, the trio of basil, mint and cilantro is aromatic and refreshing and brightens the mild flavors of mung bean sprouts, bamboo shoots (or water chestnuts), avocado, snow peas and red pepper. Mango adds bright color and sweet flavor to the salad, but if you prefer tart to sweet, try using a firm, unripe mango instead. Unripe “green” mangoes are often used in Thai salads and can be sliced or grated.
Tara’s Thai-inspired dressing has all those delicious salty, sour, spicy flavors we mentioned earlier. A key ingredient is fish sauce, and while that might not sound appealing, fish sauce is one of those secret ingredients that heightens flavor in a good way. Many Asian dishes call for fish sauce and you should be able to find it at your local grocery store. Although most, if not all, brands have added salt and sugar, the sauce is used so sparingly in recipes (2 teaspoons in Tara’s dressing) that the added sugar isn’t much of a worry. In this dressing, the fish sauce is blended with lime juice, tamari and ginger, creating a lively, light dressing with a slightly spicy kick.
We topped the salad with chopped, grilled chicken breast for protein, although thin slices of steak (hmm…or maybe shrimp….) would be delicious, too. And, as Tara says, “some grated coconut on top of the salad would not be amiss.”
1 bunch spinach, roughly chopped
2 cups loosely packed fresh mung bean sprouts (optional)
1 cup snow peas, julienned (i.e. cut into matchsticks)
1 small can bamboo shoots (or water chestnuts), julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 bunch scallions, julienned or chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/3 cup chopped mint
1 mango, diced
1 avocado, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
juice and zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon soy or tamari sauce
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
2 teaspoons ginger juice (or grated ginger root)
*ginger juice can be made by chopping up ginger and squishing it in a mortar and pestle, or in a bowl with a spoon.