Fair warning right up front: This recipe is for adventurous cooks! But, the combination of citrus and fresh herbs make this light salad well worth the effort! The flavor is restaurant-quality and super exotic. My adventure started while leafing through a big, colorful Australian vegetarian cookbook from our home library (credit below). The ingredient list made it clear I would need to pay a visit to my local Chinese grocery. If you’re unaccustomed to shopping in Asian, Indian, and/or Latin markets, you may feel a little overwhelmed by the number of unfamiliar items stocking the shelves. But, there’s usually someone on hand to help you navigate this new frontier. For this salad, I needed rice vermicelli, fresh lemongrass, palm sugar, and kaffir lime leaves. I’d only worked with the first of these before. As it turned out, I could not procure the lime leaves, even after calling a couple of other ethnic markets in town. So, I substituted fresh basil and still got a delicious salad. See the note below for some tips on working with fresh lemongrass.
6-7 ounces dried rice vermicelli
1 cup crushed peanuts (dry roasted, unsalted)
1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, firmly packed
1/2 red onion, sliced in to thin wedges
1 green mango, julienned
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
1 tbs shaved palm sugar
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar (I used unseasoned)
2 stems fresh lemongrass, finely chopped
2 red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
3 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (I used fresh basil leaves)
Okay, this will get pretty wordy, since I want to give you everything you’ll need to delight your eyes and your taste buds and want to make this again! This dish is all about the gorgeous presentation and the amazing flavor.
First, let’s make the dressing. If you have a jar with a lid, this dressing benefits from a good shaking. However, I made mine in a 2-cup glass measure, covered it in plastic and used a fork to whisk it. Prepare the lemongrass as directed at left and put it in the container. Add the lime juice and rice vinegar (usually available in the ethic foods aisle of your supermarket). Palm sugar is actually sap from a variety of palm trees, usually date palms. It’s minimally processed, low on the glycemic index (so it’s great for diabetics) and mine came little 1-tbs molded cakes that were maple colored. I actually ate one like a piece of candy and it was delicious! To shave it, I just used a hand-grater placed over my container. I’m going to love working with palm sugar in the future! We always have dried red chillies in our refrigerator, so I reconstituted 2 of these in boiled water for about 10 minutes. Make sure the seeds are removed or the dish will be too spicy. Chop the chillies very fine and add to the dressing. This should give just a hint of heat without making the salad “hot.” Again, I couldn’t get lime leaves anywhere, so I used about 3-4 fresh basil leaves, shredded. I stack my leaves, roll them up lengthwise very tightly, and slice thin, then cut the resulting strips in half. Give this delicious dressing a little taste just to treat yourself, then cover and refrigerate while you make the salad.
Now, let’s talk about rice vermicelli. This is a thin, white noodle usually packaged in long, twisted sections. I didn’t measure 6-7 ounces. I grabbed a section about 4 inches wide by 6 inches tall and almost an inch thick, gently broke it away from the pack, and plunged it into a large bowl of boiled water. Let the vermicelli soak for about 15 minutes until soft, then drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again. Use kitchen scissors to cut the long strands into 2-3 inch sections. You can be kinda relaxed about this process, but lift up handfuls now and then to be sure you don’t have any extremely long strands, which will be hard to eat.
While that’s soaking, slice your mango into very thin julienne strips. I used a mango that wasn’t completely green, so there were softer sections that didn’t look so much like julienne, but I appreciated the extra sweetness that gave the dish. Just be sure you don’t choose a mango that’s super ripe. This recipe called for a Lebanese cucumber, but I used an ordinary cuke. Slice it in half, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then slice each half in half again. Turn the sections over (skin side up) and slice thin on the diagonal. Cut the red onion in half from top to bottom (not across the middle), remove the center, and slice very thin wedges (the thinner the better). If your onion is very large, cut these slices in half and maybe don’t use an entire half.
Put the peanuts in a quart-sized freezer bag and crush with a meat mallot or pulse just a couple of times in a food processor. You want a nice crushed nut, not a powder or a meal. I coarsely chopped my mint, but tore off the leaves of the cilantro and left them large. That’s all the prep work for the salad itself. Combine all of these ingredients using only 3/4 of the peanuts and toss to combine. Give the dressing a fresh shake or whisk and and add it to the salad. Toss well, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining chopped peanuts when serving.
Your Daily Bread:
Acts 19:8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. 11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
Price, Jane (Ed.), The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, (Sydney: Murdoch Books, 2001)