When dining out, it has often been my sad experience to have my meat or seafood meal accompanied by a side salad that looks and tastes no more than an afterthought. A few slices of vegetables drizzled with some generic dressing that, often, don’t even complement the meat or seafood. In many cases, the side salad appears to be a token or, worse, a filler to make the plate look full and more colorful especially when the meat or seafood is meagre or colorless or both.
For someone who has never acquired the very Western habit of eating a salad before the main dish, the side salad means a lot more to me that it probably does to other people. So I appreciate it when the combination of vegetables is given some thought and the dressing does not ruin the flavors and textures of the meat or seafood. And it is a philosophy that I observe at home. In other words, a side salad is never simply ornamental.
To start with, there is no standard cut for salad vegetables. My eyebrow shoots up when I read or hear cooks insist that tomatoes and cucumbers must be cut into thin rings and that carrots and celery must be cut into sticks. That is just so boring.
For the side salad that accompanied the beef for today’s very late lunch, I used the vegetable peeler to make ribbons out of the cucumber and carrot. I added a finger chili, very thinly sliced and with the seeds removed. Then, julienned Thai basil and peppermint leaves. For the dressing, a very simple mixture of rice wine, sugar and salt. And to garnish the salad, some crushed peanuts.
Now, in printable format.
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teasoon salt
- 1 cucumber, peeled
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 1 finger chili
- 6 Thai basil leaves
- 6 spearmint leaves
- crushed peanuts
- Start by making the dressing. Stir together the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt. Set aside.
- Using the same vegetable peeler with which the cucumber and carrot had been peeled, shave the vegetables into thin ribbons.
- Scrunch up the cucumber in your hand and squeeze to remove as much water as you can.
- Place the cucumber and carrot ribbons in a bowl.
- Finely slice the chili.
- Cut the basil and spearmint leaves into fine sliced (see how to make chiffonade).
- Add the chili and herbs to the cucumber and carrot. Drizzle in the dressing and toss lightly.
- Sprinkle with crushed peanuts before serving.
Next time, I think I’ll add thin slices of ripe mangoes too. That should make the side salad even more colorful and delicious.