Where does kani salad get its name? While kani is the Japanese name for crab, kani is also short for kani kama (not to be confused with kanitama or crab omelet), the imitation crab sticks that you often find in sushi rolls and one of the essential ingredients of kani salad.
Fresh. Green. Bright. Juicy. These are words I associate with the summer. Philippine summers are either famous or notorious depending on how you look at it. We can swear all we want about the heat that can get terribly oppressive, yet, there is a part of us that welcomes the summer because of the childhood memories it evokes. Carefree days in the sun, warm nights on the beach, visits to grandparents in the province and climbing trees for a first bite of the freshest and most luscious fruits imaginable.
It may be this association that makes me think of salads during the summer. Crisp green leafy vegetables, a medley of colors and textures, light, cool and every mouthful refreshing. At home, Japanese kani salad is a favorite. It is very easy to prepare and the ingredients are available in most supermarkets all year ’round.
Kani is imitation crab sticks? Kani salad is not made with real crab meat? Well, we’ve been buying kani for years and I have yet to encounter one made with real crab.
Kani is made with fish. That’s why I can eat it without fear. I am allergic to crabs and if kani were made with real crabs, I wouldn’t take one bite.
With that clarification out of the way, let see the steps in making kani salad.
Peel and discard the plastic wrap that covers each piece of kani. Lightly press the kani on the sides starting from one tip to the opposite tip.
Pressing the kani separates the strips inside. Now all you have to do is pull those strips apart.
Some people just chop the kani to made kani salad. You can do that. Faster and easier. BUT that won’t make the kani flavors blend with the rest of the ingredients well because the distribution will be uneven. So, press the kani and pull apart the strips.
For that perfectly even distribution of ingredients, cut the vegetables in roughly the same size as the kani. I start by slicing both the carrot and cucumber thinly using a mandoline.
I stack the thin slices then I slice them into matchsticks (see also: how to julienne).
What I do with the carrot, I do with the cucumber as well. Except, of course, that I don’t slice through the center of the cucumber that contains the seeds.
The mango… Sweet ripe mangoes are too soft to pass through the mandoline. Manual slicing and cutting is called for. What I do is slash the mango diagonally so that the strips are roughly the same length. The slashes, about a quarter inch apart (less, if you can manage it), go all the way but without cutting through the skin.
Using a spoon, I scoop out the slices. Shallow scooping so that the slices are thin. Keep scooping until you have scooped out all of the flesh.
The lettuce I first rinse then pass through the salad spinner. I don’t cut the lettuce too thinly to prevent the leaves from turning soggy when tossed with the rest of the ingredients.
I place all the ingredients in a bowl and toss them with a drizzle of sesame seed oil. When everything is evenly distributed, I add the mayo and toss them all together once more until every bit is moistened.
- 100 to 150 grams kani (imitation crab sticks)
- 1 medium carrot peeled
- 2 medium cucumbers or 1 large, peeled or unpeeled and seeds scooped out
- 1 bunch lettuce varieties that can retain their shape like iceberg and romaine are recommended
- drizzle sesame seed oil
- 1/4 cup Japanese mayonnaise
Peel the kani. Press each from tip to tip between your fingers. Pull apart to shred.
Thinly slice the cucumbers and carrot, and julienne (cut into matchsticks).
Cut the mango; discard the stone. Slash diagonally, the slashes about a quarter inch apart, all the way but without cutting through the skin. Using a spoon, scoop out shallowly to come up with thin strips.
Rinse the lettuce and dry in a salad spinner. Cut the leaves horizontally into half-inch slices.
Place the shredded kani, julienned carrot and cucumber, sliced mango and lettuce in a mixing bowl. Drizzle in the sesame seed oil. Toss to distribute the ingredients evenly. Use your hands to toss to avoid bruising the ingredients.
Add the Japanese mayo. Toss the kani salad once more to moisten everything evenly.
NOTE: There is no need to add salt. The kani is sufficiently salty to blend perfectly with the sweetness of the carrot, cucumber and mango.