Burmese tomato salad
For a get-together at home the other day, I prepared a huge salad. I mixed iceberg lettuce and radicchio with rocket leaves, added chunks of tomatoes and cucumbers, and then tossed them all together with a secret Italian dressing. My friends loved it, and quite a few of them asked me what the dressing consisted of. I could have told them the truth — that it was from a bottle that I’d bought from a store. But I didn’t. Better to keep them guessing.
But the enthusiasm of the salad lovers points to a fact that cannot be denied: salads are no longer the ghaas-phoos that we scorned at even some years ago. These days, a crisp salad is not just a very important part of a meal but often a meal in itself. When temperatures soar, there is nothing quite as simple and refreshing as a well-tossed salad.
And with the sultry days of May looming large over us, I thought I’d ask Varun Tuli, the imaginative owner of Delhi’s Yum Yum Tree restaurant, for some innovative vegetable salads (though he does excellent non-veg salads too, including one with glass noodles and seafood). Since the restaurant’s speciality is oriental cuisine, I urged him to share some recipes of Southeast Asian salads. Tuli was equally enthusiastic — and promptly came up with several vegetarian suggestions.
| Seafood and glass noodles salad
Salads from hot and humid areas are just right for us in this season. Unlike some European salads that rely heavily on thick dressings such as mayo (which work well for us in winter), Southeast Asian salads are lightly put together. Some need a bit of sesame oil but quite a few are tossed without any oil with just a bit of soya sauce or vinegar giving the veggies the moisture that they need.
For instance, Tuli’s dressing for a delicious Burmese salad of sliced tomatoes and peanuts consists of just a bit of chopped garlic, kaffir lime leaves and red chillies, mixed with lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and water. He mixes all this together and then tosses the dressing with sliced tomatoes, roasted and crushed peanuts, roasted garlic, shredded mint and basil leaves, chopped green onion leaves and coriander.
Indeed, Southeast Asian salads are a vegetarian’s delight — for they make the most of raw vegetables and flavoured herbs such as mint, coriander, kaffir lime and basil. Of course, if you are a strict vegetarian, you have to make sure that the dressing does not contain fish sauce. I love using that strong smelling sauce but I know the odour of fish sometimes puts even non- vegetarians off.
What I particularly like about these salads is the fact that they don’t leave you with a heavy feeling after you’ve eaten them. Sprouts, tomatoes, raw papayas, snow peas and water chestnut are good to taste and easy to digest.
Tuli also does a brilliant shredded green salad with lemon hoisin ginger, prepared with a host of vegetables such as broccoli and celery stems, shredded ginger, spring onion, cherry tomatoes, yellow capsicum and fresh green peppercorn.
I like his salads — and I like the dressings. They have a tangy and sweet touch that I enjoy immensely. Now that summer’s stormed in, we should look East — as some policy-makers suggest — but with a Southward dip.
Som Tam salad (serves 4)
For the dressing:
•10ml lemon juice • 30ml honey •2ml Kikkoman soy •10g sugar
For the salad:
• 300g raw papaya, peeled and shredded •30g julienned green beans •30g shredded carrots •10g chopped fresh red chillies • 50g roasted and crushed peanuts
Mix all the dressing ingredients. Mix all the salad ingredients. Pound well. Combine dressing and salad. Toss and serve.