Summer and salads...they just go together. But sometimes I think it is easy to get in a salad rut this time of year (has anyone else out there overdosed on tomatoes yet?) So when you make a salad that is (you think) something special, something different, something that wakes up the taste buds, is cool and refreshing, and just bursting with healthy goodness, well then that really is a salad to sing (or blog) about! The asian flavors in the dressing drench all the colorful and crunchy vegetables in a bright and rich blanket of ginger, citrus, sesame and soy...plus a little bit of heat to keep things interesting. A beautiful salad, in every way!
I roamed the Internet looking for some recipes for Asian dressings as I was looking for something new and spunkier than the one I had been using. I found inspiration here at Food Nouveau, an incredibly beautiful blog with some truly wonderful recipes. I changed things up a little bit, added a little more sweetener and some citrus, and upped the peanut flavor as well. Have we talked about me being a low-taster recently? Although my kiddos have suggested this is just one of the many joyous aspects of getting older (aging taste buds), I've really been flavor challenged my whole life, so this, at least, has remained a constant. I can't say the same thing about my joints, skin, and memory, unfortunately. Where was I....?
Oh yes...a light, incredibly flavor-packed, salad full of good-for-you deliciousness! This recipe meets my very high standards for balance between healthy and super-tasty. The nuts and peanut butter provide some protein, the veggies are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, the mango and citrus provide vitamin C and more anti-oxidants, and the remaining ingredients in the dressing are good for you too too--heart-healthy oils, garlic, ginger, hot pepper, etc. You can adjust the sweetener and all the ingredients to taste. I like using agave here as it is already a liquid and blends in perfectly with the other dressing ingredients, and since it is sweeter than sugar, you can use less of it, which is great for anyone watching their sugar intake.
The texture contrasts will make your mouth very happy (and you'll probably burn some extra calories with all that crunching). The crisp of the vegetables is balanced against the smooth and soft, sweet cubes of mango. The complexity is taken up a notch with the slightly salty and crunchy nut and seed medley, the dressing is smooth and intricate, and everything is finished off with the cool final note of fresh cilantro. As pretty as a party dress, only much tastier.
Do you have minor compulsions that you give into every now and then, that don't cost a lot, but put a smile on your face? OK, I'll go first. I LOVE browsing through the ethnic markets around town and exploring all the amazing variety of items. I always find interesting, different and sometimes very exotic ingredients that I bring home...and sometimes don't have the faintest clue what to do with. I've been trying to control myself lately as the cupboard is fairly bulging, but couldn't resist a lovely bag of toasted sesame seeds I saw the other day (Ziyad brand). So, where have these been all my life?!!! This is one of those purchases I have put to good use, immediately. They became a distinctive part of the salad topper triad with the other nuts, and I've also used them on home made semolina bread (post coming very soon) with divine results. I'm already imagining them in some sort of honey-sweetened chewy bar (maybe a later post). They add a deep flavor and slightly exotic crunchy note to the salad, so I would strongly encourage you to use them. If you can't find the toasted variety, plain ones will work, just toast them carefully as they brown very quickly.
This is a gorgeous salad to serve for company (as I did) as it is bursting with the amazing colors of nature and makes quite a distinctive presentation. When served in the tall glasses, it becomes a whimsical veggie sundae! I think it is a great way to celebrate the end of summer, but with a delightful twist. Bring this to your next lunch or dinner party, barbecue, or any-day summer meal or event. Not your grandma's coleslaw, but sure to become a favorite all the same!
For the slaw:
2 heads Napa cabbage, shredded finely, thick stems discarded
1/2 head red cabbage, shredded very finely
2 bunches green onions, or about 20 small, green tops only, sliced into small rings
5 - 6 carrots, shredded
1 large red pepper (or any pepper of choice), cut into 1 to 2-inch strips
1 large or 2 medium mango, diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Layer all the ingredients in tall glasses or a large glass bowl in the order presented above. Top with 2 tablespoons of the nut mixture. Serve the dressing and extra nut mix on the side.
For the dressing:
1 small thai chili or jalapeno pepper, diced small, 1 teaspoon
4 - 5 tablespoons lite soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons almond oil, peanut oil or olive oil (I used almond)
1 tablespoon hot sesame oil, or regular sesame oil (I used hot)
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter (less or more to taste)
1 small clove garlic, finely diced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 cup agave, sugar or sweetener of choice, to taste
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice or orange juice
Pulse all of the dressing ingredients in a small food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust flavors to your liking. This is a thin, runny dressing. For a thicker dressing, use more peanut butter and less citrus juice. Yields about 1 1/4 cup dressing.
For the nut topping:
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds
Toast the sunflower seeds and almonds very carefully in the oven or in a skillet on the stove. Watch VERY carefully as they can burn very easily. Remove from heat before they are quite done as they will continue to brown once off or out of the heat. If you are using regular sesame seeds, toast those separately as they will toast much more quickly than the nuts. Add the sesame seeds and the nuts to a small bowl and toss to mix.