The dressing can be made in advance and warmed when needed. Rice noodles are a good addition to this. Fresh, hot, sour, salty, and sweet—Thai cuisine, and this salad, hits every pleasure point. The dressing alone is like money in the bank—it improves nearly anything it touches. Fiddling with the recipe verified something we’d suspected: when using spices in uncooked dishes, warming them gently gets rid of their raw edge and opens up all their individuality. Inspiration for this dressing recipe came from Thai food write and restaurateur Su-Mei Yu’s cooking “The Elements of Life” (Wiley, 2009).
- ½ cup expeller-pressed canola oil
- 4 generous teaspoons coarsely ground Aleppo chile or other flavorful medium-hot to hot ground chile
- 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 1/3 cups coconut milk, or to taste
- 2 to 2½ tablespoons Asian fish sauce
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Juice of ½ large lime
- 3 large handfuls mixed tart greens, such as the tender yellow hearts of eascarole, arugula, frisée, curly endive, mizuna, watercress, purslane, lamb’s ear, and baby spinach
- 8 to 10 leaves of napa cabbage, cut crosswise into thin slivers
- 4 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
- 1½ cups bite-sized pieces fresh pineapple, or canned in pineapple juice and drained
- ½ cup roasted, salted and broken cashews or peanuts
- 1½ to 2 cups diced firm tofu or cooked and diced tempeh, chicken, or seafood
- ½ lightly packed cup of fresh mint, cilantro, or basil leaves torn
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Juice of 1 to 1 ½ large limes
To make the dressing: In a 12-inch straight sided sauté pan, combine the oil, chile, and garlic. Heat slowly over medium heat so the flavors will open up but nothing will burn, about 2 minutes. Stir with a wooden spatula until the garlic begins to sizzle, but do not let it brown. Quickly add the coconut milk, raise the heat to medium-high, and boil the coconut milk for 30 seconds, or until it’s a deep red-gold. Stir in 2 tablespoon of the fish sauce, or more to taste. Then mix in the sugar and salt and boil for 30 seconds, or until the dressing is thickened with glossy bubbles and is the color of light caramel. Immediately scrape the dressing into a bowl to stop the cooking. Add the juice of half a lime. Rinse and dry the pan and keep it handy for reheating the dressing.
To make the salad: Toss the greens and cabbage and divide them among 4 dinner plates. Divide the scallions, pineapple, cashew, tofu, and mint among the plates, scattering them over the greens. Season the salads with salt and pepper to taste.
Warm the dressing in the pan to a bubble, then stir in the jice of ½ lime. Drizzle the warm dressing over each serving. Squeeze generous amounts of fresh lime juice over the salads and serve.