I created this recipe as a first course for a dinner party where I was serving Vietnamese Beef Stew (see recipe here.) This salad is the perfect complement to the stew. The dressing is made with many of the same seasonings and spices and the variety of fragrant and pungent greens are light enough to make this salad the perfect prelude to the hearty stew. It is also a terrific salad to serve with any dinner where you want something a little different. Personally, I’m a little tired of the usual blue cheese, pear (or beets) and candied nuts. This salad is a sure winner and guaranteed to be a conversation piece.
Balancing flavors is the key to a successful salad dressing and that is especially true of this one. You want to get a salty touch of fish sauce, a slight jolt of lime juice, a hinth of soy sauce and some lingering heat from the Sriracha. If you can manage to get all that plus a hint of garlic and ginger, then you’ve nailed it. My measurements are only guides. You are going to need to do some improvising yourself.
The greens are up for grabs. When my market has baby watercress, I use that. Mizuna, an Asian variety of mustard greens with spiky dark green leaves that have a surprisingly delicate texture and delightfully peppery, even spicy kick makes a good substitute, but arugula works equally as well. Napa cabbage and bok choy are almost always available; sometimes you can find them bagged with just the leaves. I like to buy them that way because then I don’t have to purchase so much. Cilantro is a carry-over from the stew, but I think that lots of mint and basil (Thai basil preferred ) also add great flavor. To top things off, thinly slice a red seeded Thai chili or jalapeno, for a touch of vibrant color and peanuts for delightful crunch.
2 cups loosely packed baby watercress leaves or mizuna or arugula,
4 large Napa cabbage leaves, ends trimmed, stems and leaves thinly sliced
1 small head bok choy, rough bottoms discarded and cut into 1/4-inch pieces, leaves thinly sliced
1/3 cup each cilantro, basil and mint leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 of a hot house cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 red Thai or jalapeño chili, finely sliced (with or without seeds)
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha or Tabasco, to taste
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon each minced garlic and ginger
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, optional
To make the salad, mix watercress, cabbage, bok choy, cilantro, basil, mint in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the dressing, shake all the ingredients together in a jar or whisk in a small bowl. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed, adding oil, if desired.
To make ahead: Greens may be refrigerated covered in a bowl for several hours. Dressing may be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Shake well before using.
To serve, add cucumber to greens and toss with as much dressing as desired. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Divide among 4 plates and top with slices of red chilies and chopped peanuts. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 serving.