Salads

Asian Coleslaw

Lets be honest, coleslaw has been called many things over the years but trendy has never been one of them – at least until now, that is.

A salad stalwart of 80s potluck dinners, coleslaw has since been pretty much relegated to being nothing more than a questionable side-order to a greasy bucket of chicken – a lazy attempt to elevate our deep-fried indulges into something that resembles a balanced meal! Thankfully, however, these days coleslaw has made something of a comeback and is looking (and tasting) better than ever! Personally I think coleslaw owes its unexpected revival to the recent trendy-burger movement: after all what is a gourmet burger without a helping of gourmet sides?

Truffled skinny fries, tempura onion rings and umami ketchup, it was only a matter of time before coleslaw got in on the action and got a much needed makeover. Whilst the Western incarnation of coleslaw has undergone somewhat of a reinvention, the greatest evolution of the dish is, however, truly manifest in Asian Coleslaw. An ubiquitous name at best, Asian coleslaw is really just regular coleslaw but with a fusion twist.  Don’t get me wrong, regular ‘slaw is awesome, but Asian ‘slaw is simply next-level awesome! Whilst no single ingredient turns regular coleslaw Asian, the star of this particular version of Asian coleslaw is undoubtedly the sesame seeds, which add a wonderful toasted flavour that suits the rich creamy tang of the mayonnaise.

Perhaps one of the best things about coleslaw is its versatility. Traditionally the only two mainstays of the dish are white cabbage and mayonnaise, other than that you can add or omit just about anything. Try making it with some shaved fennel or replace the spring onion with thinly sliced regular onion. Leaving out the sultanas and  doenjang (Korean soy bean paste) would instantly make for the perfect LCHF side dish. Of course if you really wanted to push the boat out you could always substitute the sesame seeds with toasted pine nuts, but given the exorbitant price of pine nuts it does rather feel like an extravagance too far for something as humble as coleslaw.

To call this a “recipe” is somewhat of a stretch as making coleslaw is really just an assemblage of ingredients rather than an actual recipe per se. Okay so there is a fair amount of chopping involved when making any coleslaw, but if you have a decent mandolin handy then there really isn’t anything to it. It seems almost criminal that something so good can require so little effort, but it does and I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little obsessed. I’ve been eating coleslaw with just about everything recently, but that’s because it goes with just about everything! Burgers, sausages, grilled chicken and tonkatsu / chikenkatsu (Japanese Pork / chicken schnitzels) – all make the perfect companion to a healthy dollop of ‘slaw!

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Waterfall Beef Salad (Neua Naam Tok) น้ำตกเนื้อ

Unless you are a Buddhist monk, you are unlikely to ever encounter truly vegetarian food in Asia and like most other regional cuisines, Thai food is no exception. Thai Salads (or “yam” as they are known locally) are often spiked with a sneaky portion of dried shrimps or the meat-to-vegetable ratio is often skewed in favour of the meat.  Ask for a salad in Thailand and chances are you’ll be served something as far removed from what you imagined a salad could, or should, be. That said, yams are utterly delicious and make an essential addition to any Thai-style meal.

Thai Waterfall Beef Salad (Neua Naam Tok) น้ำตกเนื้อAside from my obsession with the classic Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad), one of my favourite yam is Waterfall Beef. Often the first thing people ask about is the dish’s name. “Waterfall” seemingly conjures up evocative images of cascading falls in a topical paradise. Sadly, however, the truth is far less poetic, as the “waterfall” actually refers to beef juices that drip from the meat as it is cooked over hot charcoal. Traditionally Waterfall Beef is eaten with sticky rice, but it also offers a wonderful counter-balance to other, richer Thai flavours, especially when paired with a classic Thai curry like  mussaman or green curry.

Whilst simple to make, Waterfall Beef is not without its pitfalls. Firstly, the steak must never be done past medium-rare and must be afforded enough time to rest before being thinly sliced. Secondly, the salad must be served immediately as the acidity of the dressing will “cook” the beef if left to stand too long. Another thing to consider is the ratio of herbs to meat in the dish. Don’t be shy with the herbs as they are what makes this is a salad – they are not there as a token garnish. Aim for a 40/60 ratio in favour of the beef.

For more great Thai recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Quinoa & Chickpea Salad with Asparagus, Avocado and Sugar Snap Peas

Quinoa & Chickpea Salad with Asparagus and Sugar Snap PeasQuinoa: the mere mention of the word is enough to instil a sense of dread in any meat lover!

Thankfully, the recent popularity of couscous and, to a lesser extent, bulgar wheat, have paved the way for a quinoa renaissance of sorts. With an increased appreciation of grains as a healthier alternative to traditional carbs, quinoa is no longer the preserve of sandal wearing hippies and long forgotten Incas. This once sacred grain is now the darling of the health conscious and has even sneaked into the hearts of some of the most ferocious carnivores among us, myself included!

Which brings me to this awesome salad.

Packed with the best of nature, this salad tastes like Spring on-a-plate and makes for an excellent side dish to a braai or just as a great vegan/vegetarian dinner. I must confess, this sort of food is not usually my style, but this fabulous salad was a result of the need to feed a guest who was on a restricted diet and my repertoire is all the better for it!

Forced to go “healthy” for the sake of my guest, I turned to the healthiest food I knew of – quinoa. Unfortunately, my previous experiences of this protein rich grain were limited to its popular use as a poor meat substitute in the 90s – not a great starting point for any dish! Nevertheless, after a flurry of panicked internet trawling and cookbook research, I discovered that quinoa has come along way since the days when it was relegated to being stuffed into vegan sausages.

Simple to cook and easy to digest, quinoa was an absolute revelation! Delightfully flavoured, quinoa is, in my opinion, far nicer than couscous (which can be rather dull) and bulgar wheat (which is, at best, indigestible). With its distinctly nutty flavour, quinoa is tasty without being overpowering, making it the perfect base for any tabbouleh style salad.

So, quite unexpectedly I find myself in love with quinoa…and after you try this dish, the chances are you will be too.

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Salade Niçoise

Along with its Provençal cousin bouillabaisse, Salade Niçoise is the perfect example of peasant food made good!

Hailing from the Cote d’Azur in the South of France, Salade Niçoise has always been popular and is considered one of the classic salads of the world. Whilst it’s undeniably a dish of humble beginnings, its ingredients have grown in sophistication, along with the salad’s popularity. Quail eggs, seared bluefin tuna steaks, asparagus – all have found their way into Niçoises the world over.

Whilst traditionally the inclusion of tuna in a Niçoise Salad is by no means a given, there was a time when good-old tinned tuna would suffice. Nowadays however, seared tuna steaks seem to have become the norm in swankier eateries. Controversially, I personally still prefer some good quality tinned tuna over a slab of seared tuna any day! Not only do I think it’s a criminal waste of precious, overpriced tuna, it is also often a tad bland and doesn’t stand up well to the intensity of the other ingredients. Good tuna deserves to be the star of the show and in a Niçoise, though, it is often lost in the riot of competing flavours. Save it for sashimi, I say.

It seems, however, that I’m in the minority in my tuna preference. So much so, I’ve even had waitrons apologizing because the Niçoise salad on the menu was “just” made with tinned tuna. They usually seem a bit surprised when I order it in spite of their dire warnings and forebodings! The truth is that a lot of things can make for a bad Niçoise salad, good quality tinned tuna isn’t one of them, but if seared is your thing, please don’t let me dissuade you!

These days just about anything passes as a Niçoise salad, in fact, there is really no definitive version of this classic French salad. Whether it be the anchovies, tuna or potatoes, everybody seems to have their own ideas with regards to which combination makes for the perfect Niçoise. To be honest though, as with most things, it really comes down to personal taste. Carb-conscious? Ditch the potatoes. Not fan of tuna? Leave it out. Hate anchovies? Eat a different salad!

For more great salads from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Fattoush (Moroccan Bread Salad)

Moroccan Bread SaladFar and away my favourite Moroccan salad, fattoush is both tasty and filling.

Popular throughout the Middle East, this bread salad is similar to an Italian panzanella. Not only is it a great way to use up old bread, it is also a great addition to any Moroccan meal. It even makes an interesting alternative to your typical “braai” salad and is a great option for any vegetarian guest you may have.

In this recipe I’ve used tinned artichoke hearts, but you can substitute these with any number of alternatives if you want – I would recommend using either some grilled green bell peppers or perhaps some grilled baby marrows (courgettes). Traditionally the recipe calls for oily black olives, but these aren’t always readily available so I would just use the tastiest black olives you can find instead.

For more delicious Moroccan recipes please click here or if you would like to read more about Moroccan food please click here

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Couscous Tabbouleh

Couscous TabboulehOften mistaken as being Moroccan, tabbouleh is originally from the Middle East and is commonly served as part of a meze. Especially dear to the Lebanese – the dish is so loved, it has even been granted the honour of having its own celebration: National Tabbouleh Day! So widely popular is tabbouleh, this humble dish is seen as a common cultural link between the divided people of this once war-torn nation; reflecting the diversity of the Lebanese people through its diverse ingredients. Seemingly, for the Lebanese at least, this makes tabbouleh something worth celebrating.

For the rest of us, however, it is just a salad.

So whilst traditionally part of a meze, in Western convention it is more likely to be served as an accompaniment to a main meal such as a tagine, stew or even a barbeque. Typically made with bulgur wheat, tabbouleh can also be made using couscous. Whilst not entirely authentic, I prefer using couscous as I find bulgur wheat a little chewy and, to my mind, it can weigh a good tabbouleh down. I have also recently rediscovered the joys of quinoa, which would also make a great base for a tabbouleh.

The great thing about tabbouleh is its adaptability – provided you have some fresh herbs and lemon, you can virtually use any ingredients you have available. There’s really only one “rule” to consider when assembling your tabbouleh (and even that isn’t set in stone) and that’s the ratio of couscous to herbs. Traditionally the couscous is actually one of the secondary ingredients and not, as is common practice, the main ingredient – this honour actually falls to the fresh herbs. Traditionally the herbs should make up at least 70% of the overall tabbouleh, but this is rarely the case in Western interpretations of the dish, where the ratio is often reversed in favour of the couscous. In truth though, it is not really that important – all that really matters is making the dish to your own tastes and preference. After all, your tabbouleh doesn’t symbolise the aspirations of the Middle East, it is just dinner.

For the recipe of perfect couscous, please click here.

If you would like to serve tabbouleh with some delicious Moroccan dishes, please click here

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Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

I’ve always loved Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam), but I’ve had to set aside my cravings for the simple reason that you couldn’t source green papaya in Cape Town…that is, until now! Having spotted a gap in the market, the New Asian Spice Supermarket in Sea Point has thankfully started stocking them. Supply is often erratic, as there’s only one farm in the whole of South Africa that produces these under-ripened gems, but regardless of sporadic supply at least they are finally available locally. And so, in an instant, an obsession was reborn!

Other than sourcing green papaya, there are two key elements essential to making the salad. The first is the need for a large pestle and mortar, the second is shredding the papaya correctly. The latter can either be done by hand, using a sharp knife to cut into the papaya and then using a vegetable peeler to shred the flesh; or with a mandolin, using a fine shredding attachment. Personally I use a mandolin; while less authentic, it gets the job done in half the time!

The epitome of the classic Thai sweet vs. sour dish, Som Tam delivers a tangy, sweet punch with a texture and crunch that is incredibly refreshing. Hot, fragrant and balanced, for many this is Thailand on a plate. Although delicious served with just some plain rice, or as part of a larger Thai banquet, if you want to partner the som tam with something really authentic, try it with Candied Pork and Coconut Rice – spectacular!

For more delicious Thai recipes please click here, or if you need tips on stocking your Thai Pantry please click here.

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Mushroom and Lemony Lentils

Sometimes all you need to produce culinary magic is a couple of tins of lentils, a few basic ingredients…and 24 hours.

Mushroom & Lemon Lentils with Sausage and Roasted Red Pepper & Tabasco SauceThis recipe is store-cupboard alchemy at its best and is a great healthy alternative to the usual starch-demons that plague us all, like mash potatoes or rice. Infinitely adaptable, these lentils go well with just about anything; from grilled meats, to a stand-alone salad – this is healthy eating at its most appealing.

These lentils go particularly well with a piquant counterpoint, such as a Roasted Red Pepper and Tabasco Sauce, perhaps dotted with some Crema di Balsamico.

If you plan to serve it as a salad, top with some sliced avocado and perhaps some pomegranate seeds.

Most recently, I partnered these lentils some grilled Toulouse sausage from Rudi’s and it was simply delectable!

Click here for the recipe

Classic Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken

Ceasar Salad with ChickenThe first time I ordered a Caesar Salad I was completely overwhelmed, but not in a good way. It was just too salty, too greasy, too cheesy – it was just too much of everything and yet tasted of nothing in particular. Undeterred by this travesty of a salad, I decided to try making it at home. I told myself that such an iconic salad couldn’t possibly be so bad and I was right, it’s actually tastes bloody incredible! Done right, a Caesar Salad is salty, it is cheesy and yes, it is greasy but it is all a question of balance. The salad should be light but robust, subtle but punchy. In my opinion, the key is the lettuce-to-dressing ratio – get that right and it will make all the difference.

Admittedly the addition of the grilled chicken is an aberration but hey-ho, I’m no Caesar purist! I find the chicken lightens the overall dish and turns the salad into a substantial meal…and whilst I’m owning up to culinary aberrations, I also prefer using baby gem lettuce over the traditional cos! Scandalous I know, but I’m just muddled that way.

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Prosciutto, Figs, Rocket & Walnut Salad with Pecorino & Balsamic Crème

In Cape Town our fresh produce is almost entirely seasonal and when figs come into season you’ve got to make the most of their short-lived availability. For me, this is the ultimate fig dish; this gorgeous salad is culinary alchemy on a plate and best of all it doesn’t require any cooking (unless you consider toasting some bruschetta cooking!).

Some times the most amazing food doesn’t require any effort at all and this little gem of a salad is about as perfect and easy as they come.

Prosciutto, Figs, Rocket & Walnut Salad with Pecorino & Balsamic Crème

Prosciutto, Figs, Rocket & Walnut Salad with Pecorino & Balsamic Crème

Click here for the recipe