Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vietnamese Cabbage Salad

Sweetheart cabbage - how I love thee! Others may call you pointed or hispi but they are dullards. Simply wrong. They miss your tender sweetness, and the prettiness you offer up when sliced through. Your pale heart offers unalloyed affection and always brings a smile.

Seriously. Those harder than concrete balls of standard cabbage are so difficult to get to grips with, resisting the knife and, when finally cut there is always a huge core veining its way through the centre. Not great for salad and needing far longer than the rest for cooking. Sweetheart cabbage offer delightful flavour and ease of use. They are gorgeous lightly steamed with nothing more than pepper and a touch of butter or lard. (I have various bowls of rendered fat in my fridge that I use to flavour different things, seems to be particularly good with vegetables.)

Raw in salad it works a treat too. After the delight of rediscovering hot rice paper wraps I wanted more Vietnamese inspired food. Figured it was perfect as a summer meal to dip rare roasted beef in nuoc cham, that blissed out sauce of lemon, garlic, chilli and fish sauce and accompany it with steamed rice and a crunchy salad with my sweetheart shredded plus carrot to make like slaw dressed with a different sauce using garlic, chillies and fish sauce nuanced with lots of rice wine vinegar and a handful of thai basil from the garden mixed through. The basic idea comes from Viet World Kitchen. It would be good with toasted crushed peanuts too.

Spicy Cabbage Salad

Makes enough for 6 salad servings

Watch it on the chillies. The mortar and pestle pounding releases all the oils and the dressing can be fiery -- enough to make you sweat...


1 or 2 Thai or serrano chiles, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
a pinch of salt
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce
5 to 6 tablespoons unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
500g green cabbage, quartered through the stem end, cored, and cut crosswise into thin ribbons
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander (rau răm), cilantro, or mint leaves

Using a mortar and pestle, mash the chile, garlic, ½ teaspoon sugar, and salt together into a fragrant orange-red paste. (Use a sweeping motion at first to crush the ingredients and then pound.) This releases and combines the oils from the chile and garlic. Scrape the paste into a bowl and add the remaining teaspoon of sugar and smaller quantities of fish sauce and rice vinegar, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt and to combine well. Taste and add more fish sauce or rice vinegar to create a spicy, tart, savory, lightly garlicky dressing.

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrot and your chopped herb of choice. Toss to combine and distribute the ingredients well.

Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss to mix well. The salad will wilt slightly. Taste and adjust the flavors to your liking, balancing the sour, sweet, salty, and spicy. Transfer to a serving plate, leaving any unabsorbed dressing behind, and serve.

True love!


Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

Hi Bron, lovely to see you yesterday. I hadn't realised that pointed cabbages were so different to those white footballs, I will make a point of buying one like this next time.

bron said...

Enjoyed seeing you too Sarah, and do try one of these cabbages. Quite a different beast to the usual ones.