Monday, January 14, 2013

A surprisingly amazing salad from Xinjiang

At first glance, this looks like it could be little more than a boring salad. And if you are not in any way a huge fan of cilantro, this probably looks more like fluffy green death on a plate.

But you would be deceived.

I put this together as an afterthought when I realized that my dinner of lamb kebabs and pilaf ran the visual gamut of brown to beige. Something colorful – a preferably bright emerald – was needed to perk up the plates. 

I had been sidetracked by other things while cooking, and vegetable matter had slipped my mind, so when I hastily flipped through a Chinese cookbook specializing in the Northwest, this beautiful recipe popped out at me. 

And, to my delight, I had everything on hand, so into the mixing bowl went everything and out came the most startlingly delicious salad I've tried in a long time.

Tossed cilantro and peanuts 
Huāshēngmĭ bàn xiāngcài 花生米拌香菜
Xinjiang
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer, 2 to 3 as a side salad

½ cup fried or toasted peanuts 
1 bunch very fresh cilantro (see Tips)
The main ingredients
½ red sweet pepper
1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons any kind of mingyou, but Shallot Oil is highly recommended
1 tablespoon Toasted Sesame Seeds, optional

1. If you have not prepared the peanuts yet, cook them now and let them cool off completely before mixing them with the rest of the ingredients.

2. Rinse the cilantro carefully in cold water, shake it dry, and remove any less than stellar leaves and stalks. Trim off the ends and cut the cilantro into 1-inch pieces before placing them in a mixing bowl. Trim the pepper, removing the inside ridges and seeds, and the cut the pepper into pieces about the same size as the peanuts; add this to the cilantro along with the cooled, cooked peanuts. (The salad can be made ahead of time up to this point, covered, and chilled. Toss in the dressing just before serving.)

3. Toss the cilantro, pepper, and peanuts with the rest of the ingredients; taste and adjust seasoning. Serve as an appetizer or side salad.
Some hairy-chested sprigs

Tips

Use the freshest, most virile bunch of cilantro you can find. By this I mean that the stalks should be really crisp and tender, as if it were picked at the peak of freshness. There should be no spoilage, of course, and the leaves ought to be tender yet feel very much alive. As cilantro is the star of this show, use the best bunch you can find.

If you really and truly cannot stand cilantro, parsley would be an admirable substitute. 

4 comments:

  1. This Salad Sounds and Looks Great! will try it for sure... it remindes me of a salad my Mom is making with cilantro which is not my faviorite, but mixed with other herbs and vegies is really really tasty... (-:

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    1. It's true that even people who normally don't get excited about cilantro find this really delicious. I don't know why. Somehow this ingenious combination makes the flavors sing!

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  2. This recipe reminds me of a memorable off-the-cuff lunch made hurriedly for me about 20 years ago by my girlfriend in Kunming. Very similar, in that the heart of it was cilantro, peanuts, and soy, perhaps also some scallions. But blended in were some delicious rice noodles, warmed. The contrast of flavors and temperatures are what gave this dish it's simple charm.

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    1. Oh boy, that sounds incredible. Thanks for a great idea!

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