This is a very simple yet tasty dish that was a hit at many of the dinners we held this year. At one dinner, a couple of guests fought to keep this dish on the table when I attempted to remove it to make room for other dishes on the menu :). This salad is a study of balancing various tastes and textures: sweetness of baby clams & tartness of tamarind, chewiness of baby clams & meatiness of young jack fruit (it’s a staple ingredient of vegetarian cuisine in South and Southeast Asia) & crunchiness of rau om (rice paddy herb) and rau răm (Vietnamese coriander), rice crackling and peanuts. And best of all, the salad is extremely easy to make and should take no more than 30 minutes in the kitchen, including prep time.
Below are all the main ingredients for the salad (from top right, counter clockwise): baby clams, sliced young jack fruit, sliced shallots, tamarind, torn rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) and rau om (rice paddy herb). Rick crackling and peanuts are optional and not shown.
First, stir fry half of the shallots in hot oil, then add baby clams, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of tamarind and stir quickly for 2-3 minutes. You don’t want to overcook the clams. They will lose their plumpness and a lot of clam juice if they are overcooked. Set aside.
Stir fry the rest of the shallots, then add the sliced young jack fruit, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of tamarind and cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
Add the cooked baby clams, rau răm and rau om to the young jack fruit. Add the rest of the tamarind, 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and a pinch of salt to taste then mix the salad well. Top the mixed salad with peanuts and served with rice crackling on the side.
The key of this salad is tamarind and it is really difficult to make a good baby clams salad without tamarind. I tried a version of this salad in which vinegar was used instead of tamarind and did not like it as much. That version was bland in comparison and lacked the depth and complexity of flavors that tamarind provided.
This post is our contribution to the December 2011 (and final) edition of Delicious Vietnam, hosted and compiled this month by Anh of A Food Lover’s Journey. Thanks to Anh of A Food Lover’s Journey and Hong & Kim from Ravenous Couple for starting Delicious Vietnam.