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.
Here’s a quick dish about one of my favorite quick dishes. In Michigan the year is at that sweet spot when the weather and the heirloom tomato season makes every shopping day a mandatory caprese salad for lunch day. With fresh, tasty and local tomatoes and mozzarella purchased less than an hour before, the dish requires minimal embellishment and so mere minutes after arriving home with the grocery I could be sitting down to reward myself with a leisurely, cool Mediterranean meal – sometimes followed by a Mediterranean siesta especially if I had some wine with my lunch. This past week, Oanh interrupted me as I went to harvest some basil for my salad. She had a hunch that rau om would work well in caprese salad and suggested I try that instead. She was right.
Summertime in North America is the season of heat, watermelon, and family gatherings, and the perfect time to make and enjoy this refreshing and festive salad. The recipe was an original creation of Fatty Crab‘s Zekary Pelaccio and was written up by The New York Times, where we found it. Sweet and fluffy watermelon cubes tossed in an aromatic ginger cilantro dressing and tangy pickled watermelon rinds were coolly delicious contrasts against juicy roast pork belly. Spicy scallion, rau răm / Vietnamese coriander, and Thai basil completed this unusual salad that in its own way provided all the textural and flavor elements of gỏi (Vietnamese salad). The original recipe combined elements of Southern United States cuisine with spices and techniques chef Pelaccio encountered in Malaysia. We substituted his crispy fried pork belly for a star anise marinated roast pork that was more reminiscent of heo quay (roast pork), an ingredient associated with celebrations in Vietnam. We had no idea how one would classify a dish in which so many lineages were mixed together, but we felt perfectly at home serving and enjoying this salad out in the backyard with the rest of our family.
Yes, I know the proper name for the dish is gỏi đu đủ khô bò (green papaya salad with beef jerky). But it didn’t feel right to call it that after I played with the dish by using spaghetti squash instead of green papaya as the core ingredient.
Set up for making 2 variations of gỏi (salad):
Top row, from left: beef jerky soaked in lime juice, fresh basil leaves and julienned carrots. Bottom row, from left: spaghetti squash, green papaya
Green papaya was thinly julienned and soaked in water mixed with lime juice to avoid discoloration. Spaghetti squash was cut crosswise and boiled for ~20 minutes. The spaghetti strands were easily removed with a fork. I tried not to overcook the squash to preserve the crunchiness of the strands.
Dressing for salad: kecap manis, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar to taste. The dressing for this salad should be black and pretty viscous (hence the use of kecap manis and hoisin sauce instead of soy sauce, which has no viscosity). Like all Vietnamese gỏi, the dressing should be a little sour, a little sweet and a little salty.
Roughly chop basil leaves and mix them with green papaya (or spaghetti squash), beef jerky and carrot. Mix well with dressing.
Green papaya salad
Spaghetti squash salad
Spaghetti squash salad was a lot crunchier than green papaya salad, which was nice. The squash was sweeter and soaked up more dressing than green papaya. The only thing I didn’t like about the squash salad was that the squash lost its golden color and became brown once the dressing was mixed in. I personally liked the squash version of the salad more (also because spaghetti squash came already julienned while it took some time to cut up enough green papaya). 2 friends who tasted those 2 salads were split on which one they prefer.
Substituting spaghetti squash when the recipe calls for julienned green papaya is actually a trick devised by early Vietnamese refugees who had to make do without Vietnamese ingredients. Like the canned anchovies mam nem, the squash substitution revealed new facets and possibilities in the traditional recipe and so established itself as a relevant and viable variant even when green papaya became readily available wherever enough Vietnamese-Americans congregate. We’re excited to uncover more of these immigrant chic recipes as they represent a very organic fusion cuisine and we hope to discover on our own new possibilities in Vietnamese cooking using ingredients that were not available to our forebears.