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Spicy Salads

Asian Salads Recipes

Spicy Salad

Spicy Asian salads can be eaten as meals on their own but taste best when served with curries and simple boiled rice which brings out their sharp, often contrasting, flavors. Chilies are to Asian salads what fragrant oils, lemon juice and vinegars are to Western salads. Whether combined with shrimp paste to make "Sambal Belacan" or simply pounded with lime juice, chilies add that extra bite to a plate of fruit or greens. More flavor is then introduced with shallots, onion and garlic - occasionally fried but usually raw.

Spicy salads are not just tangy. They are often flavored with fragrant herbs and spices such as coriander leaves, spring onions, basil Chinese celery and ginger flower or locally known as "Bunga Kantan". Herbs and roots such as galangal and lemongrass lift the simple cabbage and cucumber to great heights of gastronomic delight.

A delicious feature of spicy salads is the use of raw, often green fruit. Green mangoes, belimbi (belimbing asam), ambarella (buah kedondong) and pineapple all pack a great tangy flavor. Green papaya, water apple (jambu air) and starfruit are chosen because of their texture or juiciness and the way they combine with the dressing or dips.

Vegetables may be raw or lightly blanched, or a salad might combine both raw and blanched vegetables. Because of the high protein content of Asian salads, when eaten with rice, they make a complete meal. However, in the typical communal eating style of Southeast Asia, a fish or meat dish would often be present to accompany the salad and rice. Nevertheless, there are a few salads which make great meals in their own right. Dishes such as Gado-Gado, Thai Glass Noodle Salad and Stuffed Beancurd may be taken alone or as part of a rice meal.

How to prepare light salads

From a dieter's point of view, many Asian salads have the added attraction of being relatively free of oil. The ingredients that give the salads their flavors, such as chilies, salt or fish sauce, lime juice, shallots and herbs - are essential fat free. For salads containing meat, use lean meat instead of belly pork. Both meat and seafood items are usually steamed or boiled.

The only exceptions to these fairly fat-free salads are those dishes calling for coconut milk or grated coconut, or which require an ingredient to be fried, such as Stuffed Beancurd. Beancurd could always be steamed or boiled instead of deep-fried though as the sauce would supply enough flavor to make the dish taste for someone on a diet.

How to reduce preparation times

The preparation times for salads can be reduced by having some of the ingredients ready mixed. "Sambal Belacan" which can be made ahead, bottled and refrigerated, keeps well. As do toasted and pounded peanuts, and toasted grated coconut. Nuoc mam, the combination of lime juice, fish sauce, chilies and garlic that is used in Vietnamese salads can also be prepared in advance.

Shallots, garlic and spring onions can be sliced or chopped and stored in boxes for several days although freshly prepared ingredients display more intense flavors. The bulk of the herbs and fragrant roots, however, can only be prepared just before mixing. Although commercial coconut milk is an easier option for many, do try to use fresh coconut milk whenever possible.

How to season salads

Because the flavors of spicy salads are sharp and distinctive, adjust them to suit personal references. Chilies can be very spicy or fairly bland. Tiny bird's eye chilies (chili padi) are spicier than long, big chilies; and long, thin chilies are spicier than fat ones. Vary the amount of salt or fish sauce and type and amount of chilies to suit your taste.

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