I love this salad – it’s light, healthy, chock full of whatever is in your fridge, and tastes brilliant! Until recently, I was not a fan of salads (or tofu, more on that later). I found them bland, uninteresting, and they screamed “health food”, which is really not my thing. But then, I discovered that what I hated was the dressing. Once I learned to make my own dressings, I could customise them to *my* tastes, and I went from being a salad-loather to a salad-lover.
The components of a salad dressing are simple: a base, some acid, seasoning. If you keep a few of your favourite oils in the house (and in a cool, dark place, they really do last a long time) you’ll never need to resort to a store-bought dressing again. My current favourite is a chilli-infused olive oil, closely followed by a toasted sesame oil. Since I don’t like the taste of vinegar, I use lime juice or lemon juice for acidity.
Once you have your oil and acid sorted, we get to the good part: the seasoning. Sneak in some soy sauce, garlic, freshly-grated ginger, chillies, depending on what you have in the house. For a simple salad of greens and chickpeas, I add chaat masala – a magic ingredient that instantly boosts any dish with chickpeas or lentils. Taste the seasoning as you go, and adjust depending on what you like. Finally, I often add a little palm sugar or honey, to give the dressing a hint of sweetness.
This salad is very simple to make, although in my case last night it involved a LOT of chopping. Since I was serving it as a main dish, I added tofu to make it more filling. You could also add some grilled beef or chicken, or, if it’s a side salad, leave out the protein altogether.
Tofu is another ingredient that I didn’t like the first time I came across it. Let’s face it – tofu is slippery, bland.. it tastes of nothing. But later, I realised, that’s also the beauty of it. Tofu absorbs the flavours that it comes into contact with, and it’s healthy to boot.
To prep the tofu, remove it from the package and wrap in a paper towel. Place it between two plates and put a weight (I used a kettle full of water) on top. Let it sit for about 10 mins to allow a lot of the water to drain out. Slice the tofu and marinate it for at least 30 mins. I used a marinade of soy sauce and chilli powder. The result, once grilled or shallow fried, is brilliant.
A Simple Thai-style Salad
400 g tofu, drained and marinated
2 capsicums, sliced
4 spring onions, sliced
1 carrot, grated or peeled into shavings
1/2 portion cucumber, sliced thinly
1 mango, chopped
1 bunch coriander, chopped
1 small handful Thai basil leaves, chopped
Soy sauce and chilli powder, to marinate tofu
Oil for frying
White sesame seeds, to serve
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp fish sauce (if you’d like to keep the dish vegan, substitute this with soy sauce)
1 tsp palm sugar (use honey to taste if you can’t find palm sugar)
Juice of half a lime
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 cm piece of root ginger
1 red chilli, sliced (remove the seeds if you prefer)
Prep and marinate the tofu (see headnotes). After marinating for 30 mins, shallow fry for about 1-2 mins on each side and drain on paper towels.
To make the dressing, add olive oil, toasted sesame oil and the juice of half a lime to a bowl. Grate the ginger, add crushed garlic and the chopped chillies. Season with soy sauce, fish sauce (if using), and palm sugar. Mix the veggies and the chopped herbs together in a large bowl. Dress the salad just before serving.
Place the tofu on top of the bed of salad, and top with the sesame seeds. Enjoy!