Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vietnamese red cabbage salad

Other than the recipe for spiced pecans that I posted earlier , I have been very negligent about keeping up my blog this summer. We have had a busy June and July sort of running a graduate dormitory, so I am trying to get back into the swing of things. A lot came together for us Memorial day weekend.  First, we went to San Francisco for our cousin Mina's bat mitzvah.  I won't go into all the liturgical and other details of the trip, but the dinner was amazing.  I am not sure if the Slanted Door, one of the leading high-end Vietnamese restaurants in the city, usually does catering, but they did on this occasion since the bat mitzvah has been friends with the daughter of the owners since they were in nursery school.   Since the reception was at the JCC, it was farkashert, or at least there was no high treyf, which suited me just fine.  There were cold salad rolls, dumplings stuffed with mung bean puree, vegetarian radish cake, tofu and mushroom curry, mackerel with caramel, sauteed bok choy, and red cabbage slaw with grapefruit and spiced pecans.  The slaw tasted like it had a soy-based dressing, rather than one based on fish sauce, so it was strictly vegetarian.  Fish sauce represents particular kashrut problems and is virtually impossible to get prepared under supervision.

Harry and Seth
We came home from San Francisco on Memorial Day, and Harry returned from nine months in Israel the following morning at 5:30.  We went to pick him up at JFK, and one of his friends, Seth Engelbourg (see picture) who had been with Harry on Kibbutz Keturah and shared an apartment with him in Jerusalem, stayed with us that night.  They hung around in the city that day, came home for dinner, and then went out to see the Spiderman show which they said was so bad that it was actually funny.  For dinner, we had Semur Daging, sauteed bok choy, and rice.  I was also going to make a gado gado to go with it but it turned out that Seth is allergic to peanuts.  So I tried to improvise the Vietnamese cabbage slaw from the bat mitzvah.  Instead of a fish sauce based dressing, I devised a vegetarian nuoc cham  based on Bragg's aminos which tasted very similar to what the Slanted Door had made.  The dinner was in general a success (and they consumed an incredible amount of food) but the salad played to somewhat mixed reviews, at least for the returnees. Seth said "The salad is pretty good,  but the dressing is too focused on the chili; there is nothing else going on there. Maybe it also could have used some crunchy noodle for contrast, or maybe some crisp fruit."  Everyone is a Top Chef judge nowadays.  Anyway, I worked on it a bit, tweaked the dressing and the salad, and added grapefruit and spiced pecans which it was made with originally and which I had not used on the first occasion I made it.  You could also add toasted ramen.  I think the improved version struck the right notes and  I hope that Seth would like it.

Vietnamese red cabbage salad, in the style of the Slanted Door:

I still need to get the hang of food photography -- excuse the sponge, peeler, and Osem's package.

  • Small red cabbage (1-1.5 pounds)
  • 1/4 small white cabbage (optional)
  • 1 grapefruit , 1 mango (ideally slightly underripe) or 2 oranges
  • 4 scallions, all of the white and some green, chopped
  • Cilantro, about 1 cup chopped
  • 1/2 cup candied pecans (optional, see my recipe for spiced candied pecans use about 1/6 to 1/4-- you can substitute toatsed ramen if you want)
  • Vegetarian nuoc cham  ( use most of my recipe for vegetarian nuoc cham )

  1. Remove the outer leaves of the cabbages, shred the cabbages very fine and put in a large bowl.  Ideally, use a mandoline on its finest setting. (Belinda and Alex, parents of one of our summer residents, got me one as a present, so it is my new toy.) 
  2. Prepare the grapefruit or oranges.  Slice off the top and bottom with a very sharp knife so that it sits flat on the cutting board.  Slice off the peel and pit to expose the flesh.  When you are done, you should be left with the fruit with little or none of the white pith.  Take the fruit in your hand, and use a very sharp knife to remove the fruit segments, leaving the membranes behind.  Remove the seeds and put them in a bowl.  Be real careful doing this.  When you are done, take the grapefruit carcass and squeeze the juice onto the cabbage.  If you use a mango, just peel it and shred the flesh.
  3. Toss the cabbage with the nuoc cham, about 1 cup, and set aside until read to serve.  IF the cabbage was very fine they will be soft.  Otherwise, the are better if they sit a bit in the dressing.
  4. Top with the cilantro and scallions.   Scatter the pecans and fruit on top. 
  5. Serve as is, or topped with grilled chicken or tofu.

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