adapted from Heidi Swansen www.101cookbooks.com
Prep time: 10 min – Cook time: 20 min
Please don’t try this salad unless you have great cilantro – look for the brightest, best cilantro you can get your hands on. The stems should be crisp but not at all tough. The leaves vibrant, with no shift in color (indicating on-setting spoilage). I’ve been doing versions with whatever spring produce I have on hand, and you can see the asparagus version down below, but feel free to use something in its place.
1 cup / 240 ml sunflower oil
1 cup / 3.5 oz / 100g evenly sliced shallots, ~20 small
6 ounces / 170 g asparagus spears, very thinly sliced
1 bunch of cilantro with stems
1/2 teaspoon shoyu / soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup / 2 ounces peanuts, well-toasted, then cooled
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
to serve: herb flowers (garlic chive flowers, chive flowers, etc), optional
Start by making the shallot oil, you can do this up to a few days in advance. Place the oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan or wok, over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (a “test” shallot should bubble immediately), dial back the heat to medium, sprinkle in the shallots, and cook slowly until they are deeply golden, 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain the oil off into a jar, and set aside. Place the shallots on a paper towel and allow them to cool and crisp. You’re going to make far more shallot oil (and shallots) than you need here. Keep the remaining oil refrigerated, and use it to drizzle over noodles, eggs, tofu, all manner of vegetables, etc. Or to use in a component in a vinaigrette. It’s incredibly tasty and versatile
In the meantime, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, salt generously, and cook the asparagus for just 15 seconds or so, until bright. Drain, and quickly transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again, and set aside.
Trim any tough stems from the cilantro, and give it a good wash. Dry completely.
Just before you’re ready to serve the salad, whisk together the soy sauce, sugar, sea salt, and two tablespoons of the shallot oil. Place the cilantro, peanuts, asparagus, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Drizzle the soy dressing over, and give a gently but thorough toss. The peanuts and asparagus like to find their way to the bottom, so be sure to scoop them back on top before serving with some of the reserved crisped shallots, and a few herb flowers on top (if you have them).
Inspired by a salad brought to a lunch made by Carolyn Phillips who, in turn, references a Chinese cookbook specializing in the Northwest here. She’ll be featuring the original in her upcoming book on regional Chinese cooking being published by McSweeney’s in 2014.