Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Two Awesome Asian Slaws

Back in the day, I used to have a serious love of collecting junk: kitschy crap from the $1 store, tacky flea market finds, the odder and uglier, the better. Things like this were totally irresistible to me. Then I discovered the magic of digital photography, and my overstuffed house breathed a giant sigh of relief.

These days, I collect cole slaw recipes, which take up decidedly less room than karaoke cowboy monkeys. I've already blogged about hsa*ba's unusual Burmese cole slaw and the open sesame slaw from London's fabulous Leon restaurants. Here are two more keepers that I've since discovered, one featuring Indian spices and the other with a Thai twist.

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I bought 5 Spices, 50 Dishes solely for its cole slaw recipe. I loved the idea of having something raw, crunchy and refreshing to provide a light note among the otherwise deep, complex, and layered flavors that make up an Indian meal. According to Madhur Jaffrey, in India vegetables are typically cooked for a long time, allowing the spices to fully permeate the dish. Unfortunately, the resulting vegetables taste overcooked to my Californian palate. Not only has this clean, vibrant Indian cole slaw found a permanent place on my table, but 5 Spices, 50 Recipes includes several other simple salads that are equally delicious and easy to make. Per my usual m.o., I left the sugar out of this recipe, but you're welcome to add ½ teaspoon of sugar if you wish to recreate the original.

Indian Cole Slaw (adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Recipes by Ruta Kahate)
Half a head of cabbage, shredded using the large holes on a box grater or with the shredding disc of your food processor
1 serrano chile, minced
Generous pinch of kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons of lemon juice (roughly one juicy lemon)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, chile, lemon juice, and salt.

2. Heat the oil in a small skillet and add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a glass lid. When the seeds stop popping, remove from heat and toss into the bowl of cabbage.

3. Toss well and let the salad sit for about 15 minutes at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld.

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The Thai cole slaw is actually just the wing bean salad revisited. You could also make a much simpler dressing of lime juice, sea salt, a dash of cayenne, and maybe a bit of chopped cilantro or mint, and toss the cabbage-mango mixture with that instead.

Thai Cole Slaw (dressing from True Thai by Victor Sodsook)
Half a head of cabbage, shredded using the large holes on a box grater or with the shredding disc of your food processor
1 slightly unripe mango, peeled and shredded with a grater or food processor
Salt to taste

Toss ingredients with the tamarind-lime dressing (recipe follows).

½ cup large dried shrimp
1 cup of peanut or canola oil
1/3 cup sliced garlic
1 cup sliced shallots
12-16 dried Japanese chilies (or other spicy red pepper)
3-4 tablespoons of tamarind paste (buy packaged seedless tamarind, soak in a bit of hot water for 10 minutes, then blend the mixture to a smooth paste. You can freeze any leftovers in an ice-cube tray.)
2 tablespoons of palm sugar (brown sugar is an acceptable substitute)
1 tablespoon of fish sauce

1. Soak the dried shrimp in a bowl of water. Rise briefly, then drain and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and fry the garlic briefly (about a minute), until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon or Chinese spider to a plate lined with paper towels.

3. Fry the shallots until they start to brown (3 to 4 minutes). Remove and set aside with the garlic.

4. Repeat this process with the shrimp (1 minute) and chilies (30 seconds).

5. Place your fried ingredients in the bowl of a food processor along with the tamarind, sugar, and fish sauce and blend to a smooth paste.

6. Transfer the chili-tamarind paste to an air-tight container and refrigerate.

You will not need all of the chili-tamarind paste to make the dressing, but it keeps in the fridge for a month and makes a great base sauce for stir fries.

1 tablespoon chili-tamarind paste
½ cup lime juice (about 4 limes)
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1½ tablespoons fish sauce
3 serrano chilis, minced

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk or fork.


  1. They sound awesome. I'm a bona fide Slaw Snob too. The Thai Slaw sounds a lot like a Green Papaya Salad but with cabbage instead of papaya. I might try one of these this weekend. Maybe I'll be omitting the dried shrimp though, I'm not the biggest fan...


  2. Have you posted your favorite slaw recipe? Like I said, I'm always on the lookout for new ones! :)


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