Oooo yeah – spicy, sweet, tart, Thai salad sorcery!
This is my take on a NOT so classic Thai favorite. Sweet, salty, spicy, earthy and tart flavors all harmonize into a sort of funky perfection in this restaurant inspired main dish salad. Lots of big bold flavors and textures going on all over the place here, I can tell you what. But wait! If you want to streamline this whole situation, and make things EVEN easier (yes, even easier than a SALAD) there’s the whole lettuce wrap angle to explore. Lots of crunch, lots of sweet, lots of spicy, lots of salty…lots of napkins (have you ever navigated a lettuce wrap? Don’t do it in a white shirt is all I’m saying 😏).
Anyhoo I don’t generally mess with Thai at home, but I saw an article in an old Cooking Light Magazine that looked so good I could not resist. So I took out some of the fussier steps (pan toast jasmine rice until brown and then pulse in a mini food processor? um… no thanks) and replaced harder to find ingredients (gochugaru, anyone?) with simple stuff you may already have on hand.
The end result is a veggie-centric, sweet and savory hit of crunchy mastication elation for your flavor receptors, that can magically manifest itself into a salad, or (even quicker) a wrap!
Of course you can do what I did and go for broke.
I made the whole shiz-bah of a salad for dinner, and used the leftovers in a lettuce wrap the next day.
Deeeeee-lish! Times 2.
Food math at its finest. 💕 SO let’s get after it, starting with the flavor heavy dressing accessory that makes this whole she-bang come alive:
Begin with a couple of garlic cloves and two tablespoons of sugar. You want to chop that sugar up into your garlic, using the grit of those crystals to help break everybody down. Push the flat side of your knife down and drag it over as you go, mushing up that garlic and forming a bit of a paste. This is an awesome technique! Sorta crunchy fun where you can get it…and the smell of that garlic busting apart is just too, too good (can you tell I don’t get out much?).
Thinly slice 1/4 of a sweet onion into little quarter moons,
and chop up a whole LOTTA fresh mint. You’ll be using half of this in the dressing, and the rest of it in your salad greens.
Dump your pasted garlic, sliced onions, and half of the mint into a fairly large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of Tamari (or Soy) sauce, two tablespoons of rice vinegar, the juice of half a lime, and a few squirts of Sriracha sauce, and give it a stir.
Make sure to taste this! Add some more lime juice if you like. It should be sweet, salty, tangy, garlicky and super pungent. All good stuff, so adjust as your tastes dictate. Now let this hang out for a bit while you get everything else ready.
Brown up some ground meat! I used pork for this, but you can use beef if you like. DO NOT do yourself any “favors” by using ground chicken; thinking you’ll save yourself a few measly calories. STOP! You’ll just end up with a really dry mix of blandness, and you don’t want to mess with what delicious-ness we have got going here.😀
Run your knife through an 8oz container of sliced mushrooms and pop those in with the meat as it’s cooking away and let everybody get chummy. Don’t be afraid to add a glug or two of olive oil, if the party seems too dry, just to keep everything humming along.
Now get out your can opener and spin off the lid of some sliced (or chopped) water chestnuts, essential in this for heft and crunch. Drain off the water and pop ’em into that schroomy meat mixture you have gently bubbling away, letting this go for another minute or so.
Once the meat is cooked and the mushrooms and water chestnuts are all mixed in and incorporated go ahead and dump your meaty mushroom mix right into that bowl of dressing you got sitting there just waiting…….
Give this a mix and of course, another taste! Maybe a little more Tamari sauce is needed? Another dash of vinegar? Maybe it’s just perfect right now as is, in which case, you can call it yum and done! Just spoon a decent portion into a happy little lettuce leaf, give it another squirt or two of Sriracha, maybe a squeeze of lime and you will be happily crunching away.
Just like that. Easy! Simple!
Messy! (but in the best way)
But what if you’re feeling like going the extra mile? What if you’d RATHER use a fork? Well, with a little extra slicing and dicing you can plop a portion of that meaty magnificence over pretty much any sort of salad greens you like! Here’s what I did, and you may want to too:
Get yourself some cabbage of the Napa variety, which is more like lettuce than cabbage, in that it is mild with a delicate, frilly crunch. Give it a thin shred with a sharp knife. You don’t need any fancy equipment for this. Peel and slice a cucumber. Same with a couple of green onions. I also added some diagonally cut green beans. You can keep them raw but I tossed mine in the microwave for about two minutes in a covered bowl with a tiny bit of water just to soften them up a tad. I still wanted crunch. Add the remainder of that mint you chopped earlier.
And give this cabbage mix a little lovin’ with a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of that rice vinegar you used your dressing. Salt and pepper never hurt anyone, and give this a great big toss.
Plate your salad and top it with it a heap of your savory sweet spicy pork mixture. Sprinkle over a few more bits of sliced green onion, you know, cos we like those fancy finishing touches. Get ready for a mouthful of full-on flavor and ka-RUNCH!
From start to finish, this will take about a half an hour of your time to assemble, you can shave that down with the omission of the cabbage salad; either option is awesome! Leftovers are really, really GOOD, obviously you’ll want to store the meat mixture separate from your salad, which will wilt out a bit after an overnight in the fridge……so I just used the meat in lettuce wraps the next day for lunch and life was good for meeeeeee! Makes enough for 4 decent servings you know, depending on how hungry everybody is.
- For the Dressing:*
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1/4 sweet onion, sliced very thin
- 1 or two limes (depending on how juicy they are)
- 2 tablespoons of Tamari sauce (or soy sauce)
- 1 – 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
- Sriracha sauce to taste (start with a little!)
- 1/4 cup (approx, just eyeball it) of chopped fresh mint (plus more for the salad)
- 3/4 - 1-lb ground pork (or beef)
- 1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
- 1 package (8oz) sliced mushrooms, well cleaned and chopped
- Olive oil
- 1 small napa cabbage, thinly shredded
- 2-3 green onions thinly sliced (plus extra to garnish)
- 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup of green beans, lightly steamed or microwaved, sliced diagonally
- More chopped mint!
- Olive oil
- Rice vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- On a cutting board, sprinkle the garlic cloves with the sugar and chop the sugar into the garlic. Using the flat side of your knife, push and drag the sugar through the garlic, until it forms a paste. Transfer the pasted garlic to a medium sized bowl and add the Tamari sauce, rice vinegar, juice of half a lime, a dash of Sriracha, the sliced sweet onion and chopped mint. Give this a stir to combine. Also, give it a taste. You're looking for a very strong, very pungent sweet, salty, sour mix. Add more lime juice or Sriracha, as your tastes desire.
- Over medium heat, brown the meat until cooked, adding a drizzle of olive oil to the pan if needed. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking another two minutes or so, and then add the water chestnuts to heat through, another minute or so. Remove form the heat to cool down just a tiny bit while you toss together the salad.
- Salad time:**
- In a large bowl, add the shredded napa cabbage, green onion, cucumber, green beans, and more chopped fresh mint. Drizzle with olive oil, add a shake or two of rice vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper, and give it a toss. Taste for seasoning.....more vinegar? More oil? You got this.
- Plate it up!
- Add the meat mushroom mixture to your tart and tangy dressing and give it all a gentle toss. Serve this over a pile of the cabbage salad, garnish with some extra green onion slices, and some lime wedges for squeezin! Pass the Sriracha.
- * these are ALL approximate proportions....you may like more Sriracha, or more lime juice, or what have you. Let your tastebuds be your guide!
- **If you want to stop right here, just pop that meat mixture into the dressing and it's ready to be scooped up in the lettuce leaf of your your choice. I used romaine, but the napa cabbage leaves work great for this as a wrap, too!