Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spicy Thai Slaw and Lechon Asado

Disclaimer: no recipe for roast pig (lechon asado) here, just slaw. Every year, our friends Eric & Christal (and Eric’s dad) host a slammin’ pig roast. I think Eric and his dad have been doing this for 10+ years, but I haven’t been in the picture that long. This is not one of those affairs where a company comes in to roast a pig for you or the hosts purchase a pre-roasted porker. Eric puts the pig on a spit at 7am in his backyard and slow cooks the meat all day until chow time at dusk. It's real, and it's spectacular (for the non-faint of heart).

I decided I wanted to make some kind of cold salad to go with the melt-in-your-mouth pork, but not anything mayo based. Inspiration: spicy Thai papaya salad. (You may have already deduced that papayas did not make the cut for this version.)


I spent around 18 hours in Thailand. During that time, I think I managed to visit at least 9 food/drink establishments (admittedly, I’m counting bars in that tally). In fact, the only things I recall doing in Thailand are eating, drinking and looking for places to eat and drink. Oh, and we saw the reclining Buddha. He was pretty sweet. In our cultural defense, most of Bangkok was shut down due to an election. Not that I need to defend myself, because one of the best things about travel is tasting and learning about the local fare.

I was traveling with my friend Sam and we were on the very last leg of our trip, searching for our final authentic Asian meal before hitting the airport. We were pressed for time and ended up at little joint with a menu that looked like any menu you’d see at a Thai restaurant in the US. Except...the items on this menu tasted 100 kajillion times more delicious than the same items found in an American Thai restaurant (seriously, my mouth is watering right now thinking back on the meal). I had green curry with chicken and a spicy papaya salad. And when they say spicy in Thailand, they mean SPICY. Like, eyes watering, throat on fire kind of spicy - but so good, you can't keep your fork from making return trips to the plate.

The papayas used in this kind of salad are unripe or “green” (crunchy, not sweet), and unfortunately, I couldn’t find unripe papaya in DC on short notice. So I decided to use crunchy purple and green cabbage in its place. I scanned the internet for Thai salad recipes and pulled the ingredients that sounded good.

This little lady, Attie, was our houseguest for the weekend. She answered all my food questions and was surprisingly knowledgeable on southeast Asian cuisine.


As you can see, finalizing this recipe was a labor of love. The result was exactly what I wanted. If I had been making this just for myself, I probably would have made it spicier, but the recipe as written works well for crowds.

Spicy Thai Slaw

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 tbs. sesame oil (vegetable oil will work)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tbs. sugar
1 tbs. soy sauce
2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
2 tbs. lime juice
1 clove minced or grated garlic
1 tbs. chili paste
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup (handful) cilantro leaves

If you think of it, mix the red pepper flakes into the sesame oil several hours prior to making dressing so that the oil has time to infuse the pepper heat. Mix all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth.

If you need/want to substitute or eliminate things above, go for it. One recipe I came across used basil instead of cilantro. If you can't find chili paste, chopped Asian chili peppers would work. I definitely recommend using fresh ground ginger though. If you haven't used fresh ginger, it will change your life. This is what fresh ginger looks like in your grocery store and its very cheap. Slice off the brown skin and grate it on a microplane or the side of a cheese grater with tiny holes.

1/2 large head of purple cabbage, cut into strips
1/2 large head of green cabbage, cut into strips (or full head of one or the other)
4 scallions, thinly sliced (including the white parts)
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 barely ripe or unripe mango, grated (should feel hard when you squeeze it)
1/4 cup peanuts, crushed (a few pulses in a food processor)

Toss all salad ingredients except for peanuts with dressing. If you have the time, mix up the slaw and give the cabbage an hour or two to pickle in the dressing. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Toss again before serving and sprinkle with crushed peanuts.

Serves 10-12 as a side

1 comment:

  1. Made this for our first bbq of the season last weekend and it was delicious!


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