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Yum Salat

This salad features a salty-sweet-tart dressing and is inspired by the salads my mother used to make. My mother often reminds me of how selective of an eater I used to be, yet I have nothing but fond memories of her cooking.

I have a friend, Joon, who makes a delicious version of yum salat and mine might not be quite as good, but I did get the seal of approval from the family and even got a late night text telling me the salad I dropped off was “awesome.” So I think I did ok. 🙂

Joon’s version is slightly different from mom’s version. Mom used to fry a protein, usually beef with a little bit of oyster sauce and fish sauce along with the garlic and then she would toss the whole thing with the lime juice, fish sauce, lettuce and everything. It tasted so fresh and light (even though it was fully loaded). It was very reminiscent of a juicy, deconstructed lettuce wrap minus the rice vermicelli. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. That lime hits the right notes.

Speaking of notes. Here are a few for the recipe:

  • Lettuce – I use romaine, but you can use whichever you prefer. My mom usually goes for green leaf or red leaf lettuce.
  • Lime juice – As a substitute for lime juice, you can use plain white vinegar, but I prefer the lime juice. I think it just brings a brighter note than the vinegar. And doesn’t hit you quite as hard either.
  • Garlic – shallots can be substituted for the garlic. The dressing is actually better the next day because the fried garlic or shallots had a little bit of time to impart their flavors in the dressing. During the holidays, I like to add salads to my meal prep to add freshness to my normal daily diet (especially with holiday eating) and was able to easily add this salad to my meal plans. And you know what? That dressing got better over a couple days time. Oh! And cook the garlic oil low and slow because burnt garlic is bitter garlic.
  • Sugar – the simple syrup makes it easier to emulsify with the oil and lime juice. I tried several variations, including putting sugar straight into a mason jar and adding the other ingredients for the dressing (minus the water, which is not needed in this instance) and it works just fine. But I felt the lime was always more prominent in this version of the dressing. It doesn’t quite have that same balance. If you like to save a minute or two and you like lime, don’t make the syrup. Just add the sugar straight into the dressing.
  • Peanuts – peanuts is the traditional nut of choice, but if you or your loved ones have a peanut allergy, cashews would be a good alternative. You can omit the nuts all together, but it won’t be quite the same. Many times, the peanut will actually be mixed into the dressing and this is an option to add that nuttiness to the dressing, but it will decrease the shelf life.
  • Egg yolks – speaking of things you can add that will add other dimensions, but may decrease shelf life, you can also mash a few of the egg yolks (not all of them) and add to the dressing as kind of a thickener. Of course, this would not be a dressing for a salad you have prepped as meals for a few days.
  • Adjust to taste – the salad is very customize-able – give that dressing a taste and adjust it to your taste. Too salty, add sugar. Too sweet, add fish sauce and lime juice. I like to think that the 6 versions of this dressing that I tested are not all for naught, but I understand people have different tastes.

Yum Salat – Lao Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

Makes approximately 3/4 cup dressing

For Dressing:
2 Tablespoons canola oil
4-5 cloves garlic – smashed and diced
¼ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons water
¼ cup lime juice (about 2-3 limes)
2 Tablespoons fish sauce

For Salad:
2-3 heads of romaine or lettuce of choice
Handful of cilantro – torn
½ pint of tomatoes
1 cucumber
4-6 hard-boiled eggs (sliced)
½ cup toasted chopped peanuts

  • For Dressing:
  • To make garlic oil – in small pan, heat oil and garlic over medium low heat until garlic is just golden. This may take a few minutes as you want garlic to slowly infuse into oil and not get scorched by high heat.
  • To make simple syrup – in a small saucepan over medium heat, cook sugar with water just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Do not allow syrup to boil.
  • In a small bowl or mason jar, mix garlic oil, simple syrup, lime juice and fish sauce. Mix well. If using mason jar, shake well. Allow the dressing to rest for a few minutes before using.
  • To assemble: toss lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes and cucumber with dress. Top with hard-boiled eggs and peanuts. Salad is typically assembled without dressing if prepared ahead of time and then dressed right before serving.

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