Each Sunday I post a salad based on classic Chinese salad recipes, which I tweak and standardize so it's all-natural (no MSG!), easy to make and enjoyable for the traditional and noob palate alike. Each recipe can be enjoyed as a "Western-style" salad, by consulting my leafy greens pairing suggestions; or of course the Chinese way, as-is as a cold starter or side dish.
It wasn't until I'd plated it that I realized how perfectly Halloweeny this dish looks. Totallly unintentional since Halloween isn't really a "thing" here, and Chinese people aren't particularly chuffed about anything that has to do with ghosts, doom and death (for example, auction houses don't hold vintage jewelry sales in Asia -- nevermind if it's, say, a former princess of Siam's opal-and-diamonds collection* -- that's a dead woman's earrings you're wearing. Also, babies should never be named after deceased grandparents). Police in Beijing have also forbid people to wear Halloween costumes in the subway ("causes public panic" and all that).
This recipe for a crisp lotus salad is based on Fuchsia Dunlop's in Every Grain of Rice (the only book on the planet on cozy, authentic Chinese home cooking, as far as I'm concerned). I'd added carrots because I'd seen it served this way in a humble Chinese restaurant (really more of a family-run shack) and thought the carrots add more dimension, while also syncing with the equally firm and mildly sweet lotus slices.
Don't those lotus slices look like doilies (or, if I've already flipped on your Halloween switch, like bedsheet ghosts' cut-out eyes and mouths)?
I don't need to bore you with how palate-cleansing and mild, goes-with-everything this dish is. Just give the recipe below a once-over, shuffle over to Chinatown (hopefully it's a nice sunny Sunday for you as it is here in Beijing) and grab a lotus and some dried wood-ear mushrooms -- everything else is either already in your fridge or at your usual market.
*Shameless re-visitation of my modelling (aka nervously suspending on my self) a jewellery collection in 2013 for Sotheby's London, my former employer. Choosing between the art world and the food world was a tough call, but I find every enjoyment of art in cooking... oh, how time flies!
Lotus, Carrot & Ginger Salad
Serves 4, or 8 as a leafy salad
- 5 pieces of dried wood-ear mushroom
- 1 “section” of lotus root (about 200g)
- 1 carrot
- 2 tsp worth of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated with a cheese grater
- 2 ½ tsp clear rice vinegar
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ¼ tsp salt (seems like a lot but the salt tends to fade away into the excess dressing)
- 1 spring onion, green part sliced diagonally
Place the dried wood-ears in a bowl and pour over some boiling-hot water to soak for at least 30 minutes.
Make the dressing in your salad serving bowl (or, if you will be using a flat dish to serve, make the dressing in a separate small bowl): combine the finely grated ginger, rice vinegar, sugar and sesame oil. Set aside.
Peel the lotus and trim off the ends, then slice evenly into thin coins about 2mm thick. Slice the carrots at a diagonal with equal 2mm thickness and roughly the same diameter as the lotus root slices. Bring a big pot of water to boil with 2 tsp of salt.
Prepare another pot or mixing bowl full of cold water and set aside next to the pot. Blanch the lotus and carrot slices in the boiling water together for 2 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to the pot of cool water. Drain.
Drain the wood ears and tear into smaller pieces.
Combine all ingredients, except the spring onions, in a salad bowl with the dressing. Toss well to coat. Taste the seasoning and add more salt if desired.
Tip onto your most Halloweeny serving dish (or keep it in the salad bowl), and top with spring onions.
Suggested leafy salad pairings: frisée, radicchio (extra spooky!), baby beet greens.
Here's a handy, visual guide to salad green I found on Epicurious.com.