How’s your new year’s healthy eating resolution going–if you made one? Mid-January might be when a lot of people start feeling the January doldrums, whether they have a resolution or not. (I’m in the latter camp, but totally feeling the doldrums!) This salad might be just the booster you need if you are in a DASH diet rut.
I made this salad for lunch the day after we had a pretty indulgent dinner of Korean fried chicken and kimchi fried rice, which followed a fun weekend of lots of good (but not-so-DASH-compliant) food with my SIL. My DASH diet radar graph pretty clearly showed that I needed a meal that’s high on veggies and low on meats, fat and sugar to balance out the feasts, but I also wanted something that’d satisfy me and keep me going till I got back home to cook dinner. Otherwise I’d end up being either hangry or snacky–or both, lol.
This crunchy salad of cabbage, cucumber and other flavor-packed vegetables was just the thing I needed. The salad gets a “Thai” boost from a creamy peanut dressing spiked with ginger, garlic and lime juice. Smoked tofu adds a layer of savoriness and the much-needed protein without adding to the meat servings. Crushed peanuts are fun, and the fiber and fat in the peanuts helped me stay full.
Crunchy Thai cabbage salad with smoked tofu and peanut dressing
DASH considerations: Crunchy vegetables and savory smoked tofu make this salad quite satisfying, despite the lack of meat, chicken or egg. The peanut dressing, similar to the peanut sauce served with Thai-style chicken satay, is creamy and aromatic, tying all the salad ingredients together. Go easy on the dressing, and this salad is a good “reset” lunch after meat- and/or fat-heavy dinner.
Mix all the dressing ingredients except for the water in a small bowl.
Add and mix in water thoroughly, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dressing is at a desired consistency. (You want the dressing to be pourable enough to coat the salad easily.)
Mix all the salad ingredients in a bowl large enough to toss the salad.
Spoon about 1/3 of the peanut dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Add more dressing gradually if needed.
I brought the salad to work for lunch. To prevent the vegetables from getting soggy if you aren’t eating it right away, it’s a good idea to keep the dressing in a separate container and toss the salad just before eating.
I had a couple of Chinese eggplants that needed to be eaten. If cooked in oil, eggplants soak up it (that’s partially why they are so tasty). So, stir-frying them or roasting them with a drizzle of oil would likely eat up more than half of the daily oil limit of DASH diet. I wasn’t sure what to do with them. That is, until I remembered the grilled eggplant salad we like to get at Thai restaurants. That sounded like the perfect low-fat solution to my eggplant conundrum.
I decided to roast the eggplants whole in the oven without the oil, and use the Japanese technique of quick-poaching über-thinly sliced meats to further reduce the fat content. This technique, called shabu shabu, somehow retains the meaty umami but drains away a lot of the fat in just a few quick seconds. It’s a perfect technique for DASH eaters! I threw in a bunch of Thai herbs for good measure, and the result was a bright, refreshing and satisfying salad with creamy, earthy eggplant chunks and umami-packed beef slices.
Thai Eggplant & Shabu Shabu Beef Salad
DASH benefits: This bright and savory Thai eggplant and beef salad uses oil-free roasting and quick-poaching techniques to drastically reduce the amount of oil. Lots of different textures and flavors keep every bite interesting: The creamy eggplant, crunchy cabbage, savory beef, refreshing lime, slightly kicky chili and bright herbs. Since the sodium content is on the high side, I’d pair it with plain jasmine rice for a light but satisfying dinner.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. (I used my small toaster oven.)
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.
Poke a few holes in the eggplants to prevent them from bursting in the oven.
Roast the eggplants on a pan for 20 minutes. Check for doneness. They should feel limp and a knife inserted in the middle should feel no resistance.
While the eggplants roast, place the cilantro, basil, red onion, scallion and jalapeño in a large bowl.
Mix the fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice and olive oil in a small bowl to make the dressing.
Poach the beef slices in the boiling pot of water for 10-15 seconds each, until just cooked through.
Add the beef to the bowl of vegetables.
When the eggplants are cooked through, cut them into bite-sized rounds or half moons. Add them to the bowl of vegetables and beef.
Pour the dressing over the eggplant mixture, add a few generous grinds of white pepper, and toss to combine. (You’ll likely have some leftover dressing.)
Place the shredded cabbage in salad bowls. Place the eggplant mixture on top. Top with fried shallots, if using.
*I buy my meats from Korean and Japanese stores when I need them sliced super-thin. (I'm talking as thin as delicate deli meats, if not thinner.) I've tried asking neighborhood American butchers for custom thin slices, but they tend to be still too thick for shabu shabu poaching method. If you don't have easy access to Korean or Japanese store, your best bet is to use ground beef, pork or chicken instead. Poached shrimp works, too (and that's actually pretty authentic, according to a Thai cookbook I have!).
Leftovers: Actually the Best Part!
The eggplant mixture actually improves overnight. Like, way better. I had the eggplant salad minus the cabbage (plus a couple of cocktail tomatoes) for lunch the day after, and the extra marinating time really did it wonders, especially the eggplant that soaked up all the flavors of the dressing and the herbs. I highly recommend making this salad (up to step 10) the night before, if you can pull if off.
Grill ’em, If You Can
The salad would be even better if you can roast the eggplants on a charcoal grill. This is how it’s done in Thailand and some Thai restaurants in the US. Smoky char really adds to the overall complexity of the salad. Sadly this isn’t an option for me, given the lack of outdoor space in my NYC apartment. I should try adding some smoke powder next time.
This is a 10-minute vegetable side dish that goes well with a lot of Asian mains. Since both the broccoli and corn are already cooked, it only takes a few minutes to heat and season them with the spicy, savory sauce mix. The key to this dish–or many other stir-fry dishes–is to have everything ready to go before you start the cooking process. That includes pre-mixing the sauce.
You can easily add chicken breast pieces or firm/fried tofu to this Thai street food-style dish. Serve it with rice, and you’ll have a complete meal in 10-15 minutes!