A couple weeks ago, a bunch of us went to a newish restaurant in town. Within days of the restaurant’s grand opening, word of its 19-ingredient Singapore Slaw had spread like wildfire. If there was a gold medal for slaw affection, I’d have it. So naturally, I needed to go check it out.
I’d pretty much planned my meal in advance. I’d have an app of crudo or sushi, and the slaw as my main. But from the moment we sat down, I know we’d met trouble. We sat down, and the waitress asked if we’d been to the restaurant before. “Yes,” I said. I always lie about these things: saying “no” inevitably subjects you to a treatise on “what you’re about to experience,” or “how many dishes the chef recommends per person” (yes, we know the chef would like us to each plunk down 100 smackeroos, but it’s just not in the cards tonight, thanks), or, worse yet, which dishes we “absolutely must try” and which ones are “terrible and should be removed from the menu.” Ask and you shall receive, I suppose. I always say I’ve been to the restaurant before. Unfortunately, my companions were the wholesome, truthful types, and they revealed that it was our first time. Ten minutes later, we’d been coerced into ordering a slaw for the table while we mulled our orders.
I felt I couldn’t, in good conscience, be the girl who eats the same salad as an app and a main. I ordered the next-best thing on the menu (way too rich, not particularly delicious) and secretly stewed. The slaw had been salty and a bit sweet, crunchy and nutty and fresh and truly addictive. I was determined to have more.
On the way home, I was already running through my mental rolodex of possible ingredients. Definitely fried rice or bean thread noodles; definitely carrots and cucumber; maybe some sort of radish; definitely some toasted nuts, definitely some pickles. As for the dressing, who knew? salted plum was the main ingredient, but the rest I could only guess: miso? mirin? rice wine vinegar, probably.
I started playing around with the vinaigrette; I figured once I had a sufficiently addictive dressing, it would matter much less what I drizzled it on. Hell, a good dressing can make a salad of just cabbage taste otherworldly.
Just when I thought I couldn’t quite get the proportions, I saw a Washingtonian mag feature in which the chef from said restaurant makes the dressing. Washingtonian offers a recipe, but some ingredients mentioned in the video aren’t listed in the recipe — so it’s only quasi-reliable. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Armed with some tips from the video, I went back to work — and what I’m sharing today is a recipe that’ll make any old bowl of cabbage taste rockin’.
This is one to bookmark for those hot summer days when nothing but slaw will do. I know I’ll be making it for the fourth (fifth?) time soon.
1 head Napa cabbage, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 green onions, both white and green parts, thinly sliced on the bias
2 ounces bean thread or rice vermicelli noodles, broken into pieces (it’s hard to control how they break)
1 large English cucumber, julienned
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small jicama, peeled and julienned
1 daikon, peeled and julienned
1/2 pickled red onion (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts
2 shallots , thinly sliced
2 tablespoons pickled ginger
Salted-plum dressing (see recipe below)
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt as needed
Set a large plate or platter next to the stove, and line it with 2-3 layers of paper towels. Set a large pot over medium-high heat, and add about 3 inches of oil to it. When the temperature of the oil reaches 400 degrees, deep-fry the shallot slices until very crisp and golden, about 30-45 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon and transfer to the lined plate and salt lightly. With the oil at the same temperature, quickly deep-fry the vermicelli, a handful at a time, for 2 seconds, or until they curl. They will pop pretty violently, so be prepared. Remove the vermicelli from the oil, place on a paper towel, and salt lightly.
To serve: Put the cabbage, scallions, cucumber, carrot, daikon, red onion, and pickled ginger in a large salad bowl. top with a big pile of the vermicelli noodles. Sprinkle the salad with the sesame seeds, hazelnuts, and fried shallots. Drizzle with salted plum dressing at the table, and use salad tongs or spoons to crush down the noodles and toss the salad.
Pickled Red Onion
1/2 red onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup rice-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
Place the onion in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar, water, and sugar to a boil. Season the mixture with the salt, and continue boiling for another 5 minutes. Pour it over the julienned onion while still hot, and let it sit for 1 hour.
Salted Plum Dressing
4 umeboshi (salted plums), pitted, or 4 teaspoons umeboshi paste
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
5 tablespoons mirin
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons water
Put all ingredients in medium bowl and either whisk with a fork till combined, or blend using an immersion blender.