Folks, it has been 120° F in these desert parts lately. That’s hot. Really hot. And that’s when you start craving light, juicy, herb-y meals to freshen things up and cool things down. So I whipped up this little beauty for lunch today, and Sam and I made it go away in nothing flat.
This salad is Vietnamese. A little. Or maybe more than a little. My beautiful friend from Texas, Kim Nguyen, taught me how to make some Vietnamese dishes that I hope to share with you in future. I just don’t want to offend her by claiming authenticity if, over time, I have Lori-ized some of the recipes. There! Disclaimer complete!
Vietnamese salads are amazingly healthy because they usually have great fresh ingredients and the dressings don’t usually contain oil. Amazing flavors with less fat? I’m in!
Many times, you will see this salad made with red onion. I happen to love Texas Sweets or Vidalia onions because they are milder and, well, sweeter. Many times you will also see the salad garnished with chopped roasted peanuts. That’s a great source of additional protein and complements the flavor profile really well. I didn’t have any handy, so I made the salad without. And it was just as yummy.
MANGO: Pick a large under-ripe mango. Don’t worry about the under-ripe part. It will taste amazing, trust me. It may have some red or orange on the skin, but the key is that there should be no give to the flesh when you squeeze it. The fruit has to be very firm to stand up to the mandoline. Don’t have a mandoline? I used this one, which can be found at many retailers and is a great little tool to have in the kitchen. Go on, live a little and get yourself an exciting new kitchen toy!
ONIONS: Slice your onions very thinly. Onions are one of my favorite things on earth, right after Matt and Sam, Steve, and garlic. But even with all this love, big chunks of onion will overpower the salad.
MINT: If you are not a big raw mint fan, chiffonade the mint leaves before adding to the salad (meaning, stack the leaves, roll them into a tight little roll, and with a very sharp knife slice across the roll to make little slivers). That way you get hints of mint. Sam doesn’t really like mint, and often avoids salads in Vietnamese restaurants because they chop the leaves pretty coarsely. But don’t leave the mint out. It’s a key ingredient.
DRESSING: The dressing is made with fish sauce, sriracha (I like the Rooster brand), garlic, lime juice, agave nectar and water. I like agave nectar because it has a better glycemic index than refined sugar so it is healthier. Also, since it is a liquid, it blends in much better in many recipes. You can use sugar if you want. You will need to add 1/3 more than the agave nectar. But whichever you use, add it slowly. The recipe specifies an amount, but limes can be different. You want the dressing to taste citrus-y but not sour, and you don’t want to bury the savory from the fish sauce with sweetness.
FISH SAUCE: Fish sauces vary in flavor and strength, and some can be really ripe. Kim recommended this brand for a high quality, clean flavor. I get it at the Asian market. It keeps forever in the fridge, and I use it in several dishes.
SHRIMP: Slice your cooked shrimp the long way to make two shrimp sides. It will make you think you have twice as much shrimp! Score! Actually, thinner shrimp bites make for a better texture fit with the other ingredients, making it easier to get a bit of everything with each chop stick bite. Wait, you are going to use chop sticks, right? C’mon! It’s never too late to learn!
It takes no time at all to prep the salad ingredients and dressing. Then you can just toss it into a bowl and add the dressing based on how big your salad turned out. I used half the recipe for today’s lunch. I just save the rest in a little storage container in the fridge and give myself an excuse to make another Vietnamese salad in the near future.
Ahhhh…seeing this makes me want to go back and make another one just so I can eat it again!
- FOR THE SALAD
- 1 large, green mango (very firm)
- ⅓ to ¼ cup of sweet onion, sliced very thin
- ½ cup cilantro leaves, whole or chopped
- 3-5 large mint leaves, chopped or chiffonade
- 6-8 large shrimp, cooked and sliced in half lengthwise
- FOR THE DRESSING
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- ½ cup fresh lime juice
- 4 tablesppons water
- 3-4 teaspoons fish sauce, to taste
- 1-2 teaspoons, plus or minus, agave nectar
- 1 teaspoon sriracha, or more depending on heat tolerance
- Prepare the dressing first for the flavors to sit and blend. Mix the garlic, lime juice, and water together, then slowly add the fish sauce alternating with the agave, tasting in between. The lime flavor should be noticeable, but not sour and the fish sauce should be noticeable but not overbearing. Do not over-sweeten since there will be some sweetness from the mango. Add sriracha slowly to taste.
- Peal the mango and, using a mandoline, cut the fruit into strings. Bring water to a boil and drop the raw shrimp and immediately turn off the flame. Remove from the water as soon as it is uniformly pink and opaque. This will ensure the shrimp is tender and juicy. Cut the shrimp as indicated. Place in the bowl with the mango and with the other prepared salad ingredients. Pour about half of the dressing in and toss. If you need more dressing to fully coat the ingredients, add until satisfied.
- Allow the salad to sit for about 5 minutes for the dressing to set, then serve. Yields 4 small side salads or two lunch portion salads.
- Garnish with more sriracha if desired.