i could never pick a favourite salad. they are just so many kinds that i can’t compare them, like the italian bread salad or complex french salads that i wrote about just last week. and then there are the salads found in asian cuisines, which naturally, i have greater appreciation for in the hot days of summer (we all know by now that chilies cool you down). you’ve seen the only salad i really grew up eating, which had a few raw, cold ingredients, spiced up with chili. other south asian countries serve various cold melon salads with a lime dressing, again spiced with sliced chilies. korean japchae, the spicy glass noodle and vegetable salad was my favourite salad for a while–one of the best ones i had cooled me right down on a very hot summer day last year. i was after a salad with a decidedly asian flavour, and something with a kick, when i came up with this salad. there are only a few ingredients in this salad and they were invited to the party for different reasons. zucchinis are perfect for this salad because they’re fresh, readily available in the summer and they marinade a little in a dressing without loosing all of their texture. cucumbers bring cool refreshment, the thai chilies a unique heat, and corriander is the herb i couldn’t do without in any asian salad. but sesame is the taste that makes this salad so satisfying from a flavour standpoint: aromatic, earthy and luxuriously rich. there is one very non-asian ingredient in this salad… the dressing is sweetened with maple syrup. i intended to use a little hoisin sauce but i was serving it to someone with a gluten intolerance, so hoisin was out. i didn’t have to wrack my brian for a substitute, staring up at me from right below the hoisin sauce was a bottle of maple syrup. it worked so well the first time that i didn’t even bother to try the dressing with hoisin when i made this salad for myself again the next day. so there you go–a vegan, gluten-free salad with lots of flavour and a little spice, and even less effort.
summer squash and sesame salad
1 small-medium young or english cucumber (or 1/2 large one)
1/4 cup (loosely packed) fresh corriander, chopped
1 red thai bird chili (or 2 depending on your taste), carefully deveined, deseeded and minced
1/2 tsp black sesame seeds
2 tbs sunflower or other neutral vegetable oil
1 tbs maple syrup
2 tsp mirin
1/2 tsp sesame oil
the juice of one lime (about 2 tbs)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
peel the zucchini and the cucumber and trim the ends off. cut them into long (about 4-inch) matchsticks, by first cutting them crosswise into 4-inch pieces and then cutting each piece in 4 strips lengthwise and then into strips no more than 1/4 inch wide. place in a bowl.
mix dressing: whisk oil, maple syrup, mirin, sesame oil, lime juice, salt and pepper together. pour most of the dressing over the zucchini and cucumber, reserving about 1 tbs of the dressing. toss the matchsticks well in the dressing and place in the fridge for about 15 minutes (or up to a couple of hours, in which case, remove from fridge about 10 minutes before serving.)
meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in a small, dry skillet, over medium-low heat for 3-4 minutes. stir occasionally and check the seeds after a couple of minutes for a toasted flavour, being careful not to burn them. remove from skillet when toasted and allow them to cool.
remove salad from fridge when chilled and toss again in bowl. transfer salad to a serving plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds, corrainder and chilies. drizzle remaining dressing on top, and serve cold.