Today: A salad that breaks every rule, and won't leave you looking for your next course.
Lunch was half a pizza, maybe, or the heat of the day is still hanging on your skin. A big salad dinner sounds like the answer.
But even the big salads that purport to be meals leave us rummaging for second dinner a few hours later (unless we eat a lot of cheese on the side).
We think we're supposed to baby our lettuce, keep it cool, dress it sparingly.
But here you're dousing it in two dressings -- the first, fresh and punchy with lime and fish sauce; the second made largely of hot cooked pork and water, sparked with vinegar and thickened with cooked egg yolks.
Together they'll soak and soften the lettuce, plus heaps of cilantro and parsley and bashed scallions, and make a soggy puddle in the bottom of the bowl -- this is not a mistake. You'll want to drink it.
It comes together with the speed of any other salad or stir-fry (which, until now, you'd rarely lump together). You've done this all before -- just not all at once.
First, hard cook some eggs -- the yolks will be mashed up and stirred into the hot dressing, the whites there for more protein, and satiety.
Whisk together ginger, lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, and chiles -- this is dressing #1.
Then gather your mise en place by the stove -- dressing #2 happens quickly.
Almost burn some garlic, then brown some ground pork in it. Then pour in sugar, salt, and hot water and scrape up the dregs.
Finally, stir in vinegar and those mashed egg yolks.
And pour it all over your lettuce, herbs, and scallions. Don't forget that other dressing.
Scatter on those egg whites and some chopped peanuts. Eat it all -- hot, sour, salty, sweet. Bright, meaty, herbal, cleansing, nourishing, enough.
Serve it with rice at the very most.
Adapted slightly from Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia (Artisan, 2000)
Serves 6 to 8
For the salad:
3 to 4 large or extra-large eggs, preferably free-range
2 medium heads leaf or Bibb lettuce, washed and dried
4 scallions, trimmed, smashed flat with the side of a cleaver, cut lengthwise in half or into quarters, and then cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths
1 cup cilantro sprigs
1 cup loosely packed, coarsely chopped or torn Chinese celery leaves, or substitute flat-leaf parsley sprigs
For the lime juice dressing:
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 bird or serrano chiles (optional)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
For the cooked dressing:
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil or minced pork fat
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup rice or cider vinegar
2 to 3 tablespoons dry-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Nicholas Day for this one!
Photo of Jeffrey and Naomi by Dominic and Tashi Alford-Duguid; all other photos by James Ransom