Rich, velvety sesame sauce with cool and crisp lettuce: this is a perfect starter or cold-weather salad. You might recognize this flavor in the form of cold Chinese peanut noodles... delish.
The traditional vegetable used for this salad is called youmaicai (yo-MAI-TSAI; 油麦菜); specifically, Lactuca sativa L. If your Chinatown market doesn’t have this guy’s sibling, just look for its cousins, which would be any sort of long, firm and crispy lettuce like romaine hearts and baby gem.
Note that Chinese sesame paste is different from tahini -- the Chinese way is to roast the seeds first before processing to coax out a deep, rich aroma. So pop down to your Chinatwon market and grab an inexpensive pot of it! —Jamie Pea
bunches of youmaicai (or romaine hearts/baby gem)
1/2 tsp Chinese roasted sesame paste
1/2 tsp water
clove of garlic, finely minced
black and white sesame seeds (or either one)
Snap apart the individual leaves and wash them well. Give the leaves a shake to dry them off, then trim off the ends and the tops to keep the neat middle section, about 12cm long. Lay down the irregular leafy tops onto your serving plate in a flat layer, then stack the pretty middle sections on top, neatly like a pile of winter logs.
Stir the jar of sesame paste to recombine any separated oil on top and sediment at the bottom. Scoop the sesame paste into a small bowl and set aside. In another small bowl, combine the water, soy sauce, vinegar, light brown sugar and the finely minced garlic. Gradually pour the liquid mix into the bowl of sesame paste, stirring as you go, until all the liquid has been added and you get a nicely emulsified, velvety sauce.
Pour the sesame sauce across the vegetables, then top with the black and white sesame and spring onions.