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It gets hot in Australia. Really hot. And when it’s really hot, cooking isn’t much fun. Sure, everyone likes a barbie outside, but that’s not always practical, and sometimes you just need a break from the heat.
Enter the salad. We don’t always associate food with refreshment, but a salad can hit the spot like a cool glass of water or your favourite icy-pole. The key is to use flavour combinations with a little more acidity and to keep things as herbacious as possible.
The reason you want to lean towards acid is the palate-cleansing properties it possesses. There’s a reason you get served highly acidic amuse-bouche type bites between dishes if you’re eating a degustation. It’s also why a lot of icy poles and sorbets are made using acidic fruit flavours – your mouth associates these flavours with cooling and refreshment.
The great thing about Asian herbs is they’re very leafy. Whether it’s Thai basil, Vietnamese mint or coriander there’s enough surface area to add mass to the salad as well as flavour, and that’s before you talk about flavourful leaves like kaffir lime and betel.
Then, of course, you’ve got mildly flavoured yet crisp and moisture packed salad toppers like bean sprouts, baby corn and bamboo shoots. While these ingredients don’t pack a flavour punch they add delicious texture and crunch to a leafy bowl of goodness. And if you’re looking to make something really beautiful, then try using some edible flowers like chrysanthemum.
Keeping in line with the acid-base you are looking for, adding citrus fruit is also a great way to lift a salad from the good to the great. Mango is the obvious go to if you’re Australian, but buddha’s hand, finger limes and mandarins are great as well. If you’re looking for something a little less intense, then melons – like watermelons – are another solid option.
When it comes to the base, then there’s a whole lot of interesting Asian options. Wombok – or Chinese cabbage – is a crunchy and slightly spicy option, while Chinese broccoli, mustard greens, watercress and bok choi can all be used.
And then, of course, there’s the dressing. Asian sauces are perfect for blending and serving with a salad. Whether it’s the salt from quality soy, acidic pungency from the fish sauce or the vinegary heat of sriracha, there’s brilliant flavour combinations – and colours – to blend together.
So get down to your nearest Asian grocers and grab some different veggies and get creative. You won’t regret it on a 40°C day!