Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Salad a la Japonaise

I love the great tradition of the French composed salad. The composed salad is about compartmentalization, about showing off the gorgeous simplicity of good quality ingredients without a lot of fussy tossing. Think the classic nicoise: lettuce, boiled potatoes, hard boiled egg, black olives, tuna and green beans, everything in its right place. The composed salad is to the tossed salad what Vermeer is to Jackson Pollock. It's a detail thing: one about order and exactness, the other about explosive bursts of creativity.

As a lover of Japanese food, it occurred to me that the clean, sexy and somewhat restrained flavors of this cuisine lend themselves incredibly well to the composed salad form. What I'm talking about is more or less a nori roll, deconstructed. A gorgeous bed of greens, slightly wilted and lightly dressed in sesame oil, tamari and a touch of chilli, supporting an artful array of vegetables, finished with a mound of spicy ginger pate.

Don't be alarmed by the seeming complexity of this recipe. It's simple, really. Dress the greens, make the pate, and arrange. Done.

Just resist the urge to toss.

Salad a la Japonaise
Serves 2


6-8 large chard or spinach leaves, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 bunch bok choy, finely chopped
1/2 tsp himalayan salt
1/3 cup wakame (dry), soaked in water to cover for 10 minutes and drained
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp tamari
pinch of red pepper flakes

Ginger Pate

1/2 cup brazil nuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cm square piece of fresh ginger
1 small clove of garlic
1/2 tsp himalayan salt
juice of 1 lemon
1/4-1/3 cup water


2 medium swiss brown or white mushrooms
1 Tbsp tamari
1/2 Lebanese cucumber, julienned
1/2 carrot, shredded
1 medium tomato, cut into small wedges
2 small handfuls sprouts, any kind
4 radishes, thinly sliced

For mushrooms:
Slice each mushroom in half, then into 1cm slices. Place in a shallow bowl and toss with 1 Tbsp tamari. Set aside to marinate for 10 minutes.

For salad:
Combine chopped chard or spinach and bok choy in a large bowl. Add a pinch of himalayan salt and massage for about 30 seconds, until the greens just begin to wilt. Add rehydrated wakame, sesame oil, tamari and red pepper flakes, and toss to coat. Set aside while you make the pate.

For pate:
Combine brazil nuts, sesame seeds, ginger, garlic and salt in food processor and pulse until grainy. Add lemon juice and water as needed, and process until fairly smooth (similar to hummus texture).

For assembly:
Divide salad into 2 large shallow bowls. On top of the greens, place a large scoop of the ginger pate in the center. Surround with individual piles of carrots, cucumber, tomato, sprouts and marinated mushrooms. Serve immediately.

*Use any vegetables you have on hand for the toppings. Thinly sliced red capsicum, snow peas, broccoli, daikon, gobo, or many other vegetables would go just as well here.

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