A new collection of Asian salad dressings has resuscitated my winter cooking routine. Although I adore the hearty and rich comfort foods of winter, lately I've been craving a bit more yin and a lot less yang. Crunchy, fresh, and healthy, one-bowl salad meals with just a touch of spice are my new mid-winter mantra.
Creamy miso dressing is the star of this salad bowl, with whole wheat somen noodles. pickled ginger, butter lettuce, carrot shreds and raw ahi tuna.
The secret to these big beautiful salad bowls is in the creamy dressings. Spicy Sesame Sake Dressing and Gado Gado Sauce get their lusciousness from nut butters and their kick from sombel olek, crushed red peppers or good old Sriracha sauce. Creamy miso dressing is more subtle, with an earthy umaminess from sweet white miso paste, which is low in sodium and calories.
Sesame tofu, miso green beans (take-out from the grocery store) with sticky rice, roasted eggplant and bell peppers, with Gado Gado peanut dressing.
Slices of antelope tenderloin, seared and served rare, with Spicy Sesame Sake Dressing.
Stocking your Asian salad pantry should be easy; all ingredients are available at the grocery store, and you probably already have many of these Asian staples. These dressings are meant to be made in big batches; they will keep for up to a month, tightly sealed in the coldest part of your refrigerator.
The Asian salad bowl pantry.
Rice vinegar (unseasoned), mirin (sweet rice wine), low sodium soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil are some of the pantry staples you will need. Tahini (sesame paste), creamy peanut butter, coconut milk, and sweet white miso paste give the dressings their body. Sriracha hot chili sauce, sambal olek (chili paste) or red pepper flakes add heat. Fresh lime juice, cilantro, fresh ginger and garlic brighten up the Asian salad bowls, and pickled ginger, diced scallions, and nori make nice condiments.
White Miso Paste can be found at Jackson Whole Grocer and Aspens Market. Tahini paste can be found at any grocery store; I like the Joyva brand.
Mirin is a sweet cooking wine made from glutinous rice. Mirin is basically sake, but the grocery store variety is only suitable for cooking, and gives dressings a sweet bite.
Nori makes a nice topping for a Sushi Rice Bowl: sticky rice, carrots, scallions, raw ahi tuna, pickled ginger, all drizzled in Creamy Miso Dressing.
Once your salad dressings are mixed up and spiced to your liking, the rest of the salads need no recipe at all. Use your imagination and create hundreds of different Asian salad bowls, depending on what's in your fridge and freezer.
Antelope medallions are seared in a hot pan shimmering with grapeseed oil and sesame oil, then seasoned with salt and pepper.
Protein plays a supporting role in these salad creations, but even small servings of meat, chicken, tofu or fish can give your salad the oomph it needs to fill you up when you come in from the cold. Try sushi-grade fish, tofu squeezed dry and browned in a pan, or slices of chicken, pork or beef.
Even better, forage your freezer for odds and ends of wild game meat; wild game tenderloins, cut into 1-inch thick medallions and seared in a hot pan coated in grapeseed oil and a few drops of sesame oil, are the perfect pairing for the Spicy Sesame Sake Dressing. Season with salt and pepper, slice against the grain, and drape them over your veggies, for an East meets Wild West salad.
Gado Gado Sauce is also perfect for a snack of crunchy salted cucumber slices.
The Gado Gado Sauce is perhaps the most rich and addicting of the dressings; like the peanut sauce served beside chicken sate, it will make you want to lick the bowl. It would be perfect on a salad bowl of grilled chicken, cucumber slices, shredded carrot, butter lettuce and brown rice.
For last minute weeknight meals, I like to cook big batches of brown rice and stash Ziploc bags of it in the freezer. With a luscious Asian salad dressing (and some good leftover meat and vegetables) in the fridge, and brown rice in the freezer, I am just minutes away from an Asian salad bowl meal.
For a printable version of each recipe, click on the file below it.
Spicy Sesame Sake Dressing
All of these recipes were adapted from Simple Asian Meals by Nina Simonds.
Use to dress a salad bowl, or make your own Dan Dan Noodles by tossing it into warm rice noodles with grilled chicken, carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts and toasted sesame seeds.
Yields about 1 cup
- 1 cup sesame tahini paste
- 10 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons rice wine (mirin) or sake
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons hot chili paste (such as sombel olek) or Sriracha sauce to taste
- Combine all ingredients in a blender or the bowl of a food processor, and blend thoroughly. Taste, and add more sugar or chili paste to your liking.
- Serve drizzled over your salad bowl, with a small bowl of dressing on the side.
Seared antelope tenderloins are the perfect match for Spicy Sesame Sake Dressing in this salad bowl.
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Creamy Miso Dressing
Sweet white miso paste gives this dressing its creamy, savory flavor. Miso paste is low in calories and sodium, and this is by far the healthiest of the dressings. It is perfect for drizzling over seared tofu, sushi rice and vegetables topped with pickled ginger and crispy nori.
Yields about 1 cup
Sweet white miso is less assertive than the red or brown varieties. All miso pastes are extremely nutritious, rich in B vitamins and protein.
- 1 cup sweet white miso paste
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
- 6 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mirin or 1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine mixed with 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- Place the miso paste in a blender or the bowl of a food processor. With the machine running, add the water in a slow stream to make a smooth paste. (You could also do this by hand with a whisk.)
- Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth.
- Taste and adjust the sweet and salty ingredients to your liking.
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Gado Gado Sauce
Also known as Sate Dressing, or just Peanut Lime Sauce, this addicting dressing makes everything it touches taste better.
Yields about 2 cups
My favorite coconut milk is Chaokoh brand, often available at Smith's grocery. For a lighter dressing, use Thai Kitchen Lite Coconut milk.
- 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (I like the smooth texture of Jif, but you could substitute a natural brand, such as Adams; stir well before measuring)
- 1 15 ounce can light coconut milk (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 3 1/2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon and then add more if you need more heat)
- Place all the ingredients in a blender or the bowl of a food processor and mix until very smooth.
- Taste, and adjust the sweet, salty, and spicy ingredients.
- Serve drizzled on your salad bowls, or serve warm over noodles, vegetables and meat.
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