The birth of my Japanese salad, in so many words: I have to say that I did stumble on this concept a while ago during some experiments on fermented vegetables. I was trying to make a simple gingered red cabbage side dish for a hot Thai curry. Originally, I macerated the chopped cabbage with just a few slivers of fresh ginger in a little sesame oil and fresh lime juice, then added shredded coconut and a few sprigs of coriander (cilantro) to match the fabled Thai flavors. It wasn’t bad but it bothered me somewhat. I tasted bitter, not fully realized, a bit like your average politician. It needed an intense flavor, something that would linger on one’s tongue, and could accompany a fiery curry. Or stand on its own.
I thought of raspberry vinegar, one of my favorite vinegar flavors. It could do the trick, if blended with another acetic liquid so I bought a bottle of Japanese rice vinegar. I got a decent sized purple cabbage and proceeded to cut it as finely as possible, lengthwise. Then I added a whole head of ginger, also cut finely, and turned it into a myriad of inch-long slivers. I got hold of a large glass jar, with a tight lid and began to fill it with layers of cabbage and ginger, all the way to the top. Then I virtually drowned the contents with an equal amount of rice and raspberry vinegar. No sugar, no salt, nothing.
I put the jar in the refrigerator and waited for three days before opening and tasting. I loved the color of the cabbage, almost translucent. The ginger had blended in nicely, same color as the cabbage. I ate some, then wrapped a spoonful into a lettuce leaf. Not bad. But not great either. Not enough bite to it though the ginger gave it a small kick. I knew I had to add other flavors, perhaps in the form of root vegetables. I got some carrots and a head of celeriac.
I made a julienne of the carrots and the celeriac, and added more ginger, for good measure. However the liquid itself was wanting, it lacked a back taste. I didn’t want to use salt or pepper, the obvious levelers, and since I was toying with balsamic reduction for another dish, I poured half a glass worth into the jar, and mixed well. Next I squeezed four of five limes and added the juice to the concoction. And waited another three days.
Still, not happy. It was close but not there yet. You’d think I was creating some kind of rocket fuel! I went out to my local greengrocer and bought a head of fennel. This would add a new dimension, I thought feverishly, and that it might be the “game changer” in the world of salads. I added the whole head and again, another wait of three days, but not before I poured a half glass of toasted sesame oil into the jar, on a hunch. And that proved to be the clincher! Suddenly it sang to me! It had all the qualities of a grand salad, good color, taste, a crunchiness to die for. And it looked great.
A few leaves of radicchio complimented the final set-up in which I would serve the salad. I love the faint bitterness of radicchio, a must-eat salad in Italy between courses, it stimulates the appetite.
The next post will be about how to make the perfect cannelloni, with pics.