I'm calling this a Thai-style salad, but it could just as easily be Vietnamese or Cambodian. It was ultra-refreshing, and because the dressing is oil-free, very low calorie as well. This kind of salad can work either as part of a larger Southeast Asian spread, or by itself as a light meal.
I've seen watermelon used in all sorts of interesting savory dishes lately. Compressed, juiced, pickled, "sashimi", grilled. You name it, folks are realizing it has applications way beyond a big chunk dribbling juice down your chin on a summer day (or filled with vodka, but that's another story). In this salad, it provides a beautiful sweet counterpoint to the puckery lime dressing and fresh herbs.
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Like many of the salads I've published, you can think of this this dish more as a basis for improvisation than necessarily a formula to follow. Change the lettuce, use tempeh instead of tofu, add rice noodles, use different herbs, add roasted peanuts … mix it up with what you have on hand or what looks good at the market and you can eat this way frequently without getting bored.
I grilled both the tofu and the eggplant, which contributes a bit of smoky flavor, but you can of course do them in a frying pan or in the oven just as well. By the way, Ben at Accidental Hedonist had a great background article on tofu recently.
Thai-Style Salad of Grilled Eggplant, Tofu, and Watermelon
Serves 8 as a side dish or about 3 as a light meal
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free
For the lime dressing:
- 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- salt to taste
- several grinds of black pepper
- Combine all ingredients and allow to rest.
- Adjust seasoning just before serving.
For the salad:
- 3 small eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/2" planks
- 1 container of extra-firm tofu (14-16 ounces) sliced into 8 planks
- soy sauce
- oil for grilling
- 1/2 cup Trader Joe's mandarin orange muscat champagne vinegar (great stuff!) or: juice of one orange, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 head green leaf lettuce, chopped medium, washed and thoroughly dried
- optional: 1 cup mixed microgreens (Trader Joe's sells a nice package, surprisingly), or other flavorful greens – arugula for example
- 1/2 red onion, sliced about 1/8" thick
- 2 cups shredded red cabbage
- jalapeno, serrano, or other chilis to taste, seeded and sliced thin
- 4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
- large handful each of fresh mint, fresh basil (preferably Thai basil), cilantro
- 4 green onions, white parts only, thinly sliced
- sea salt
- Preheat a grill to a moderate temperature with no leaping flames.
- Marinate the tofu in a bit of soy sauce.
- Lightly oil the eggplant on both sides and rub in a bit of salt. Grill on both sides until tender, being careful not to burn. When you take it off, allow to cool slightly, cut into bite sized chunks, and toss while still warm with the orange vinegar.
- Lightly oil the tofu and grill on both sides until nice marks develop. Slice each plank into three bites.
- To serve, arrange the bed of lettuce with all other ingredients scattered on top – either on a family sized platter or individual salad plates. Drizzle the dressing evenly over the top and finish with a bit of sea salt.