Thai salads (yam) are tremendously refreshing, full of the bright flavors of herbs, citrus and chili peppers, balanced with salt and sweetness from either fruit or palm sugar. They are great with a beer, or as part of a complete meal with rice and a curry or noodle dish.
[Hey, did I mention? Please join the Herbivoracious Facebook page and share it with your friends; it is a great place to have more laid back, two-way conversation.]
The traditional way to eat these salads is to use Thai sticky rice to pick them up, or wrap them in lettuce or cabbage leaves.
Once you appreciate their basic aesthetic, you can readily improvise your own yams. Feel free to include just about any tropical fruit, raw or lightly cooked vegetable, or roasted peanuts. Go ahead and adjust the heat level to your preference, and add or subtract from the dressing. For example, you could replace the cilantro in this recipe with Thai basil or add garlic, or fresh ginger, or lemongrass … you get the idea!
A word about the chilis in this dish. The most typical Thai choice would be bird chilis. They are tiny, and wicked hot. If you don't have them, serranos or even jalapenos would be a good alternative. Remove the seeds and ribs and make the dressing an hour in advance if you want it mild, or include everything and mix the chilis in at the last minute if you want maximum kick.
Thai Tofu Salad (yam taohu)
Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free
Serves 4 as part of a larger meal
For the dressing:
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (be sure and choose a gluten-free variety if needed)
- 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon sugar (preferably palm sugar)
- 1-3 Thai bird chilis or serrano peppers, seeds and ribs removed (or see above)
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots, preferably the large red variety
- Combine all ingredients. Taste and add salt as needed, and adjust other components to get a good balance of flavors. It should be very intense, it will seem much more mild when added to the salad.
For the salad:
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/8" thick slabs
- salt and black pepper
- 1 cup medium diced seedless English cucumber
- 4 green onions, white and light green parts, cut into small bite sized lengths
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves + some for garnish
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
- Heat the oil over a medium-high flame in a large skillet, preferably cast iron. Pat the tofu dry. Add in a single layer to the skillet and fry until quite brown on one side, about 3-5 minutes. Flip and brown on the other side. Remove to paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
- After the tofu has cooled, slice it thinly, about 1/8" or so.
- Toss the tofu and all remaining ingredients with the dressing.
- Garnish with a few leaves of cilantro and serve (with sticky rice, or lettuce leaves, or just a fork