Vietnamese Cabbage, Tofu and Herb Salad – Gói Bắp Cải Dậu Phụ – Recipe

Vietnamese Cabbage and Herb Salad - Recipe

Have you ever had the experience of eating a dish once and finding it burning into your brain? As if there was a reserved area, a certain tabula rasa of neurons just waiting to be inscribed with this new combination of flavors? That’s how I felt when I first tried this salad at Eric Banh’s Ba Bar, one of our favorite Seattle restaurants. This general style of cabbage salad (gói) is fairly common, but what makes the Ba Bar version great is copious quantities of meticulously fried, ridiculously savory shallots playing against the fresh herbs and crunchy cabbage.

I’d had in mind to attempt my own version, but my shallots for other Vietnamese dishes had never come out so perfect. Usually some were carbonized while others were still undercooked. I was frying something completely different at ChefSteps the other day when Grant Crilly bought me a clue. Generally, when I think of deep frying I automatically assume I want to be in the neighborhood of 360 F / 182 C. That is great for putting a nice crust on a fritter, for example, or for the final frying of French fries. What Grant pointed out was that if you are trying to fry something all the way through, a much lower temperature, on the order of 260 F / 126 C works better.

For example, think about these shallots, or, say, croutons or fried capers. You want them to be completely crisp, and that can only happen if you cook all the water out of them. If you dump them in super-hot oil, the crust will burn long before the water leaves the inside. So obvious once you realize it, but it was a total head-slapper for me.

A delightful side effect of frying shallots this way is that you’ll end up with a bunch of shallot-flavored oil. You can use that in salad dressings for several days afterwards. It has a subtle, warming flavor. If I remember right, Eric also uses it to garnish congee.

Ideally for this salad you would have a mix of Vietnamese herbs. My friend Andrea Nguyen has a nice guide to them. I think the Ba Bar version has a lot of rau ram, but if you can’t find that, you’ll have to make do with mint and cilantro. Tia to (aka shiso, aka perilla) would also be great. If you have access to a Vietnamese grocery, just go and buy one of each of the herbs they sell – you’ll discover a bunch of intense new flavors to fall in love with.

The way I’ve written this, it is meant to be an appetizer or side-dish salad; there is just a small amount of tofu as more of a textural element. If you wanted to make in into something more like an entree salad, you could use a lot more pan-fried tofu, about 4 to 6 ounces per person; I’d probably include garlic and lemongrass for the last couple minutes of frying.

Vietnamese Cabbage, Tofu and Herb Salad – Gói Bắp Cải Dậu Phụ

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 servings

Vietnamese Cabbage, Tofu and Herb Salad – Gói Bắp Cải Dậu Phụ

  • 5 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 3 ounces extra-firm tofu (one of those seasoned and baked tofus can work as well), 1/4" dice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 small head green cabbage, cored, thinly shredded and refrigerated
  • 2 big, packed handfuls mixed Vietnamese herbs - rau ram, mint, cilantro, etc. - see above
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice or rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce - use a gluten free variety if needed
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, toasted and lightly crushed
  1. Bring a small pot with enough oil to completely cover the shallots up to a low frying temperature, about 260 F / 126 C. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally until deeply golden brown. This will take a very long time - around 45 minutes. Keep the temperature very low. You can speed the process up a little by using more oil in a larger pot. For a long time it will seem like nothing much is happening, then they will start to slowly brown. Keep the temperature low, and pay more attention for the last few minutes.
  2. When the shallots are done, drain them but reserve the delicious oil. Spread the shallots out on paper towels. As they cool, they will become shatteringly crispy.
  3. Pan-fry the tofu in a small amount of oil until nicely browned. Transfer to paper towels and season.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the lime juice, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the reserved shallot oil. Don't worry about getting it emulsified.
  5. Put the cabbage in a mixing bowl. Add half of the shallots, the tofu, and all of the herbs, tearing them and lightly bruising the leaves to release flavor. Add the dressing a little at a time, tossing as you go, until the cabbage is well dressed but not drenched. Taste and adjust seasoning - it may need more salt.
  6. To serve, transfer the salad to platter. Garnish with the remaining fried shallots and peanuts.

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, February 25th, 2013 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Salads, Vegan or Modifiable.

13 Responses to “Vietnamese Cabbage, Tofu and Herb Salad – Gói Bắp Cải Dậu Phụ – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    February 25, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    this may sound like a silly question, but which way do you cut th shallots? lengthways or across into rounds?

    • Reply
      February 25, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Not silly at all! Across, into rings.

  2. Reply
    February 25, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    Did you see the article on the Banhs in the March issue of Sunset? Includes their cucumber salad recipe w/ shallots fried in a deep pan at 275*. Yum!

    • Reply
      February 25, 2013 at 9:39 am #

      Nope, I’m not a regular Sunset reader though it always has some beautiful stuff in it. I got to spend a day with Eric and Andrea Nguyen a few months ago, touring restaurants and a small rice noodle factory. Those two seriously know their food.

  3. Reply
    February 25, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Yum–I’ve been making a lot of cabbage salad inspired by the book Burma, and those shallots so make all the difference. I like this version because I am growing rau ram–and provided it comes back from a harsh winter, I’ll need ways to use it.

  4. Reply
    March 3, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    Michael, I am a big fan of cabbage salads and made this one last night. It is a taste sensation. Thanks for sharing it.

    By the way, my partner in educational endeavors just wrote a review of your cookbook for our web site:

    • Reply
      March 4, 2013 at 8:50 am #

      I’m so glad you liked the salad, and please tell Steve how much I appreciate his review!!

  5. Reply
    March 5, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    This looks so fresh and lovely!

  6. Reply
    March 8, 2013 at 1:00 am #

    Michael, I have to be completely honest with you. When I first started reading your blog, my most frequent response was….anger. I was angry that your recipes featured exotic ingredients (even for me), and that they generally weren’t accessible to a financially restricted college student such as myself. The more I sifted through your recipes, however, I discovered that they weren’t miles away in terms of being a realistic option for a budget cook with limited time, but just around the corner. You’ve inspired me to strive for that next culinary step and have shown me just how close it really is.

    This recipe exemplifies just how achievable great cooking is for anyone with a passion for food. As involved as it appears for a salad, I made this at 2 in the morning (after several adult beverages) with minimal difficulty. Ever better, mine featured a hefty amount of rau ram which I picked up at an Asian market down the street for just over a dollar. After smelling that pot full of beautifully fried shallots, I knew that I had created something beautiful. Thank you for doing what you do.

    • Reply
      March 8, 2013 at 9:05 am #

      Thanks, Alan! I read your comment to one of my kids this morning and her face just lit up. I love what you said, and I hope it inspires other people to step just a little outside of their comfort zone to try new markets and new ingredients that might be a little less familiar, but actually are quite accessible.

  7. Reply
    March 8, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    Great blog, loving this! 🙂

  8. Reply
    July 11, 2013 at 6:51 am #

    delicious! I’ve made this twice and it’s a great recipe. The leftovers are especially tasty from marinating in the dressing – personally I add chili flakes to heat up the dressing a little, and add more lime juice, and less salad oil. Really tasty.

  9. Reply
    December 17, 2014 at 12:55 am #

    This recipe is not only delicious, it’s addictive and after reading the comment above I’m really looking forward to lunch!

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