palm sugar, pineapple and cucumber salad, rojak salad, sambal oelek, southeast asian salad, tamarind
I first heard of this in a book called Crazy Rich Asians. The heroine was visiting Singapore with her boyfriend and tried this spicy pineapple and cucumber salad in some kind of crazy food court. The best thing about this book was reading about all the (for me) new food. Rojak salad seemed like an approachable recipe for a self-taught homey cook like me. I put down the book and pulled out what I had–cucumber, peanuts, pineapple, tofu, check. Missing: fresh red chilies, palm sugar, tamarind. What the hell, I thought, and squirted some sriracha into the dressing. Um, nope. The salad was edible—a little tasty but a little weird too.
So this time around, after my spice cupboard and fridge and pantry are fairly well-stocked with all sorts of magical things, I did it right. Always the best way. Unless I’ve made a dish a thousand times before, I’m just not the kind of cook who can mess around and bing, zap, boom, voila! I really do have to take my time and concentrate when it comes to new things. Cooking isn’t fun when it’s rushed and stressful after all. But if you can get all zen and in the present about cooking then it’s a fun adventure and you’re putting more love into what you create.
Success! The salad was splendiferous. Soooo good. My mom helped me gobble it up as soon as it was made and maybe she’s a little biased being as she’s my mom but she said, “This is the way I want to eat.” Another keeper. Huzzah. Next time I’ll make a larger batch and maybe some fried rice to serve with it for a summer meal outside on the deck. Yes, it took a little time, but the end result is tasty perfection. It doesn’t matter that it’s vegetarian/vegan, it’s just really good food. And don’t make the same mistake I did and skip out on any of the important things in the dressing. (Well, I didn’t add shrimp paste to the dressing/sauce which I’m sure takes this to another plane. Vegetarianized, this is still a kick-ass meal.) As for the veggies and fruit, well, rojak means ‘mix’ and, from what I have read, all kinds of things can be mixed into this salad–any fresh fruit you have pretty much.
Ingredients for 2
For the dressing
2 fresh red thai chilies
1/4 cup dried tamarind (to make 2 tsp tamarind pulp)
2 tsp palm sugar
2 tbs quality soy sauce
For the salad
4 small persian cucumbers or 1 large thin cucumber
1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 celeriac, peeled cut into bite-size pieces
1 green mango, diced (I didn’t have this)
1/2 block (or more if you like) of extra firm tofu, cut into bite-size pieces
olive oil for frying
50g chopped peanuts or cashews
1) Start the dressing by soaking the dried tamarind in hot water for 15 minutes. (Prep the other ingredients while this is soaking). Drain the water out. Press the pulp through a fine mesh strainer to squeeze out the pulp. Scrape the bottom of the strainer to get it all.
2) Chop the chilies into small pieces and smash with a pestle and mortar and rough sea salt to help pulverize. I left the seeds in. If you can’t handle much spice you may want to take the seeds out—or out of one chili anyway.
3) Add the juice of one lime, soy sauce, tamarind pulp and palm sugar to the chili mixture and mix to a thick sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.
4) Chop the cucumber at alternate angles so that you get small, angled chunks of cucumber. Add this to a large bowl along with the other fruits and vegetables.
5) Heat up about 3 tbs of olive oil in a wok and fry the tofu pieces on all sides until nice and crispy. (Or you could buy the puffy, deep-fried tofu that is sold in asian markets and simply add this to the bowl). Drain the crispy tofu on paper towel and add to the bowl of veggies and fruit.
6) Add as much dressing/sauce as you like and mix. (I used all of it.) Serve in two bowls with the ground nuts sprinkled on top. Eat straightaway as the dressing will start to get watery if sitting around for too long.
Enjoy! This is one of my favorites!