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Give your next salad an Asian twist

 
KENDRA BAILEY MORRISThe Accidental Chef Imust confess. I'm a total Asian market junkie. More often than not, you can find me lingering around the colorful array of fresh produce in an effort to persuade myself to buy one of those giant durian fruits and finally see what all the fuss is about.

You might catch me gazing into the live fish and eel tank, eyes aglow with childlike excitement, or sauntering zombie-like down the aromatic aisles overrun with various dried mushrooms, rice papers, kitschy Japanese candies and odd vegetables brining in glass jars.

An Asian market is a veritable circus of freaks for the foodie set, and I am right at home in the thick of it.

And I'll buy things, lots of things. From coriander to candles, I've loaded up my basket on more than one occasion with the intent of creating some new and unusual combination once I return to my kitchen.

One afternoon, after a particularly fruitful Asian market visit, I found myself with an array of vinegars, pastes and aromatics along with a bag of spinach, a few green onions, an avocado, and a can of segmented mandarin oranges. Of course, this vegetable combination immediately screamed salad, but for the life of me, I could not figure out a decent dressing to pair with it.

A basic balsamic vinegar and olive oil sounded good enough, but that's my usual fallback dressing, so I set out to create something different. With a few shallots and a chunk of fresh ginger, I figured something akin to a dressing found in a Japanese restaurant might be in order.

Most dressings are either emulsified (the blending of oil and vinegar such as with a creamy Italian) or not emulsified (as in a typical oil and vinegar that is separated). I had a classic combination of rice wine vinegar, oil, along with a jar of tahini (a sesame paste that is thick and grainy), so it seemed a fully blended, emulsified dressing would be the best way to go.

After tinkering with amounts and ratios, I whisked all my ingredients together and lightly seasoned it with a dash of salt and pepper. What resulted was a delicious, creamy combination with just the right ginger kick and subtle sesame flavor.

Once I drizzled this concoction over my salad of baby spinach, sliced avocado, minced green onions and mandarin oranges, I was in heaven. Something amazing happens when a classic Asian combination of sour and sweet comes together in a symphony of texture and flavor. This salad, like many similar dishes, is a simple testament to the vast culinary influence that originates from this region of the world. Ingredients and foodstuffs like these deserve exploration.

Therefore, I highly recommend those of you who have not had the chance to explore our many local Asian grocery stores, hop in the car and check one out. Not only will you be amazed by the numerous unique ingredients you can find, but you might end up discovering a few new and exciting flavors to play with at home.


Kendra Bailey Morris is a Richmond-based food writer, culinary instructor and author of "White Trash Gatherings: From-Scratch Cooking for Down-Home Entertaining" (Ten Speed Press). Send ideas, tips or culinary questions to info@theaccidentalchef.netor visit http://www.theaccidentalchef.net.


Makes ½ cup.
1 tablespoon ginger, finely grated
1 tablespoon sushi vinegar*
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon tahini*
3 tablespoons sesame oil (preferably dark)
Salt and pepper, to taste

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