I wish I could tell you that this week’s recipe resulted from a desire to bring the world to my table – a deep longing for sunshine exoticism at a time when I am confined indoors with only the dreary promise of a British January beyond the window. After all, what better than the bright, hot-sweet flavours of a southeast Asian salad to invigorate the tastebuds and raise the spirits?
But the reason is actually far more practical. Given that food shopping opportunities are somewhat curtailed at the moment, I have taken the pragmatic step of properly consulting my fridge and cupboards before venturing outdoors. Today’s trawl was more fortuitous than many. Here were the makings of something that could transport me out of lockdown without leaving the house. There were carrots, half a savoy cabbage, a length of red chilli, a slightly shrivelled lime and some remnants of herbs that, although perhaps not in the first flush of youth, were not yet ready for the compost. The cupboard yielded an ancient bottle of fish sauce and an open packet of KP nuts. A light, but rather good supper was born.
Now I know my kitchen haul may not be typical – I am never without fresh herbs, for example. But the dressing could easily have been made with soy sauce and rice vinegar, the savoy substituted for other leaves, even broccoli. I could have added cucumber, some defrosted frozen prawns, a bit of fried fish, or, on meat days, some shreds of leftover cooked chicken. Cliches always carry a kernel of truth, and today, at least, necessity was the mother of invention.
125ml fish sauce
Juice of 4 limes
2 1/2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 red chillies, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you want to reduce the heat)
4 large carrots, finely shredded lengthways (a mandolin is useful here, but you could use a sharp knife or grate them coarsely if you want)
In a large bowl, mix together the fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, garlic and three quarters of the red chilli.
Add the carrot, cabbage and spring onion and toss together until everything is well coated in the dressing. Leave to stand for a few minutes, then fold through all but a few of the chopped peanuts and herbs.
Divide the salad between bowls and scatter the remaining chilli, peanuts and herbs over the top. Splash with any leftover dressing and serve.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book is Good Things to Eat.