This recipe is for Thai ‘dry yam’ – a type of strongly flavoured dish that’s a cross between a salad and a relish. There are dozens of regional variations all over Thailand. This recipe is pretty flexible, and you can increase or reduce the quantity – providing you roughly keep to the suggested ratio of vegetables and dressing.
You may use any vegetables you like, and either cook them or leave them raw – or combine both. Two or more of the following would be good: oriental broccoli (gai lan), fresh or (reconstituted) dried mushrooms (ideally oyster, enoki, or shiitake), baby corn, baby pak choi, white or red cabbage, water chestnuts, bamboo shots, beansprouts, carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, spring onions (scallions), wing beans, ‘yard long’ beans, Thai ‘pea’ aubergines (eggplants), and so on.
You can add fruit, too, if you wish: pineapple, star fruit and pomelo go particularly well with the spicy dressing.
This salad is very strongly flavoured, and is meant to be eaten as part of a meal – not on its own – accompanied by other dishes, such as plain jasmine rice, a tofu dish, a curry or a stir-fry, and a soup. Alternatively, you may serve small quantities with alcoholic drinks, particularly spirits, as Thais do. Just place miniature quantities of the salad in small individual dipping plates, egg cups, or paper cones, and give everyone a small spoon or pastry fork to eat.
If you’re eating the salad as part of a meal, leave the vegetables chunky; or chop them very small if you’re serving it with drinks.
Add chillies according to taste. I like using 2 or 3 birdseye chillies in this recipe, but if you’re not used to spicy food, start with a quarter or half a chilli (birdseye chillies are very, very hot). You may deseed them if you wish. In Thailand, around half a dozen or more chillies would be used in this recipe. Serves 2 as part of meal, or up to 6 as accompaniment to drinks.
For the dressing:
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Fresh red or green birdseye chillies, to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
Salt and pepper
For the salad:
8 oz/ 200g mixed vegetables (see note above)
A few lettuce leaves
1 tablespoon peanuts
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 shallots (preferably red or banana shallots), peeled and finely sliced into rings
Fresh coriander, or Thai green or red holy basil leaves for garnish
1. Start by making the dressing. Pound the garlic and chilli in a mortar or spice grinder. Mix in the sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and seasoning. Try some of the dressing, and adjust it according to your taste – for instance, some people may prefer a little more sugar. You can thin down the dressing with a little groundnut (peanut) oil if you wish.
2. Prepare the vegetables: trim, peel, slice or dice the raw vegetables, and lightly steam the ones you want cooked. Mix all the vegetables well and set aside.
3. Dry roast the peanuts and the sesame seeds separately in a small frying pan. Let them cool a little, then crush coarsely in a mortar or spice grinder.
4. When you are ready to serve, line a serving platter with the lettuce leaves. Pile in the salad in the centre. Pour over the dressing. Sprinkle with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. Top with shallot rings, and garnish with coriander or basil leaves. Mix gently at the table before serving.