The best salad I've had in the past year was a cilantro salad. Meaning, no other lettuces. None. Unless you absolutely loathe cilantro, you 100% must try it. It is made with cilantro leaves and stems tossed with a simple shallot-forward soy sauce dressing, plus peanuts. I’ll often add asparagus.
This cilantro salad came to my attention in a round-about way. And I'm so thankful! I went to a lunch in Oakland a few weeks back. It was one of those special lunches that passes all too quickly - a warm April afternoon, a stretch of tables pushed together under a booming canopy of white flowers, good company, Lillet blanc, and some of my favorite cooks arriving with something to share, family-style. It was a celebration of Deborah Madison's new book, and after all these years, I was finally able to thank her for inspiring body of work in person. All in all, a great afternoon. I would have been more than happy to stay right where I was, long after the plates were cleared, as I imagine dinner under the blossoming trees would be magic. But, that's not actually what I was thinking about after I left. I was thinking about something I ate.
Cilantro Salad: You Need This Salad in Your Life
There was this one salad at the lunch that I just couldn't shake. It was made entirely of cilantro, tossed with a simple shallot-forward soy sauce dressing, toasted peanuts, and a vegetable. It was so simple, so bright, and it got me thinking about cilantro in an entirely new way. I can't emphasize more strongly how much I want you to enjoy this salad as well.
The Xinjiang salad was made by Carolyn Phillips from a Chinese cookbook specializing in the Northwest (you can see the write-up on her site here). You'll also also see it featured in her upcoming book on regional Chinese cooking being published by McSweeney's in 2014, All Under Heaven. She used red bell peppers, but I've been doing versions with whatever spring produce I have on hand. You can see the asparagus version as well as an all-cilantro version down below. Unless you absolutely loathe cilantro, you must, must(!) try this salad.
What is it Good With?
I love this salad as side to just about anything. It's great as a component to a grain bowl, wonderful in tacos, and I love it as a side salad to a rustic, savory tomato tart.
Cilantro Salad: Pro-tip
This is the main thing that matters. The absolute key here is to use the brightest, best cilantro you can get your hands on. The stems should be crisp but not at all tough. The leaves need to be vibrant, with no shift in color (indicating onsetting spoilage).
I understand if cilantro isn't your things. Especially if you're one of the people who experiences it as soapy. Here are a bunch of other salad recipes for you to check out.
HS: You're going to make far more shallot oil (and shallots) than you need here. Keep the remaining oil refrigerated, and use it to drizzle over noodles, eggs, tofu, all manner of vegetables, etc. Or to use in a component in a vinaigrette. It's incredibly tasty and versatile. Also, please, as I mentioned above, don't try this salad unless you have great cilantro. Look for the brightest, best cilantro you can get your hands on. The stems should be crisp but not at all tough. The leaves vibrant, with no shift in color (indicating on-setting spoilage).
- 1 cup / 240 ml sunflower oil
- 1 cup / 3.5 oz / 100g evenly sliced shallots, ~20 small
- 6 ounces / 170 g asparagus spears, very thinly sliced (optional)
- 1 bunch of cilantro with stems
- 1 teaspoon shoyu / soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup / 2 ounces peanuts, well-toasted, then cooled
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- to serve: herb flowers (garlic chive flowers, chive flowers, etc), optional
Start by making the shallot oil, you can do this up to a few days in advance. Place the oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan or wok, over medium heat. When the oil is hot (a "test" shallot should bubble immediately), dial back the heat to medium, sprinkle in the shallots, and cook slowly until they are deeply golden, 15 - 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain the oil off into a jar, and set aside. Place the shallots on a paper towel and allow them to cool and crisp.
In the meantime, if you're adding asparagus, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, salt generously, and cook the asparagus for just 15 seconds or so - until bright. Drain, and quickly transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again, and set aside.
Trim any tough stems from the cilantro, and give it a good wash. Dry completely.
Just before you're ready to serve the salad, whisk together the soy sauce, sugar, sea salt, and 1/4 cup of the shallot oil.
Place the cilantro, peanuts, asparagus, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Drizzle half of the soy dressing over, and give a gentle but thorough toss. Add more dressing if you like. The peanuts and asparagus like to find their way to the bottom, so be sure to scoop them back on top before serving with some of the reserved crisped shallots, and a few herb flowers on top (if you have them).
Inspired by a salad brought to a lunch made by Carolyn Phillips who, in turn, references a Chinese cookbook specializing in the Northwest here. She'll be featuring the original in her upcoming book on regional Chinese cooking, All Under Heaven, being published by McSweeney's in 2014.
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This IS exciting! And Deborah is wonderful, isn't she? (Got to thank her myself in a slightly less-idyllic atmosphere in Davis' Avid Reader.) Have an enormity of ridiculously beautiful-tasting cilantro in the garden. Lunch?!
This sounds beautiful, pretty and delicious! Anna x
Some people seem not to like cilantro, but I love it-especially in salsa. I grow a pot of it by my front door to snip fresh when I need it, along with Parsley and some spearmint. This year I am adding basil to the 'step' community. Cilantro is known to remove heavy metals, so I use it in my protein smoothies when I can. Shallot bulb packets were marked down to $1 at Bimart. I had a pot of them in another home, but am still unfamiliar w/ their intrigue, so this should be the recipe to find out their particular taste in the oil. This year I promised a neighbor I'd plant some Calendula for him, and I can't find the seed anywhere yet. This salad would look great w/ those yellow/orange petals, and would be another taste discovery for me. I'll keep my eyes open for seeds. They come back every year. Thanks for another great recipe Heidi.
I love this. Reminds me of a middle eastern parsley salad only this is Asian. Frankly, I'm partial to this as I adore cilantro!
So happy to see this recipe in my inbox this morning! I have a pot of cilantro in my garden and it's looking very healthy. Was just looking at it this morning thinking, hmmm....what am I going to do to use up all this cilantro before it starts turning yellow! Thank you!
Ohh so good!! I love it !! We also in Venezuela make some cilantro salad with avocados red , yellow and green peppers with a lime and garlic dressing olive oil sprinkle some cash nut toasted ummm delicious refreshing salad with asados bbq.LOL
Wow, this looks gorgeous! I am a cilantro lover, but had still never thought to create a salad with cilantro as the main green. The dressing and crisped shallots sound divine. I bet a little fresh lime juice would complement the flavors, too.
This is great! I can't wait to share this recipe with my CSA members. Thanks!
I love the use of cilantro as the main ingredient! So creative + inventive (as always). I am loving these photos too ... the shadows are so gorgeous.
This sounds wonderful. I think I will try it with some tiny fava beans. One note: the recipe does not mention the shallots again after they are allowed to "cool and crisp." I see them in your photo, looking tantalizing - I'm guessing they are added at the end with the flowers? HS: Love that idea Emma - and, yes, thanks for the catch, add the crispy shallots at the end (updated!)
Amazing salad... as always. I was wondering if you have any spots in Brooklyn, NY that you can recommend for 'super natural' style food? I have just moved here and while there is so much choice in terms of amazing food, I can't seem to find any of the kind of stuff you (and now I too) cook...
Could you post a photo of shallots? I'm confused as to what ingredient you are talking about. Where I live a shallot is a smaller tastier version of a red onion but sometimes I think cooks are talking about green spring onions when they call for shallots. Which do you mean?
This sounds scrumptious. When my uncle moved to Texas from the midWest about a decade ago, he discovered cilantro. His taste buds were awakened! He became obsessed with cilantro. He called all of his friends in the midWest to tell them about Texans and their cilantro. He even made cilantro ice cream one summer. Suffice it to say, we are a cilantro-obsessed family, and this salad will be made! Thanks for the inspiration.
this looks amazing.
very clever to highlight an herb in a salad. i'm not the biggest fan of cilantro. would you recommend using a different herb?
Is it the flavour of the peanuts that is right or will almonds, walnuts or cashews work with this combination? (btw - i love your work, thank you so much for sharing!!!)
sounds like a perfect lunch.
How great that you got to meet Deborah Madison! Sounds like a lovely time. Such a creative salad! The dressing sounds absolutely perfect.
Inspiring and invigorating in thought - the cilantro sounds beautiful with the complimenting shallots and soy sauce - wonderful post with beautiful photography.
Lovely idea, I use parsley a lot as a main component in salads but will give this one a go, sounds good.