Editor's note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by their book, Almost Meatless.
This salad is inspired by one of my favorite restaurants in South Philadelphia, Café de Laos. The restaurant lives at the decidedly unglamorous corner of 11th and Washington, the intersection of numerous immigrant communities; a nexus of authentic carnitas, spaghetti and meatballs, and pho.
One of my earliest food mentors, Susan Waskey, directed my attention to this unexpected gem years ago, and though my travels have taken me to Thai restaurants citywide since then, I keep coming back for the creamy coconut soups, the piquant green curry, the spicy laab tuna.
How the cabbage salad escaped my attention all this time, I have no idea, but I had it for the first time last week. I liked it so much that I tried to replicate it (with a little chicken) for this column. I hope you like it as much as I do. If you make it to Philly, you've got to give Café de Laos a try. Did I mention that it's incredibly budget friendly?
- For the dressing:
- 1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- Zest of 1 lime
- For the salad:
- 2 chicken thighs, cooked and shredded
- 1/2 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced
- 2 medium carrots, shredded
- 1/4 cilantro leaves, chopped, plus whole leaves for garnish
- 1 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish
Toss the sliced cabbage with 1 tablespoon kosher salt and set in a colander over a bowl (or your sink, you don't need the liquid) for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and dry well. Set aside.
Whisk together the curry paste, fish sauce, vinegar, salt, sugar, oil, cayenne and lime zest and juice. Set aside.
Combine the cabbage, carrots, cilantro and chopped peanuts with the dressing and toss well to coat. Divide among four plates, and top with shredded chicken, a sprinkling of nuts and a few cilantro leaves.