One of the greatest salads I've eaten in a lifetime of great salads was the fried pork belly salad I had at DD Restaurant, in the center of Nong Khai on the Thai-Lao border. There, the pork comes in fat slabs, crisp on the outside, meltingly tender inside, in the sweet-hot-sour-savory dressing that seems to blanket nearly everything on the menu (this is, by the way, a very good thing).
This past week, while I was busy clacking away at the keyboard at my in-laws' place in Bogotá, I started thinking about unique things I could make for dinner that they might not have much access to in Colombia, but could still be made with available ingredients. That's when my eyes drifted over to the package of chicharrones, the fried pork rinds that are a near ubiquitous snack, as popular as potato or yuca chips.
I whipped up a quick batch of Issan-style dressing by pounding garlic and hot chilies in a mortar and pestle, then added some sugar (I used the local panela, though any kind of raw brown sugar or palm sugar will work), lime juice, and fish sauce. To bring some brightness and other aromatic elements to the salad, I added some cleaned bean sprouts (I was surprised I found them in Bogotá!), picked mint leaves, cilantro, tomatoes, sliced red onions, and sliced cebolla larga, which, for all intents and purposes, are fat spring onions.
Pretty fantastic for a dish that comes together in all of ten minutes. It lacks the creamy, tender centers of the fried pork rind salad I had in Nong Khai, but I really love the way the crisp pork rinds soften up slightly and absorb dressing while still maintaining a bit of crunch.
The next plan? Make this sucker at home with juicy chicharrones made from actual fresh pork belly. Until then, this shortcut will do. I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure this was the only chicharrón salad in Colombia that night.