Asian – Inspired Salads

The way I see it, Asian food ranks in the top three most popular cuisines. My ranking order goes like this: Italian, Mexican, Asian (factoring in the popularity of sushi). I am sure there are those that would debate this with me. What about Indian, French, Greek, Spanish? Yes, those cuisines are popular; after all, diversity and choice is what makes the restaurant world go around. But I will stick by my guns (or would that be wire whisk?) concerning my popularity ranking.

To break all this down a bit further, I know full well that salads have become critically important to menu balance. I can point out any number of quick service restaurants that have made a lot of hay, so to speak, with salads. In fact, many restaurants have gone from just two basic salads to six or seven very creative and tasty salads. And customers have responded in kind. And we cannot ignore the perception of healthy eating vis a vis salads.

And that is my segue into how you can add a touch of Asian to your existing menu, a whole new “Wow” factor. And I am quite positive that your customers will like the idea. So don’t be surprised when your customers say, “You know, I think I want to try that Asian pasta salad today instead of the meatball sandwich.”

I will try to make this as easy as possible. Bear in mind that new ideas require a whole new outlook, but I am not asking you to buy a whole bunch of exotic ingredients. However, when I ask you to introduce new ingredients to your order list, I believe it only fair to give you a “Back Story.” That means I will offer you an additional option, a way to use those new ingredients, so they don’t end up sitting on the shelf (though I doubt they will). .

The proof is in the pudding. Check out the recipes that follow and you will see how easy this is to pull off.

Asian Pasta Salad
Makes 4 servings (scale up in direct proportion)

Dressing

½ cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

Whisk together all the ingredients to blend. Should be made at least 2 hours ahead to allow the flavors to blend.

Salad

½ pound spaghetti
1/4 cup torn fresh basil
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
1 small red bell pepper, julienned
1 small green bell pepper, julienned
1 cup shredded carrots
3/4 cup peanuts

Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain, then rinse under cold water. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the basil, scallions, bell peppers, carrots and peanuts. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Add the cooled spaghetti, toss again. Serve.

Added bonus: All of the ingredients for this salad, with the exception of the peanuts can be turned into a flavorful soup. The only thing you need to do is dice the bell peppers instead of a julienne, then add enough chicken stock or broth to turn the salad part into a soup. Throw in some sliced mushrooms if you care to.

Thai-Hi Pasta Salad
Here is another favorite pasta salad of mine, one that takes on some high-flying Thai flavors, as the light peanut sauce gently coats a thin pasta. This dish is unbelievably easy. The pasta is cooked ahead, and the peanut sauce can be made hours or a few days ahead. This salad works great as part of a lunch or dinner buffet. And it delivers well.

Serves 4 (scale up in direct proportion)

1 pound vermicelli, angel hair, or other long, thin, pasta
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup lite soy sauce
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
½ cup unsalted roasted peanuts

Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain. Put the pasta in a mixing bowl and toss with the peanut oil. Set aside.

To make the peanut sauce, put the chicken broth, peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and red pepper flakes in a saucepan. Stir to combine. Over medium-high heat, bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer just until the sauce is blended and starts to thicken (about 3 minutes). Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl and cool for about 5 minutes (Sauce can be made hours ahead and held).

Add the cooked pasta to the peanut sauce. Add the scallions, cilantro, and peanuts. Toss gently to combine. Once all the ingredients have been combined, let the salad stand at room temperature for an hour or so to blend the flavors.