Variety is the spice of life — in cooking as in society.
If you’ve ever attended one of my nutrition workshops, you’ll know I’m a tireless advocate of dietary diversity; that’s because research shows that eating a wide variety of different nutritious foods keeps us healthy, strong and resilient. Similarly, I believe that when a society can accommodate a diversity of opinions, cultures, sexualities, faiths or linguistic and artistic expression it will evolve, progress and flourish; when it doesn’t, it will stagnate and rot.
I am posting this recipe on the eve of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, which, among others, is offering voters a choice between diversity and inclusiveness on the one hand, and intolerance and “otherism” on the other. I hope and pray that American voters will choose progress over regression. This humble recipe is my way of paying homage to the wondrously diverse country I’ve been calling my home these past eight years and of saying “Yes!” to diversity — on our plates and in the world at large.
Discovering the world one meal at a time
When I was little and living in northern Germany, I ate traditional German food: Meat and potatoes with a predictable array of steamed vegetables, stews and soups, stewed fruits, the occasional marble cake and lots of sourdough bread — solid, nutritious and perfectly tasty, but decidedly lacking pizzazz.
I was five when my father was sent abroad for work, first to London, England and then to Brussels, Belgium. Unlike other expat housewives who shipped bread, canned meats and shampoo over from Germany, my ever-curious mother started exploring the foodscapes of our host countries and put new and unusual foods on our table: Mediterranean vegetables, cheeses marinated in herbed olive oil, Turkish flat bread, lamb sausages, curries, olives, herbs & spices and lots of garlic (my father’s favorite ingredient).
The cities of my formative years were post-colonial melting pots inhabited by people from many different cultures and ethnicities. My family ate out frequently, usually at hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving authentic ethnic meals. My sister and I sampled Spanish tapas, Moroccan couscous, Indian curries, Indonesian rijsttafel, mussels, oysters, snails and all manner of strange and wonderful foods. We would visit farms to sample artisanal cheeses, and once — on vacation in Brittany — my father paid an oyster farmer to pull a dozen oysters out of the seawater as a surprise treat for my mother.
After graduating from high school I spent a year at an Israeli kibbutz and traveled around Egypt. More culinary discoveries awaited: crispy falafel doused with garlicky tahini sauce, creamy hummus and herbed yogurts, cardamom-scented Arab coffee, earthy ful medames (a delicious Egyptian fava bean stew) and fragrant koshari (a heavenly mid-eastern lentil-and-rice dish smothered with caramelized onions). Later, as a journalist, I was blown away by deep-fried pig’s intestines and hundred-year-old eggs in Kuala Lumpur, creamy chicken congee in Singapore and a wide variety of mysterious but delicious stir-fried greens in Borneo. I could go on.
After a lifetime spent greedily sampling different cuisines I am awed by the world’s vast variety of flavors and foods and the diversity of the people who produce them. Even when I can’t speak their language, eating their meals helps me connect with them and reminds me that we have more in common than not. Sharing meals with others allows us to forget our differences — be they cultural, political, economic — and celebrate our shared humanity. (Not for no reason do animal studies show that sharing food triggers the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin!)
Where delicious meets nutritious
I sometimes have to temper my excitement over fun new foods with my preference for foods that are not only delicious, but also nutritious (an occupational hazard, I’m afraid). For many foods — even those sold in ethnic supermarkets — contain sugar, white flour, refined oils, flavorings, preservatives and other edible food-like substances no body needs. And while it’s fine to enjoy “empty calories” occasionally, my ultimate goal for this blog is to offer you recipes that combine deliciousness with nutritiousness.
Which brings me to this Asian-ish salad — a crunchy mish-mash of Thai, Korean, Chinese and Japanese flavors paired with super-nutritious ingredients: Vegetables galore in a variety of colors and textures, high-quality protein (if you like, replace tofu with cooked & sliced chicken breast, pork tenderloin or shrimp), healthy fats and even probiotics (provided by the kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage that hails from Korea and provides oodles of beneficial bacteria; I was the lucky recipient of a batch of homemade kimchi yesterday that inspired this salad; thank you, Sukmi!)
If you enjoy Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, Greek, Ethiopian or or any other immigrant cuisine (heck, even German foods are welcome), then join me in building a diverse and inclusive world in which everyone is welcome at the table.
Asian-ish salad dressing
- 3 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1 tbsp sesame oil toasted
- 2 tbsp coconut aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sweet chili sauce in the Asian condiments section of most supermarkets; if you eat a keto diet, replace with 2 tbsp Lakanto sweetener and 1/2 to 1 tbsp sriracha sauce
- ¼ cup rice vinegar ditto
- 1 clove fresh garlic finely minced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger finely grated
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds (white and black because, ya know - diversity) lightly toasted
Salad vegetables (for variations, see notes below)
- 2 medium carrots coarsely grated or julienned
- 1/3 head raw red cabbage cored and thinly sliced
- 1 yellow bell pepper cored and finely cubed
- 1 red bell pepper cored and finely sliced
- 1 bunch broccolini ends cut off, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
- 4 green onions sliced
- ⅓ cup cilantro (fresh coriander) coarsely chopped
- ⅓ cup kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage) coarsely chopped
- 4 servings Trader Joes baked tofu (teriyaki or sriracha flavor), cubed
- Put all the ingredients for the salad dressing in a jar and shake well to combine. If you are marinating tofu or another protein, combine it in a bowl with 2 tbsp of the dressing and let it sit while you chop the vegetables.
- Shred, cube and slice the vegetables. Cilantro and kimchi and combine them in a large mixing bowl.
- Spoon the dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. (I use about 1 to 1½ tbsp dressing per serving.)
- Serve onto bowls or plates and top with your protein of choice. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or chopped peanuts. Eat immediately.
- shredded Brussels sprouts
- white cabbage
- raw grated sweet potato
- raw or lightly steamed asparagus (cut into 1-inch pieces)
- kale, arugula and other leafy greens
- zucchini noodles (zoodles)
- cubed or grated jicama (a particular favorite with your gut bacteria!)
- sugar snap peas
- fennel, etc.