In Southern California, summertime means lots of dinners on the patio to capture an intoxicating climate — the last warmth of the day as it mixes with our cool evenings.
This delicious thermocline loosens our reflexes, eases our cares and ushers in a casual approach to an al fresco meal. We move more slowly, we’re more forgiving and unstructured, we have a looser interpretation of dinner, and we linger longer at the table, appreciating the sounds as evening descends.
Summer, then, has us craving salads, and lots of them. They feel weightless on the dinner plate, they allow seemingly all nine daily servings of vegetables at one sitting, and the dressing can carry the satisfying and sneaky flavor punch for the whole meal.
Today’s recipe is perfect for summer meals outside — a Thai-Style Cabbage Salad that is light, bright and packed with crunch and flavor. In truth, it’s an all-year-long affair that is as comfortable perched on a summer barbecue picnic table as it is on a groaning winter holiday buffet. Either place, it provides a fresh-tasting antidote to heavier, more calorie-laden dishes.
A vegetable slaw is a perfect dish to show the merits of a fine knife. Without the proper slicing tool, preparation can be a chore and a struggle, ultimately leading to kitchen frustration. With a high quality CUTCO knife, slicing and dicing is a breeze and it makes prep a pleasure.
It’s not simply about having a sharp knife, although that’s important, but also about using the right knife for the right job. For example, a tiny paring knife won’t cut it for this job (I’ll wait while you give me a courtesy chuckle). For slicing the onion, cabbage and kale in this salad, and later chopping the mint and cilantro, you’ll need a grown-up knife. I chose CUTCO’s 5-inch Petite Santoku ($103), an Asian-inspired, versatile knife perfect for chopping, slicing and dicing meats and vegetables.
As well, a knife must feel right in your hand, and be properly weighted. It can’t pitch forward or lean back as you use it. You’re looking for a fluid action; the knife should be a sharp extension of your hands. CUTCO knives are all that and built to last, made from high-carbon, stainless steel that is mirror polished. They’re as beautiful as they are practical, and the company has numerous testimonials from families who have passed the CUTCO down to the next generation – that’s how well the knives hold up.
I’ve been using a santoku-style knife for a few years, and am sold on its versatility. I used to reach for my chef’s knife as the go-to, but now it’s my santoku. This 5-inch Petite Santoku is well sized for smaller hands, and tackles all my tasks well.
CUTCO knives also have a couple of other important things going for them.
- They’re made in America. The older I get and the more aware I am of economic influences, the more important this is to me. Supporting American business is crucial.
- They offer a free “Forever” satisfaction guarantee, and free sharpening for the life of the knife. This is a huge value! The last time I paid to have my (non-CUTCO) Santoku knife sharpened, it cost me $20!
All right then, knives up, and let’s get dinner on the table…ready, set, chop!
Recipe: Thai-Style Cabbage Salad
Summary: Chock full of crunchy greens, this slaw features both cabbage and kale, onion for bite, and mint and cilantro for Asian flavors. The light, lemony dressing has a secret ingredient – fish sauce — that is a game-changer, taking the salad from nice to WOW!
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice (I used Meyer lemon juice because I had it)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon peanut oil
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce (see note below)
- 1 green cabbage, finely shredded
- 5-6 leaves kale (I used Redbor magenta kale, but use your favorite variety)
- 1 small red onion, sliced extremely thinly (see note below)
- 3 peeled and grated carrots
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Honey-roasted peanuts
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together the lemon juice, oil, sugar and fish sauce until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cabbage, kale, onion, carrot, mint and cilantro and toss well. The dressing will coat the ingredients very lightly; there will not be a pool of dressing in the bottom of the bowl. Throw in a handful or two of peanuts, toss again, and serve.
- Serves 8-10.
Technique note: An easy way to get super thin slices of onion for use when you are eating them uncooked, as in this salad, is to do it this way. Slice an onion in half lengthwise (stem to root), cut off stem end and root end, peel off and discard papery skin. Then peel off a single layer of onion, press it flat against the cutting board, and slice as paper-thin as possible. Chop the onion one layer at a time, for maximum control.
Fish sauce: The light, lemony dressing has a secret ingredient – Asian fish sauce, an odiferous, dark brown liquid that smells like…well…an aquarium gone bad. Why would you want to use this stinky sauce in your cooking? You use only a tiny bit, and trust me, if you leave it out, you WILL notice the absence. It won’t taste like a cannery in your salad; rather, the alchemy of the dressing takes this salad straight from “nice” to “WOW!”
What is santoku? According to Wikipedia, the Santoku bōchō (Japanese: 三徳包丁; “three virtues” or “three uses”) or Bunka bōchō (文化包丁) is a general-purpose kitchen knife originating in Japan. Its blade is typically between 5 and 8 inches (13 and 20 cm) long, and has a flat edge and a sheepsfoot blade that curves in an angle approaching 60 degrees at the point. The top of the santoku’s handle is in line with the top of the blade. The word refers to the three cutting tasks which the knife performs well: slicing, dicing, and mincing. The santoku’s blade and handle are designed to work in harmony by matching the blade’s width/weight to the weight of blade tang and handle, and the original Japanese santoku is considered a well-balanced knife.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Number of servings (yield): 8
Culinary tradition: Thai-inspired