Cooking | Magazine

Recipes: Light, easy Southeast Asian salads for summer

Counteract the summer heat with big, refreshing flavors.

Photographs by anthony tieuli; food styling by Sheila jarnes/Ennis inc.

In the summer, I like to add Southeast Asian recipes to my rotation of salad dinners because of their unique interplay of textures, fragrances, and flavors. Tender, crisp, and crunchy; sweet, sour, salty, and spicy — it’s a layered, enticing blend of sensations.

With no oil in the dressing, Goi Ga, the Vietnamese-style chicken salad, is delightfully light on the palate. Nasi Ulam, the Malaysian-style herbal rice salad, is a showcase for aromatic fresh herbs. As garnishes go, fried shallots are sweet, salty, and crisp — a perfect trifecta.


Makes about 12 cups (serves 6)

You can make the dressing and prep other ingredients ahead of time, but don’t mix and dress the salad until you’re ready to serve (the cabbage will soften). Shredding the chicken by hand gives it a pleasing texture; store-bought rotisserie chicken is the perfect choice here. Or you can substitute cooked shrimp or squid for the chicken.


½      cup distilled white vinegar

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

1         tablespoon sugar

Salt and pepper

½      medium red onion, thinly sliced

3        tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar


¼      cup fresh lime juice

3        tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)

1         teaspoon pressed or grated garlic (about 1 large clove)

1         medium serrano chili, seeded if desired, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

5        cups shredded cooked chicken (about 1½ pounds), no skin or bones


1         pound (about half a medium head) napa cabbage, trimmed, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced

2        large carrots, scraped and cut into matchsticks

1½    cups torn fresh cilantro leaves

1½    cups torn fresh mint leaves

¾      cup roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped

½      cup fried shallots (see final recipe)

In a small bowl, mix the white vinegar, 1/3 cup water, 1 teaspoon sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt to dissolve. Add the onion, stir, and set aside to soften, about 40 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the rice vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, chili, remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, and pepper to taste to dissolve the sugar. Add the chicken, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, mint, and softened onion and toss to coat with the dressing. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Add the peanuts and toss to distribute. Top with the fried shallots and serve at once.


Makes about 6 cups

You can use brown rice, but I think white is a better backdrop for the herbal flavors and fragrances. Rice that’s freshly cooked and cooled, which hasn’t been refrigerated, is best. The recipes I researched agreed that Nasi Ulam takes very well to improvisation, so customize with garlic, galangal or ginger, chili, different herbs, different quantities of herbs, more or less or no lime juice, and so forth.

Salt and ground black pepper

1½    cups long-grain jasmine or basmati rice, preferably white, rinsed well and drained

¾      cup coarsely grated fresh coconut (about 1½ ounces)

 1/3     cup tiny dried shrimp, rinsed and dried

1½    tablespoons leftover fried shallot oil (see recipe below) or vegetable oil

½      teaspoon ground white pepper

½      cup finely sliced shallot (about 2 medium)

1         medium stalk fresh lemongrass, smashed, tough outer leaves removed, and core and softer inner leaves very finely sliced (about 1½ tablespoons)

4        medium double-lobe kaffir lime leaves, spines removed and leaves cut into super-fine chiffonade (about 1½ tablespoons)

1         cup, loosely packed, Thai or lemon basil leaves, cut into super-fine chiffonade     (about 2/cup)

1         cup, loosely packed, mint leaves, cut into super-fine chiffonade (about 2/3 cup)

 1/3     cup finely chopped cilantro

2        tablespoons fresh lime juice

½      cup fried shallots (see final recipe)

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the rice and cook, uncovered, until just tender, about 8 minutes (for white rice, 20 minutes for brown rice). Drain the rice, spread it into a wide, even layer on prepared baking sheet, and cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast the coconut, stirring constantly, until golden brown and fragrant, 8 to 11 minutes (it will darken quickly near the end and continue to darken after it’s removed from the burner, so take care not to overcook). Scrape the coconut onto a plate and cool to room temperature.

Return the skillet to medium heat, add the dried shrimp, and toast, stirring constantly, until dry, lightly toasted, and fragrant, 7 to 9 minutes. Scrape into a mini food processor and cool to room temperature. Process until fine and powdery. Scrape the shrimp powder onto a plate and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the cooled rice and the oil to coat. Add ¾ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and the white pepper and toss to distribute. Add the coconut and shrimp powder and toss to distribute. Add the shallot, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, basil, mint, and cilantro, and toss to distribute. Add the lime juice and toss to distribute. Adjust the seasoning with salt and black pepper if necessary. Top with the fried shallots and serve.


 Whole kaffir lime leaves have two lobes. Use both, but remove the tough spine before slicing them.
Anthony Tieuli
 Whole kaffir lime leaves have two lobes. Use both, but remove the tough spine before slicing them.



Makes about 1 cup

Fried shallots are great on almost any leafy or grain salad. Cooking times can vary greatly, depending on the shallots’ type and age. I strain the shallot-frying oil, which is infused with flavor, and use it in salad dressings or as a finish for pastas or soups. It lasts in an airtight container in the fridge for about a month.

½      cup olive or vegetable oil

2        cups thinly sliced shallots (about 4 large), separated into rings


Set a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and set aside. In a small skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the shallots (the oil should bubble visibly but gently — adjust heat as necessary) and cook, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently near the end of cooking, until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes (the shallots will darken quickly near the end and continue to darken after they’re removed from the oil, so take care not to overcook). Immediately strain the shallots; spread on paper towels to drain and cool. Sprinkle with salt to taste, and gently toss to distribute. Use at once or keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.  

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to