Making Susur Lee Singapore Slaw at home
Whenever we are in Toronto I make sure we go to Chef Susur Lee’s restaurant Lee on King street and we always order his unique signature dish: Singaporean Slaw with Salted Apricot dressing. This is not an ordinary slaw, far from it. It is a 19 ingredients tall mound of fresh julienned vegetables, on a bed of fried rice noodles, sprinkled with herbs, fried shallots, pickled red onion, pickled ginger, tomatoes, sesame seeds, toasted peanuts and a whole bunch of sprouts and micro-greens, all topped with a yet taller mound of crisp fried taro spirals. It’s quite a sight and gets is due oooohhhs and aaaahhhs every time. The server actually asks if we want to take a picture before he mixes it at the table. One order can easily be shared among 4 people as an appetizer.
Chef Susur Lee included the recipe for this salad in his book Susur: A culinary life, and there are several sites that post it online. There are even instructional videos of chef Lee preparing the salad at his restaurant. You know where this is going, don’t you? I had to finally try to make it at home.
The recipe has something to do with Chinese new year and Lee adjusts, changes, adds a new ingredient every year so it is a work in progress, like most recipes. I like that he is not secretive about the recipe. Many chefs wouldn’t dream of telling you how they make something, for fear of what? competition? Recipes are meant to be shared, adapted and made one’s own.
This epic salad is labour intensive but does not require special technique other than good knife skills. I made it for just my husband and I, but plan to prepare it next time I am inspired to have people over for dinner.
There are a couple of unusual ingredients in this salad that may require a trip to an Asian food store. Ume paste is nothing I heard about before but was readily available at our local Asian supermarket. Ume, aka umeboshi, is a Japanese reddish paste made from pickled and salted apricots. It comes in a soft plastic bottle with about 2 cups volume. Another unusual item is Taro root, a potato like tuber with rough exterior and smooth creamy interior with purple flecks throughout. It has a coconut-like flavour when eaten raw. Taro was a first experience for me in the kitchen, other than eating it as a vegetable chip out of a vegetable chips bag. The rest of the ingredients are common supermarket kind.
The salad is built from the inside out and from the bottom up. At the center of the large plate you mound a bunch of crisp fried rice noodles, then lean bunches of julienned vegetables in a pyramid like structure around the center noodles. As you construct the salad you sprinkle the pickled onion, fried shallots, sprouts, flowers, seedlings and the rest of the ingredients into an impressive and tall pyramid shape structure. You can also drizzle some of the dressing as you go along. When the salad is structured and tall you top it with yet another tall mound of crispy fried taro root spirals, practically doubling the height of the salad. The best way to see how Chef Lee structure it is to watch the video here on the Taste Toronto website. A picture is worth a thousand words.
The salad is tossed at the table: the dressing is already there at the bottom and drizzled in the middle. At Lee they toss it with chopsticks. I mixed it with forks. You can use the basic method of making this salad and improvise with other ingredients and even another dressing as you wish.
Salted apricot dressing:
1 cup ume paste
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon dashi
1 1/2 tablespoons onion oil (I didn’t have it)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds.
Pickled red onion:
1 red onion, halved and sliced thinly
1 cup rice vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon black fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1 spring fresh thyme
Place onion in a glass bowl. Bring the vinegar, water, salt, herbs and spices to a boil in a small pot and boil 5 minutes. Pour over onions and let sit. Onions will deepen in colour as they sit.
Frying vermicelli, shallots and taro root:
2 oz rice vermicelli noodles, broken lightly
1 large shallot, slice the shallots into rounds.
1/2 taro root, cut in either julienne or spiral cut.
Heat a pot of vegetable oil deep enough to fry the vegetables in.
When oil is sufficiently hot add the noodles in a couple of batches and as soon as they puff up turn over once briefly then remove from pot.
Add the shallots and fry until golden. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the taro root in two or three batches and fry just until turning golden. Remove and set aside.
Cut in julienne strips:
1 large carrot (I also a purple carrot)
1 english cucumber
1 small jicama, peeled
2 roma tomatoes, seeded, center part removed
Sprouts or micro greens (fennel, purple basil, daikon etc.)
Edible flower petals
Spoon some of the dressing on the bottom of a large bowl.
Place the fried vermicelli on top.
Begin laying the julienned vegetables in a pyramid shape around the noodles.
Sprinkle sesame seeds, peanuts, sprouts, micro-greens, pickled ginger and fried shallots over as you build a free form vertical salad tower.
Drizzle some dressing once as you build the salad.
When you have used all the ingredients place a large mound of fried taro root on to of the salad.
Scatter the edible flower over if you have them.
Bring the salad to the table as it is, then mix it in front of your guests gently, incorporating the dressing throughout.
scoop some salad into each plate and serve immediately.