The heat of summer calls for grilling and simple salads. This colorful, crunchy, tangy spicy cabbage salad is a meatless version of the classic cabbage and chicken salad (gỏi bắp cải gà) often served at home and in restaurants. Made without the poached and hand shredded chicken, gỏi bắp cải (pronounced "goy bahp kai") is more like a slaw. I love to pair it with grilled food, particularly pork or chicken that's been seasoned a bit on the sweet-garlicky-savory side. The salad's chile kick and vinegary tang provide wonderful flavor contrasts.
I add the cashews (or sometimes peanuts) to lend richness to the salad, which would otherwise be too lean tasting. Watch it on the chiles. The mortar and pestle pounding releases all the oils and the dressing can be fiery -- enough to make you sweat a bit or feel overheated.
Serves 4 to 6
1 or 2 Thai or serrano chiles, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 pinch salt
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce
5 to 6 tablespoons unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
1 (1 1/4 to 1 1/3 pound) head green cabbage, about 1 pound,
quartered through the stem end, cored, and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide
1 large carrot, peeled and finely shredded
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander (rau răm), cilantro, or mint leaves
1/3 to 1/2 cup toasted cashew halves and pieces (not whole ones) or coarsely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
1. Using a mortar and pestle, mash the chile, garlic, ½ teaspoon sugar, and salt together into a fragrant orange-red paste. (Use a sweeping motion at first to crush the ingredients and then pound.) This releases and combines the oils from the chile and garlic. Scrape the paste into a bowl and add the remaining teaspoon of sugar and smaller quantities of fish sauce and rice vinegar, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt and to combine well. Taste and add more fish sauce or rice vinegar to create a spicy, tart, savory, lightly garlicky dressing.
2. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrot, chopped herb of your choice and cashews. Toss to combine and distribute the ingredients well. (When making this salad in advance, leave the cashews out and add them right before tossing, lest they get chewy.)
3. Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss to mix well. The salad will wilt slightly. Taste and adjust the flavors to your liking, balancing the sour, sweet, salty, and spicy. Transfer to a serving plate, leaving any unabsorbed dressing behind, and serve.