Recipe, photography and styling by Tanya Zouev.
Whether we like it or not, memories are very deeply ingrained in the food that we eat. I’m sure if you really think about it, you will find that most of your everyday food choices are ones made with some link to your childhood or much younger self. For example, I loved chicken schnitzel as a kid. For me it’s the ultimate comfort food and from time to time I will recreate a grain-free version. When I eat it, schnitzel reminds me of cold winter days when I’d come home from school to find that my mother had cooked it for me.
I certainly ate a lot of crumbed-and-fried schnitzels as a kid, but I also loved salads and always made a beeline to the salad bar at parties and BBQ’s. This particular salad takes me back to summer get-togethers in my pre-teen years, which is about the time I first started eating food that was “non-ethnic”. The vast majority of food eaten until this time was that of my mother’s or family friends (who were mainly made up of Russians, Poles, Jews and Chinese). When I first sampled “Anglo” food (that of my Australian friends), I found it both interesting and strange. When you’re a Russian kid used to eating caviar, black bread and pickled herrings from the time you started solids, Wonder White sliced bread and lamingtons are unusual.
I remember eating a salad at an Aussie friend’s house and thinking how peculiar it was perched there alongside the coleslaw and potato salad. It was made of Chinese cabbage and iceberg lettuce, topped with fried noodles accompanied by a sweet soy dressing. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out that this salad is somewhat of an Australian institution made famous by the company Chang’s (a well-known Australian manufacturer who has been making Asian food since 1968). In fact it is as much of an institution as beetroot in hamburgers and lamb chops for dinner. For decades this salad (deemed somewhat exotic by my Aussie friends), topped with Chang’s crunchy fried noodles has made countless appearances at parties and BBQ’s where it has sat proudly alongside its Anglo counterparts. However one thing I never really understood was why anyone would want to put sultanas in it. As weird as banana in a curry in my opinion, but hey, whatever rocks your tastebuds.
So here is my version of the famous salad. Instead of fried noodles and peanuts I make it with toasted slivered almonds and lots of crunchy vegetables. Instead of soy I use coconut aminos, and in place of sugar I add apple and mango for sweetness. Even though summer has just ended in Australia, the weather is still warm enough, and womboks and mangoes still in plentiful supply to make huge bowls of this salad to be enjoyed with barbecued meat and chicken. Best dressed just prior to serving as the wombok has a tendency to release all its juices when it comes into contact with the vinegar, and as a result the salad can get a bit watery (that is if it’s been sitting around for a while, though it usually doesn’t last that long).
Mr Chang might have introduced us to crunchy noodles, but Mrs Chang (one of my many secret aliases), wants to make sure you’re eating a healthier version. The great thing is, this salad has so much crunch and flavour, that you’ll never miss the wheat.
Makes one large bowl of salad to serve 6-8 as a side. Prep time 30 mins, cooking time 10 mins.
(for the salad)
one medium wombok (napa cabbage), cut in half then each half sliced finely
half bunch of spring onions (green onions/scallions), sliced finely on the diagonal
two medium cucumbers, sliced finely on a mandolin
two mangoes, peeled, cored and sliced finely into long strips
2 green apples, skin on, cut into thin slivers
three long red chillies, de-seeded and sliced into long fine strips
one bunch coriander, leaves picked off and stems sliced very finely
3/4 cup almond slivers, toasted
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted, to scatter over (optional)
(for the dressing)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons coconut aminos
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
a little salt
1. Place all salad ingredients except almond slivers and sesame seeds into a large mixing bowl and toss to combine.
2. Place all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
3. Pour dressing over the salad and toss to coat evenly. Scatter over almonds and sesame seeds and serve.
Photography and styling notes:
Props used in this image are a pottery bowl and jug found at the Salvo’s, a napkin by Iveta Sarta at Moo and the buffalo horn salad servers were purchased on a trip to Vietnam a few years ago. I used a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a 24-70mm lens and the only light in this image is window light.