I remember the first time I had Thai food. It was at a little place in Chicago called Cozy Noodle that was right around the corner from my first apartment there. I’d gone to lunch with my new roommate Leah – a girl I’d never met before we moved in together – in an effort to get to know one another better.
While Leah has become one of my very best friends over the last seven years, I remember very little about the getting-to-know-you conversation we had. I remember the Pad Thai exquisitely.
I’d grown up in a small town where the most exotic thing one could eat was Americanized Chinese food. I went to college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and while that sweet small town has a lot to offer, while I was there, it was lacking in the ethnic eats department.
That first bite of Pad Thai at Cozy Noodle really blew my mind, with its sweet and savory sauce made with tamarind paste, fish sauce and sugar. Its crisp bean sprouts, fried egg and chewy noodles, all topped with a sprinkling of peanuts, a feathery mound of cilantro and a zesty squeeze of lime, really took my breath away. And it wasn’t just the flavors, it was the textures all working together, too. Each bite was a flavor/texture explosion to this Midwestern girl.
I’ve since branched out from my Pad Thai obsession and now love most any Thai dish. Tom Ka Gai soup, with its sweet and sour coconut broth, crispy fried fish cakes, delectable ginger-garlic salad dressings (though not sure how authentic these are) and any combination of noodles or rice with veggies, meat, seafood or tofu. Basically give me anything with Thai flavors in it and I’ll gobble it up with gratitude.
As much as I love Thai food, and as much as I love to cook, I surprisingly haven’t done much experimenting in the kitchen with authentic Thai ingredients. However, I recently whipped up a Thai-inspired grain salad, and I’ve been craving it ever since. I included elements of Thai cuisine in the salad – cilantro, peanuts, nam plah (fish sauce), Thai chili sauce, scallions, rice – though I wouldn’t claim this was any sort of authentic dish. It was the flavor and texture of Thai cuisine I tried to emulate in this inspired salad. I included black rice, too – a nutty, grainy rice with more bite and flavor that regular jasmine or brown rice in my opinion. Enjoy!
Thai-Inspired Black Rice Salad
Yield: 4 servings
Add shrimp or tofu to make this more of a main dish salad.
1 cup black rice, uncooked
2 cups arugula
2 cups broccoli slaw mix
½ peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
handful of cilantro leaves and stems, ends trimmed, roughly chopped
3 scallions, green and light green parts only, chopped
1 red pepper, julienned
½ cup raisins
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
½ cucumber, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon hot chile sauce, such as Sriracha
1 tablespoon nam plah (fish sauce)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Cook rice according to package directions. Once rice is cooked, remove pot from heat and place a clean dish towel over the pot and under the lid. This will allow the rice to fluff without the steam condensing on the top of the lid and dripping back in. Let stand for 5 minutes then flush with a fork. Let cool slightly before mixing with salad.
Mix next eight ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and add cooled rice. Toss to combine. Combine dressing ingredients in a pint-size mason jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake to emulsify. Pour dressing around perimeter of bowl. Toss salad with tongs, moving the bowl the opposite direction you’re moving the tongs, to coat salad evenly. Serve with lime wedges.
This post also appeared in the Tennessean.