Describing this salad in words transforms flavors and texture into language; thus, if you’re not familiar with salad flavor re-layering terms, you can quickly review them here, as this is the foundation for the technique described here.
A peanut bar might be considered an unlikely ingredient for an old-fashioned Siamese-style salad. Yet, peanut bars were familiar to the Siamese as early as the Ayutthaya period and were part of a broader set of Teochew Chinese sweets called, in Thai, “khanohm janap (ขนมจันอับ)”.
Khanohm janap, or dteh liaao (เต่เหลียว) in Chinese, are served as dainty nibbles with tea but also are an indispensable set of sweets and snacks that are offered at auspicious occasions, as well as ancestor worship ceremonies, marriages, funerals, and holidays – especially the Chinese New Year.
A typical khanohm janap is composed of five types of sweets, namely peanut bars (ถั่วตัด เต้าปัง), sesame bars (อิ้วมั่วปัง), puffed rice (บีปัง), white and pink sugar-coated nuts (ซกซา) and candied winter melon (ตังกวยแฉะ).
Documents describing the Royal Rattanakosin 100th Anniversary in 1882, held during the reign of King Rama V, list 58 different Chinese snacks that were part of the Royal khanohm janap set.
Peanut bars, nowadays, are easy to obtain, though getting them was not so easy during the Ayutthaya period. In that era, there was only a small group of Chinese, located near Wat Phanan Choeng temple (วัดพนัญเชิงวรวิหาร), who prepared khanohm janap along with other auspicious sweets such as Chinese puff pastry buns (ขนมเปี๊ยะ), mooncakes (ขนมจัน) and snow skin mooncakes (ขนมโก๋).
This salad showcases its aristocratic origins by using multiple proteins and restrained seasoning. It explores different forms of expression at the intersection of flavor and texture, resulting in a clever and playful animation that leads your senses as self- evolving bites.
The salad’s umami contributing proteins – the pork and the shrimp – are reinforced by fat (pork fat, crispy fried garlic, and shallots) and smoke elements (crispy fried garlic, crispy fried shallots, and the caramel of the peanut bar). So, with a solid foundation in place, we can continue to examine the sweetness and sourness polygons.
Sweetness is introduced from the shrimp, the crispy fried garlic, the shallots, and the dressing, and obviously from the peanut bar, as well as from the faint sweetness of the tamarind paste, and the fruitiness from yellow chilies. Caramelization can be seen as a sub triangle of both the sweetness and smokiness that connect the peanut bar with the crispy fried garlic and shallots.
Sourness is based on a tamarind paste for a solid body with an encapsulated bright and sharp explosive sourness that is released as we bite on the sour fruit. This performance is mirrored by the caramelized nutty sweetness of the peanut bar, gradually revealed as we chew each bite.
Texturally, each bite consists of soft shrimp meat, slightly chewy pork meat, firm pork fat that is springy in texture, and the crunch of peanut bars.
The seasoning is based on the 1:1:1 ratio. However, due to the use of sweet peanut bars and sour fruits, both the sour element and the sweet elements are halved in the dressing.
Essential Cooking Skills:
- 1/2 cup shrimp (กุ้ง) cooked and sliced into small equal-sized pieces.
- 1/2 cup pork belly (เนื้อหมูสามชั้น) cooked and sliced into thin elongated slices.
- 2 tablespoons firm pork fat (มันหมูแข็ง) cooked and cut into cut into small cubes.
- 2 tablespoons sour bilimbi fruit (averrhoa bilimbi) (ตะลิงปลิง) sliced thinly and washed in salted water.
- 1/4 cup peanuts bar (ถั่วตัด) crushed.
- 1/4 cup sesame bar (งาตัด) crushed. (optional)
- 4 tablespoons crispy fried garlic (กระเทียมเจียว)
- 4 tablespoons crispy fried shallots (หอมแดงเจียว)
- 2 tablespoon fresh yellow chili (phrik leuang) (พริกเหลือง) sliced into thin juliennes.
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
- 1/2 part tamarind paste (น้ำมะขามเปียก)
Prepare the salad ingredients.
- Peel, devein, and cook the shrimp, then cut them into small equal-sized pieces. Set aside.
- Slice the pork belly into a 1.5cm (0.5”) wide piece, cook it whole, then cut the meat into thin, elongated slices. Set aside.
- Prepare the pork fat and cut into small cubes.
- Deseed the yellow chilies and remove the inner white membrane. Cut the chilies into thin juliennes. Set aside.
- Crush the peanut bar into small chunks just a bit smaller than the size of the shrimp.
- Slice the sour bilimbi fruit lengthwise into thin wedges.
- Prepare the crispy fried shallots.
- Prepare the crispy fried garlic.
- Set aside the garnish, the crispy fried garlic, the shallots, and some julienned yellow chilies. Arrange all the ingredients side-by-side in a mixing bowl, so you can visually gauge their ratios.
- Pre-mix the seasoning.
- Before serving, toss together all the ingredients, then add the salad dressing and toss again.
- Place the salad on a serving plate in a tall cone-like shape. Drizzle more seasoning and garnish.