Dried Apricot and Carrot Salad on Betel Leaves
Lulu's aunt, Sara, gave Daddy a betel leaf plant a few months ago. It has grown from a small vine into a prolific producer of fragrant leaves. Daddy loves chewing areca nuts wrapped in a betel leaf. It's very popular in India (paan parag) as well as Vietnam (trầu). In much of Southeast Asia, betel leaves are used to make a salad.
For the shredded carrot salad I made today, I decided to use the fresh betel leaves as a serving dish of sorts. To the shredded carrots, I added diced dried apricots and a fresh, thinly shredded kaffir lime leaf. The combination of the ingredients worked very well together. Betel leaves have a peppery taste and the kaffir lime has a nice citrus-y aroma. In keeping with the Asian theme, I made a peanut and tamarind dressing to brighten up the dish and tie all the flavors together.
Yields: 12 servings3 dozen fresh betel leaves
1 tablespoon dried fried shallot (store-bought), slightly crushed
juice of 3 limes
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon palm sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce (see tips)
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
4 carrots, shredded
1 red Thai bird chile, seeded and finely chopped
6 peanuts, slightly crushed
1 stalk lemongrass purée (see tips)
2 teaspoons peanut oil
1/8 teaspoon fresh kaffir lime leaf (and/or mint leaves), finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried shrimp (optional)
For the carrots: Peel the carrot. Shred the whole carrot. If you use the Messermeister tool, you'll get long threads of carrot pieces. Cut into about 3-inch pieces. Place the carrots in a bowl. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Drizzle with the juice of 2 limes. Toss well. Let the carrots marinate. Set aside.
For the lemongrass-flavored dried apricots: Dice the apricots into small squares. In a small saucepan, heat a teaspoon of peanut oil. Add the apricots. Stir for about a minute. Place the puréed lemongrass in a double-layered cheesecloth and drizzle the lemongrass juice over the apricots. Turn off the heat. Let cool completely.
For the peanut and tamarind salad dressing: In a bowl, mix together the tamarind concentrate, remaining lime juice, palm sugar, peanut oil, dried shallots, crushed peanuts, red Thai bird chile, black pepper and soy sauce. Add the peanuts. Set aside.
Assembly time: In a large bowl, combine the carrots, apricots and kaffir lime leaf and mint leaves (if used). Drizzle with the peanut and tamarind salad dressing.
Place the betel leaves on a platter. Spoon about 1-1/2 tablespoons of carrot salad on each betel leaf. Garnish with dried shrimp (if you're not a vegetarian).
You can substitute golden raisins for the dried apricots if you like. It's just as delicious. It brings natural sweetness to the salad.
Unlike regular limes, kaffir limes have a bumpy exterior. The fruit doesn't have a lot of juice, and what juice there is, is quite bitter. Kaffir lime trees are prized for their fragrant leaves, not their fruits. I used fresh kaffir lime leaves from our garden. If you can't find any, you can use fresh mint leaves. Don't add too much kaffir lime leaf to the salad as it tastes very strong and will overpower the dish. You can use the remain leaf for sweet and sour soups.
Tamarind concentrate has a nice tart flavor. You can also use fresh tamarind pods if you like, but I find this to be labor intensive. I just prefer eating fresh tamarind as is and cook with tamarind concentarte or tamarind powder.
The lemongrass stalk has to be finely chopped, then ground in the mini food processor. To ensure that all the lemongrass turns into a fine moist powder, I pound the finely-chopped lemongrass in a mortar and pestle with about 3 tablespoons of water.
Betel leaves can be found at most Indian stores, or you can also buy them online.
Dried shrimp (tôm khô in Vietnamese) add a unique salty taste to the salad. This ingredient is very common in Vietnamese cuisine. I sometimes add some to fried rice but when cooked, the taste is very different.
I use Ponzu brand soy sauce; it's perfect as a dipping sauce. It's lemony and less salty than regular soy sauce.
I buy dried fried shallots at the Asian store. It's crunchy and very strong in flavor. You can also make your own by frying thinly sliced shallots if you like.
You can find all the ingredients listed in most Asian stores.Published By: on October 23, 2009.