It was a stroke of good luck that I got the rookie waiter the day I had lunch at Leon’s in Charleston, South Carolina. There for a long weekend with girlfriends, I was so smitten with the salad I ordered that I asked the waiter what’s in the dressing. Apparently unaware that restaurants keep such trade secrets to themselves, he produced a cheat sheet detailing every ingredient in the salad. I felt like a fisherman who’d just landed the biggest catch as he let me snap a photo of his handout.

Napa Cabbage is Key

Once home, I got busy in the kitchen, doing my best to recreate what Leon’s calls Siam Salad, referring to its Southeast Asian flavors. It’s made of two kinds of cabbage that get shredded as you would for coleslaw. Napa cabbage isn’t as common as other varieties, but is worth seeking out since it has excellent flavor and crunch.

Beyond the cabbage, the salad features fresh herbs, oranges, and a dressing that’s equal parts sweet, tang, and spice. I departed from the restaurant version by skipping the avocado, though you could certainly add it, and using roasted peanuts for crunch rather than fried shallots (one step too fussy for me).

Marinated Chicken or Tofu

The dressing for the salad doubles as a marinade for chicken or tofu that gets threaded onto skewers and either grilled or broiled. If you have time, get the marinade going well in advance of cooking. If not, an hour of marinating will do just fine. Also, you can skip the skewers entirely and serve this as a side salad to other Asian-inspired dishes, such as this Miso Salmon or these Banh Mi Sandwiches.

Sambal Oelek for Spice

The heat in the dressing comes from sambal oelek, an Indonesian hot sauce made of red chiles, vinegar, and salt. It’s sold in jars in the Asian food section of many supermarkets and specialty stores, near where you might find sriracha. It’s a newish staple in my pantry that adds a flavorful kick to my cooking. If you can’t find sambal oelek, substitute sriracha or another hot sauce, adjusting the amount based on your palate.

Asian Salad with Chicken Skewers

A Light Bite

This is just the kind of supper I want when I’m in the mood for something light and bright, but packed with flavor and texture. And every time I eat it I will think of our sweet rookie waiter and a delightful girls weekend in Charleston.

Crunchy Asian Salad with Chicken or Tofu
5 from 1 vote
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Crunchy Asian-Style Salad with Chicken (or Tofu) Skewers

A light, bright salad that’s bursting with flavor thanks to the sweet, hot tang of its dressing. The Indonesian sauce sambal oelek is responsible for the heat of the salad. If you don’t have sambal,  use sriracha or another hot sauce instead, making sure to adjust the amount since different sauces have different levels of spiciness.

Course Dinner
Cuisine Asian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
marinating time 1 hour
Total Time 26 minutes
Servings 4 to 5 servings
Calories 350 kcal
Author katiemorford

Ingredients

  • ½ cup lime juice (3 to 4 juicy limes)
  • 2 tablespoons sambal oelek (see notes)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 ½ tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the skewers
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast or firm, drained tofu
  • ½ head Napa cabbage, shredded (about 5 cups)
  • ½ head red cabbage, shredded (about 9 cups)
  • 2 large naval oranges
  • 2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh basil or fresh cilantro
  • ½ cup roughly chopped fresh mint
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced white and light green parts only
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts

Instructions

  1. Cut the chicken (or tofu) into 1 to 1 ½-inch cubes and put in an 8×8-inch baking dish. 
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lime juice, sambal oelek, fish sauce, canola oil, brown sugar, and salt. Pour about ⅓ of the dressing over the chicken (or tofu) and toss well. Marinate in the fridge for at least one hour (up to overnight).

  3. In a large bowl, toss together the shredded cabbage, basil, mint, and scallions. Set the oranges on a cutting board and use a serrated edge or very sharp knife to shear off the peel and pith. Cut in quarters through the stem ends and then slice crosswise into ¼-inch triangles. Add to the salad.

  4. Thread the marinated chicken/tofu onto wooden skewers and lightly season with salt and black pepper. Broil or grill the skewers on all sides until cooked through.

  5. Drizzle most of the dressing over the salad and toss well. Taste and add more dressing if needed. Divide into serving bowls, scatter peanuts on top, and serve with skewers on the side.

Recipe Notes

Notes: Sambal oelek is a spicy Indonesian chile sauce. You can find it in the Asian section of many supermarkets and specialty stores. If you don’t have sambal oelek, substitute sriracha and start with just a few teaspoons, increasing the amount as needed to taste.