THE WASHINGTON POST – We were just having lunch when all of a sudden I realised that I had applied for a job and was already in the interview.
Joe Yonan and I were catching up, talking about projects and his plans for an upcoming leave, during which I’d be helping the Food team more. I told him that during his last leave, I missed the Weeknight Vegetarian recipe column and that we should think of ways to keep it going while he was out this time.
That’s when he asked me about my current eating habits, and I realised that I had just inadvertently volunteered. I was happy about it, really. I had passively suggested I could do something that I had actively considered asking to do; but I had been a little nervous about how to propose it.
I’m not a vegetarian. I’ve written about that before. But I have been adding more and more meatless dishes to my repertoire, driven equally as matters of health, convenience and conscience. I also enjoy them as a challenge.
Like so many people, I’ve never been predisposed to liking most vegetables, and I tend to get a charge out of it when I make something that’s plant-based that I genuinely enjoy.
Joe’s column has been a source for a lot of those discoveries, and recipes such as mushroom-walnut “meatballs”; sweet, spicy and crunchy Korean tofu; and spicy sesame chili noodles are all on repeat in my rotation.
Plus all the beans, of course. So my desire to make sure this column didn’t go on hiatus in Joe’s absence was sort of selfish.
Now I get to do the research, testing and sampling it takes to make it happen. I hope we’ll all benefit.
The dish I told Joe about over lunch was a salad that I’ve made for a few years and became my fallback through most of the pandemic. It’s a cabbage salad, which is funny because I hated cabbage when I was a kid.
It’s based on a famous Wolfgang Puck creation: the Chinois chicken salad. I’ve had it at various Puck restaurants over the years, and I found that sometimes I loved it and sometimes I didn’t.
At first, that confused me, but then I started paying attention. I realised that I liked the salad when the cabbage was thinly sliced, and not so much when it was cut into chunky bits.
I started thinking about all the cabbage that was put in front of me when I was a kid. It was always chunky. Could I really have not hated cabbage so much as the way it was cut?
I don’t know, but I do know that no cabbage goes through my kitchen without being dispatched into slim, sturdy ribbons.
Eventually, I looked up Puck’s recipe online, and I made it. It’s great. But over the years, I’ve simplified and adapted it to my tastes. I pared down the dressing ingredient list.
I changed the mango to orange. I subbed out radicchio for red cabbage. I added red onion.
I never used as much chicken as he called for, and sometime in the past couple years, I stopped putting chicken in it altogether. And I didn’t miss it.
To me, this salad is about the heft of the cabbage, the cool of the lettuce, the crunch of the cashews and wonton chips, the brightness of the citrus and the umami bass note of the sesame-soy dressing.
So that’s what my eating habits are these days: things I can put together quickly with minimal cooking and even less thinking, where the inclusion of an animal protein isn’t assumed but a would-I-even-miss-it afterthought.
And over the next few months, I hope I feature a recipe or two that enters your rotation on repeat. Joe Yonan will return in May.
ORANGE AND CASHEW CABBAGE SALAD WITH SESAME DRESSING
Any green cabbage works well as the base of this salad; varieties such as napa and Savoy will be slightly more tender than standard cabbage, so pick which one you like best.
Substitution options are nearly endless.
The original recipe by chef Wolfgang Puck featured chicken and called for radicchio instead of the red cabbage, and mango instead of orange.
Storage Notes: The dressing can be kept refrigerated for up to one week.
For the dressing
Two tablespoons soya sauce
Two tablespoons vinegar
Two tablespoons sesame oil
Two tablespoons mustard
One tablespoon honey
One tablespoon sesame paste, may substitute tahini
Two teaspoons grated fresh ginger
One teaspoon chili oil, or more to taste
Half cup peanut oil
Fine salt (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
For the salad
Quarter medium head green cabbage, finely shredded (four cups)
One-eighth small head red cabbage, finely shredded (one cup)
One head romaine lettuce, roughly torn
Half small red onion, thinly sliced
One medium carrot, scrubbed and coarsely grated
Half cup crispy wonton strips, divided (may substitute crispy chow mein noodles)
One medium seedless orange, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces and divided
Half-cup roasted, unsalted cashews, divided
Sesame seeds, for optional garnish
Make the dressing: In the bowl of a food processor or in a blender, combine the soya sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, mustard, honey, sesame paste or tahini, ginger, and chili oil.
Pulse several times to combine, then, with the motor running, slowly add the peanut oil and process until the dressing is emulsified.
Taste, and season with salt, pepper and/or more chili oil, if needed. You should get about one cup.
Make the salad: In a large bowl, toss together the green and red cabbages, lettuce, onion, carrot and half of the wonton strips until well distributed.
Add half of the dressing and toss until well coated. Add half of the orange pieces and half of the cashews and toss lightly to combine.
Divide the salad among four plates and garnish each portion with the remaining wonton strips, oranges and cashews, and the sesame seeds, if using. Serve with the remaining dressing on the side, if desired.