I’m still rooting for salads in January and this particular one surprised me with just how incredible the flavours were. Guava, onions, cabbage, lettuce, peanuts and chilli-it’s a definite recipe for success, I thought. That was weeks ago and since then this salad has turned into a family favourite side rather than a salad because it’s got that almost som tam feel to it. Crunchy veg cut into matchsticks, that unmistakeable hit of tartness and chilli, it had my heart the first time I tasted it. Out of season, you could swap the guavas for raw mangoes or any tart fruit that’s in its prime.
Using underripe guava in this salad ensures that the seeds are less hard and more nutty, which makes it less intrusive with every bite. There’s no real dressing in this salad because once the salt hits the greens, they release a lot of water and with the help of the nicely toasted chickpea flour or besan, the “dressing” thickens immediately coats the greens. Word of caution though, this salad while absolutely delicious can leave your fingers burning with chilli because I strongly urge you to use your hands to toss it-proper South-East Asian style. That said, use disposable kitchen gloves if you have to.
South-East Asian Guava Salad
Yield 4 as a side
Using a double kick of onions-both crunchy as well as raw lends a lovely oniony taste to the salad without being too overpowering, Half the onions are soaked to mellow them so it doesn’t end up being too sharp.
Guavas 2, underripe, cut into matchsticks
Iceberg lettuce 4 cups, thinly sliced
Cabbage 1 cup, shredded
Cucumber 1/2 cup, thinly sliced
Onion 2, 1 medium sized plus one small that is thinly sliced and soaked in water
Coriander 3 tbsp, chopped
Peanuts 2 tbsp, toasted and crushed
Red chillies 2 tbsp, finely chopped (use the large ones available in season now as they are crisp and still pack some heat)
Besan 1 1/2 tbsp
Salt 1/2 tsp to start
Vegetable oil 1-2 tbsp
Lime wedges to serve
To begin, fry the onions. To fry chop 1 medium-sized onion thinly. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a small kadai or pan and saute the onions over medium to medium-low heat, moving it around every now and then so that it doesn’t stick and burn. When it has turned golden and crisped up satisfactorily, drain it on paper towels and set aside.
In another kadai or frying pan, heat the chickpea flour or besan over medium heat, stirring it every now and then until it has deepened in colour and smells nutty. We do this step for Sindhi kadhi as well, if you didn’t know. Once it has turned into a nutty brown, take it off the heat.
In a large bowl that can fit all the ingredients, add the iceberg lettuce, guava, cabbage. To this, add the onions that have been soaking in the water after draining and add the fried onions followed by the coriander and chilli. Roughly toss once or twice by hand using your fingers as forks to pick the salad up from either side and fold it upon itself.
Add the peanuts, the chickpea flour. Toss again. Next up, add the salt and continue to toss a few more times until everything starts to release its liquid. You don’t want to toss till the salad is limp, so stop while the greens are still crunchy. The only way to know this is by tasting a bit. Add more salt if necessary. Squeeze over an entire lime and taste again. Divide into bowls, drizzle over some oil and serve immediately. Once tossed, this salad does not keep well.