Tiger salad (laohu cai 老虎菜)


Of course the attractive thing of this salad is, first of all, its name.
Laohu cai 老虎菜, ‘tiger vegetable’ or ‘tiger salad’ is an intriguing sounding dish which came into vogue in China in the past five years or so.
I actually can’t tell you when exactly it came on the scene, since I have no recollection of it appearing. But then, lots of dishes come to the Chinese dining scene without us knowing about it!

There are said to be two versions of the ‘tiger salad’. One is a Uyghur version from Xinjiang province, from the far west of China; another version from the salad is from Manchuria, which also happens to be the birthplace of the Manchurian tiger. I studied in Manchuria years ago, but at that time tiger salad was nowhere on the menu. Nor was there anything else much on the menu for that matter, especially in winter time – Chinese cabbage was about all there was to have then. And then- there has been a trend for Chinese to start eating raw foods, salads as well as sashimi-like dishes, when traditionally Chinese keep from raw foods as far as they possibly can.

Both versions consist of uncooked vegetables cut into very fine julienne strips with a fierce chili sauce, making up a lovely crisp salad, served as an appetizer or a side dish. In Xinjiang it is undoubtedly served with kebabs and cold beer. The Manchurian (north east, Dongbei) version is also a dish for summer, which you nibble on when having a beer, waiting for the rest of your meal to arrive. The Xinjiang version is basically yellow onions, red bell pepper, green chilis and tomato; the Chinese version consists of spring onions, green pepper, red chili and coriander, all cut into strips. Both versions are seasoned with a mixture of garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar and salt. I have scanned a lot of sites on the web with recipes and found a lot of variations, for example in adding ingredients like cucumber, red bell pepper, pressed tofu or zuccini. I am afraid my own version kind of started to be not very tigerlike, since I threw in some strips of carrot for color, and even tossed over some crushed peanuts at the end. But it is nice to play with the variations.

I kind of felt like making the Chinese version since tomatoes didn’t
really appeal to me in this dish, I guess because they make it more soggy. I like to nibble on thin strips of vegetable, especially when they have a nice chili heat kick!

For a small portion, serving 2 to 3 people, you will need:

1 green bell pepper
2 spring onions
1 large bunch of coriander
1 clove of garlic
1 red chili (or more… it should be hot!)
sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, chili oil

Slice the vegetables as thinly as you can, cut into strips. Cut the spring onions into 4 cm pieces, cut these into strips. Cut the coriander into the same size. Cut up the red chili, as much as you dare. Be a tiger! Toss. Then mix the seasonings, taste for salt and spicyness. Assemble at the last minute or it will go soggy.

Add some cucumber strips (without seeds) for variation. Or some tomato. But then you are almost in Turkey instead of in China….


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