Watermelon Salad With Fried Shallots and Fish Sauce
This simple salad hinges on a classic Southeast Asian flavor combination: sweet-hot-savory. This recipe calls for watermelon, but you could also use pineapple, cantaloupe, green mango or pomelo, or even leftover grilled steak or poached shrimp, as the combination of dressing, herbs and fried shallots can enliven a wide range of flavors. But using a mortar and pestle instead of the food processor and seeking out palm sugar instead of substituting brown sugar is strongly suggested here. The recipe will make more dressing than you need, so feel free to experiment after getting used to it.
- Serves: 4 persons
- 4medium garlic cloves
- 2to 12 fresh Thai bird’s-eye chiles (depending on how much heat you enjoy), stems trimmed (see Tip)
- 3tablespoons palm sugar (see Tip)
- ¼cup fish sauce
- 3tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- ½cup homemade or store-bought fried shallots
- 3pounds seedless watermelon (about 1 small or ¼ large), rind removed, cut into 1-inch chunks
- ½small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1small cucumber, halved lengthwise and cut into ½-inch slices
- Large handful of roughly chopped mint leaves
- Large handful of roughly chopped cilantro leaves
- ½cup roughly crushed or chopped roasted peanuts
Step 1Prepare the dressing: Combine garlic, chiles and sugar in the bowl of a large mortar and pestle. Pound into a fine paste. Add fish sauce and stir with the pestle until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add the lime juice and stir with the pestle to incorporate. Alternatively, you can combine the garlic, chiles, palm sugar (chop it into bits with a heavy knife or cleaver if it came in solid chunks), fish sauce and lime juice in a blender. Blend until the garlic and chiles are finely chopped, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Step 2Prepare the salad: If using homemade shallots, skip to Step 3. If using store-bought shallots, toast them dry in a large skillet over medium-low heat until deep caramel brown and aromatic, about 3 minutes. (Alternatively, you can toast the shallots on a sheet tray in an oven or toaster oven at 375 degrees until deep caramel brown, about 6 minutes). Season generously with salt and transfer to a bowl.
Step 3Combine watermelon, onion, cucumber, mint, cilantro, peanuts, half of the fried shallots and ¼ cup dressing in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Taste and add more dressing as desired. (Excess dressing can be reserved in a sealed container in the fridge for up to two weeks.) Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with remaining shallots. Serve.