I remember my first trip to India, travelling the back-roads of Goa with a gorgeous Indian tourist guide for the day. He pointed out some betel nuts drying on the sides of the roads. In all of my naivety, I said to him “Don’t betel nuts make you go funny?” With a sage wiggle of his head, he replied “My dear, there are many things in India that make you go funny.”
How right he is, and not all of them in the hallucinogenic way.
That was also the day I fell helplessly head over heels in love with India, but not because of the betel nuts.
Actually, betel leaves have many uses in India and beyond. Some of them spiritual, some of them artistic, some of them culinary. Today’s use is in a salad, and it is not Indian, but Thai, with the telltale flavours of sour, sweet and hot melded perfectly together.
However, the salad is not dependent on the use of betel leaves. Just replace them with some lettuce leaves of any sort, and the salad will still be gorgeous. It is the dressing that is absolutely stunning in this salad.
Thai Betel Leaf Salad with Tamarind Lime Dressing
Inspired by a recipe from importfood.com
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 0 mins
Serves: 4 – 6 people, depending how you use it, but I can eat the whole bowl myself
Up to 2 cups of betel leaves – in my part of the world they are expensive, so I had less than a cup of leaves. Just use what you can get. Alternatively use any lettuce – crispy cos or iceberg lettuce or any soft leaf lettuce.
1 cup shredded carrots
small 1/2 cup Mung Sprouts
1 capsicum that has been grilled and the skin removed (optional)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped, or use Thai Basil or Vietnamese Mint
1 or more Thai red chillies (to taste), chopped finely
1 – 2 Tblspn unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped or crushed
2 tspn tamarind concentrate
5 tspns water
1/2 Tblspn fresh lime juice
1 Tblspn light soy sauce – use tamari or shoyu
1 Tblspn jaggery, best grated
Make the dressing by putting all ingredients in a bowl and mixing well till smooth. Taste, and adjust the sour and sweetness of it by adding more of any ingredient as required. It needs to be more tamarind flavoured than lime flavoured for this salad.
If the betel leaves are a little tough, blanch them quickly in some almost boiling water. This will soften them. Dry well with paper towel.
Leave the betel leaves whole, or shred them. Put them in the middle of a salad bowl, and place the chopped red pepper and grated carrots on top. Spoon over about half of the dressing.
Top the carrots with the spouts, mint, chillies and peanuts. Spoon over the remainder of the dressing.