When I first moved to Buenos Aires from Singapore in April of 2010, I was constantly praised for being able to embrace a culture so different from the one I had grown up in.
New found friends would look at me in admiration, applauding me for uprooting myself from the small southeast Asian island nation and planting myself in Argentina, without any friends nor family, apart from Juan’s.
Even today, I see the look of surprise creep over strangers’ faces when they realize that I’ve only been here for the past three-and-a-half years, instead of being born here. They gasp in shock and then quickly congratulate me on how well I speak Spanish, and laugh in delight when I use “lunfardo”, the words specific to Porteños, which refer to those who live in the Argentine capital city.
But largely, after I started getting interested in cooking, attending culinary classes, and launching this food blog, the thing people mostly comment on is my ability to adapt to a completely different cuisine.
In Asia, rice is a protected staple whose place on the dinner table is bordering on sacred, whereas bread is what Argentinians almost cannot live without. Beef, which barely figures in local Singapore cuisine, apart from some delicious beef noodle soups, is what Argentina is famous for, and most families, unless they are vegetarian, have beef incorporated into so many things – milanesas, asados, pastel de papas (cottage pie), empanadas and the list goes on. I wasn’t a fan of beef before I arrived in Argentina, but the Argentine steak really does live up to international expectations. I’ve now come to accept eating beef about four to five times a week, in almost any form – minced, fillet, barbequed, baked, stir-fried, once even raw!
Argentinians also have a soft spot for sweet (read: intensely sweet) foods. Desserts, tea-time, snacks, anything that’s sweet, makes its way into their daily diet.
Dulce de leche, some sort of caramelized milk, which is literally Argentina’s favorite sweet sauce, manages to find its way in almost any dessert possible – cakes, cookies, biscuits, crepes, even rice puddings! To my largely savory palette, it was hard getting used to so many sweet things; cakes tend to be incredibly sweet, dulce de leche lurking everywhere, but over the years, even my savory preferences have given way and I actually look forward to desserts, something I barely did back in Singapore.
Sometimes I secretly give myself a pat on my back and feel amazed at how much I’ve incorporated the Argentine cuisine into my diet (I didn’t have much of a choice).
But every once in a while, a craving for the taste of Asia hits me, and hits me hard.
I’ve come to realize that there are certain things that take me straight back to the streets of Asia the moment I get a taste or a whiff of them, and two of those things are sesame oil and soy sauce.
There is something ridiculously comforting about the taste of both sesame oil and soy sauce; both ingredients that are fundamental in many Asian dishes. And I’ve realized that sometimes, when I miss home and the dishes that I grew up being surrounded with, there’s a quick fix to my desperate craving – this healthy and delicious Asian slaw.
The idea to make this Asian slaw first came to me when I saw this cute mushroom burgers on Sprouted Kitchen.
It took me a while to finally buy my julienne peeler, but since I’ve gotten it, I haven’t quite stopped using it since. It’s so practical, and such a time-saver, especially when you’ve got a ton of vegetables to julienne (which means to slice into very thin strips), such as in this Asian-inspired salad!
I adore free-style salads like this.
You can use whichever vegetables you like; this is the sort of flexible salad whose main guideline is “the more colors and textures, the better!” I ended up using normal cabbage and red cabbage, carrots, and cucumber, all thinly peeled and shredded.
(Kitchen tip: This peeler really makes it such a breeze to peel the carrots and cucumber, and I’d say it’s my best kitchen utensil investment this year.)
In the fifteen minutes or so it takes to get your vegetables peeled and shredded, put on some soothing music and let you hands mindlessly do the work.
Once the vegetables have been prepped, combine them together in a large salad bowl. By then, your stomach is probably growling, but don’t worry, it’ll take you just one minute to prepare the dressing.
Using soy sauce and sesame oil in equal quantities then mix them together. Pour this delicious dressing over the vegetables, add a dash of sesame seeds as garnish, mix well, and serve.
You’ll be transported back to Asia in no time.
ASIAN SLAW WITH SESAME SOY DRESSING
(Serves 2 as a meal or 4 as a side)
Inspired by Sprouted Kitchen
1) One small cabbage
2) One small red cabbage
3) 2 large carrots
4) 2 large cucumbers
5) ½ cup sesame oil
6) ½ cup soy sauce
7) 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds (black, white or both)
1) Using a thin knife, slice the cabbages as thinly as you possibly can, the finer the better
2) Peel the carrots using this julienne peeler, which will leave them into thin even strips.
3) Do the same for the cucumbers.
4) Combine shredded vegetables in a large bowl
5) Mix sesame oil with soy sauce, pour over the vegetables, garnish with sesame seeds, mix well and serve
* Note: I strongly recommend using this julienne peeler (see picture below) if you don’t already have one. It has made my life so much easier whenever I want to make noodles from vegetables, such as zucchini noodles, these eggplant noodles, or just a simple Asian slaw!!