If, every time you open a jar of sesame paste, you have to close your eyes to fully enjoy the inebriating, nutty fragrance and never resist stealing a teaspoonful, then this recipe is for you. I know it looks like a bowl of ordinary lettuce, but it’s much more than that. The leaves are delicately seasoned with the creamiest, richest salad dressing I have ever made. If used in moderation (this is why it is barely visible on the photo), this dressing is so addictive, I found myself preparing it three days in a row. I discovered it accidentally, a couple of days ago, while leafing through Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, one of the best written cookery books I know. As someone, who prepares either the classical French vinaigrette with mustard (sometimes garlic) or its vaguely Asian version, with soy sauce and sesame seeds, I was thrilled to discover this completely new way to dress the humble lettuce.
This salad has proved for me an ideal choice for the this time of the year, when a bright green, crisp, raw side-dish cheers me up and announces the imminent spring. Its creamy, intense dressing keeps it still in the rich, comforting food category. The addition of sesame oil might at first seem superfluous, but it has wonderfully increased the nutty fragrance, so I wouldn’t advise skipping it. The only big change I have allowed myself here was the addition of vinegar. The original recipe didn’t contain any acid ingredient and I desperately need some tanginess in my salads. In my defence I would like to emphasize I have used black Chinkiang vinegar, regularly appearing in Sichuanese recipes, such as Bang Bang Chicken, also found in the same book and also containing sesame paste.
TIP: If you don’t have dark Chinese sesame paste, try finding wholegrain sesame paste (I buy it in organic shops). Otherwise, any good light sesame paste will do. Black sesame paste might be too strong, but of course it depends on your preferences.
Soy sauce is not mentioned in the original recipe, only salt. I have used low-sodium soy sauce here because the dressing was too thick and I didn’t want to use more oil.
Preparation: 10 minutes
Ingredients (serves two):
crisp salad leaves (tear the bigger ones into several pieces)
1 heaped tablespoon sesame paste
1 flat tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (I think that malt vinegar would be the closest substitute here but do try finding Chinkiang vinegar which is unique)
pinch of sugar or syrup
1/6 teaspoon salt (or/and light soy sauce)
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
(toasted sesame seeds)
Place the dressing ingredients in a big bowl.
Mix them with a spoon until the sauce is homogenous.
Adjust the taste and add more oil/soy sauce/vinegar/sugar if the consistency is too thick.
Spread the dressing inside the bowl, place the salad leaves and delicately “wipe” the bowl’s interior with them.
Transfer the seasoned salad to a serving dish or bowl.
You can sprinkle it with toasted sesame seeds.