Chinese cabbage and crispy noodle salad, and messing with classic recipes

Mrs. Chang’s Chinese cabbage and crispy noodle salad is a staple at Australian bar-be-ques and family gatherings. It is a very simple salad – wombok, slivered almonds, shallots and crispy noodles – but it has a sweet and tangy dressing that makes it an absolute winner. So why mess with it by adding different ingredients? Why not keep it just as it always has been?

I believe all recipes are evolutionary. They start with an idea, then development and testing, tweaking flavours and ideas until it tastes as the creator conceived. But then someone else comes along and thinks of a different way, a next step, something new, and the recipe evolves. Imagine if the Italians had looked at this new ingredient, the tomato, that came to Europe in the 16th century after being discovered in South America by the Spanish and decided not to experiment and add it to their traditional recipes.

And so to Mrs Chang’s salad. I wanted to add some freshness and a little more colour to the traditional recipe. It has always seemed a little pale and flat looking to me so I added finely shredded carrot and lots of bright, earthy coriander. The dressing is so delicious, but I wanted a little more punch, so I added freshly grated ginger, a squeeze of fresh lime, and the smooth sweetness of honey. You can decide if you want to keep the shallots, I find them a bit acrid, and they leave a weird taste in my mouth, similar to the aftertaste of raw onion. So when I make it I leave them out. It’s important to not dress the salad until right before serving – the crunch of the almonds and noodles will disappear fairly quickly. If you want to make it ahead, then add the noodles and almonds at the last minute and then add the dressing. Have fun with it and make your own changes to suit your tastes.

Serves 8 – 10

1 cup slivered almonds, toasted in the oven until lightly golden
1/2 chinese cabbage (wombok), finely shredded
2 carrots, peeled and finely shredded
1 large bunch coriander, stems and leaves, chopped
6 shallots, finely sliced
100 g packet Chang’s Fried Noodles

60 ml (1/4 cup) white vinegar
60 ml (1/4 cup) peanut oil
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauces
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon honey
lime juice, to taste

Place the wombok, carrots and coriander in a large bowl and mix together well (I use my hands to do this). Just before serving add in the almonds and noodles and toss through the dressing. To make the dressing combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved and the dressing warm, but not hot. Enjoy at your next BBQ with some well cooked steak and a glass of something sparkly.