Eat To Live

Nothing boring about healthy Asian salads

Kerabu Ayam Vietnam, a Vietnamese chicken salad.
Kerabu Ayam Vietnam, a Vietnamese chicken salad. PHOTO: PERIPLUS EDITIONS

With little fat and a myriad of flavours from sour to spicy, they are perfect diet food

I love Asian salads. No bland diet food, they are mostly low-calorie (if you watch the sugar) spicy and powerful. And they generally come without oil.

Think of the Nonya sambal timun - a cucumber salad with sambal belacan, or the Thai green papaya salad or som tam.

Neither has oil in the dressing and neither could be described as boring, which is sadly how many people think of salads.

The sambal belacan and dried shrimp in the first, and the spicy fish sauce dressing in the second, open up the taste buds for more.

  • VIETNAMESE CRABMEAT SALAD WITH KEROPOK

  • INGREDIENTS

      100g pasteurised jumbo crabmeat (about ½ tub, available at the chiller section of supermarkets)

      1 green apple

      2 sprigs fresh coriander leaves

      2 sprigs fresh mint leaves

      1 red chilli, sliced

    SERVE WITH

      8 to 12 pieces of shrimp crackers (keropok)
      Or iceberg lettuce leaf cups

    DRESSING

      2 tbs fish sauce

      ½ cup cold water

      2 tbs sugar or xylitol, less if desired

      Juice from a lemon

      1 clove garlic

      1 red chilli

      1 coriander root

    METHOD

      Cut the apple, unpeeled, into matchstick-size pieces. Rinse in salt water or water with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent the fruit from turning brown.

      Wash and pluck the leaves off the coriander and mint sprigs. Finely chop one coriander root.

      Make the dressing by mixing fish sauce, cold water, sugar and lemon juice. Adjust to taste. Add garlic, chilli and coriander root, all finely chopped.

      To serve, place apple sticks in a glass and top with crabmeat. Garnish with sliced chilli and mint and coriander leaves.

      To eat, place a mound on a keropok or an iceberg lettuce cup and add a drizzle of the dressing.

    SERVES 4 TO 6 

And the same can be said for this Vietnamese-inspired crabmeat salad. It is something I like serving especially during these hot days. It is made up of jumbo crabmeat, crunchy green apple and aromatic fresh coriander and mint, served Vietnamese-style on a piece of keropok. Fresh and yet satisfying.

The shrimp cracker adds a roundness to the green crunch, and while there is oil in the fried cracker, you can get around it by microwaving the dried chips to a crisp instead.

Indeed there are many ways you could make a salad, healthy as it already is, healthier.

Asian salad dressings often call for sugar to offset the sourness of the lemon or lime juice found in them. I sometimes omit the sugar and use xylitol instead. This is a sugar substitute extracted from fruit and vegetables that you can buy from health food stores.

It has half the calories of ordinary sugar and can be served to diabetics, a useful point to take note of .

Still, we're talking about only two tablespoons here.

Spread among four to six people, the number of serves in this recipe, the amount consumed is negligible, whether sugar or xylitol.

I also try to add more crunch to the bowl - apple and fresh herbs in this case. You could also use iceberg lettuce leaf cups instead of keropok.

Many will not notice the extra greens in the bowl, beguiled as they would be by the sweet and sour dressing accompanying an Asian salad.

Now the crabmeat you use is important. Market crabmeat comes ready-peeled in plastic tubs and presumably has been peeled by hand, hopefully washed first.

However, I worry about its provenance if I'm using it chilled. The supermarkets have an excellent product: pasteurised crabmeat, sold in sealed tubs. No worries about contamination, it emerges fresh and sweet from its tub.

I like the jumbo crabmeat as it comes in chunks and delivers a good mouthful.

As for the cholesterol found in crabmeat, know that saturated fat content is much more important than dietary cholesterol and the fat found in crabmeat is generally unsaturated fat, which is considered heart-healthy.

Besides, crab is also a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to improve memory, decrease the chances of a heart attack, and possibly help to improve depression and anxiety.

It is also a good source of vitamins A, C, and the B vitamins including B12, and minerals like zinc and copper. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends crab as one of the healthiest choices of meat even though it contains cholesterol.

This salad uses only half of a 200g tub of crabmeat, about the amount you get from a large crab, again shared. The rest is a green apple, herbs and perhaps a chilli or two, and there is nothing untoward about them.

•Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2015, with the headline 'Nothing boring about healthy Asian salads'. Print Edition | Subscribe