Shaved Cabbage Salad With Chili Oil, Cilantro, and Charred Melon
I tend toward cantaloupe for this dish. Charring the pieces in an exceedingly hot frying pan caramelizes the sugar and lends a bitter quality to contrast the internal sweetness. I cook only one side to ensure good color; also, when I’ve flipped them the pieces overcook and fall apart. This process is also great for pineapple or underripe mangoes and is equally successfully done on the grill. If using the juiciest melons of summer, cut them into larger pieces to maintain some structure. I generally eat this dish as a side, but it could be a full meal especially if combined with some chickpeas, stewy black beans, or a grilled piece of fish.
- 1/2 melon (1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- Neutral oil
- 1/2 head red cabbage (1 1/2 pound, or 3 cups), shaved thinly, avoiding the core
- 1 bunch cilantro (1.2 ounces, or 1/2 cup), stems and leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 limes, zest and juice (1 fluid ounce)
- 1/4 cup chili oil (recipe follows)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat a frying pan (preferably cast iron) until it’s screaming hot. Add just enough melon cubes to cover the pan but with space between, as with roasting vegetables. Char in batches if necessary. Don’t stir; let the melon brown and char; there will be smoke, and that’s OK.
Add a glug of neutral oil to loosen any pieces sticking to the pan and continue to fry the melon until it’s got a golden crust on the pan side (you’re charring just one side) and has loosened from the pan, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat.
Combine all the remaining ingredients and toss to coat evenly. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Scatter the melon over the top and serve.
You can make this more complicated by adding other spices, like star anise, citrus peel, and other peppers, but I find the most basic form works well for me and is so easy to make that I will whip it up at the last minute. It also lasts for ages so there is no reason to not make a double or triple batch.
- 2 cups neutral oil
- 1/4 cup chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
Heat 1/2 cup of the oil until it shimmers. Remove from the heat and add the chili flakes and salt. Let sit until fragrant, about 3 minutes, then add the rest of the oil to cool it and keep the pepper flakes from burning. Let cool and store in a jar on the counter. It will get more nuanced as it ages.
Reprinted with permission from “Ruffage” by Abra Berens, copyright 2019. Published by Chronicle Books.