Tropical Pad Thai Salad

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(Note: this post was originally published on September 1, 2019 as "Super Fresh Thai Cabbage Salad". The date and new name above reflect migration to the new platform.)

Pad Thai Goes on Vacation

Imagine Pad Thai going on a tropical, raw-foods beach vacation. That's the best way to describe this salad! It's a super-fresh and subtly tropical spin on everyone's favorite Thai dish that unites hearty Napa cabbage, sweet carrots, juicy mango, and crisp cucumbers. Fresh herbs and crunchy, salty peanuts make it extra special.

Not only does this salad taste like vacation, but it creates a bit of a vacation for you because it's so easy to put together! This salad is completely no-cook and can be prepared ahead of time, making it a great dish for entertaining or for a busy summer evening when you don't want to turn on the stove.

While I occasionally enjoy traditional Pad Thai, this version is much more my speed. It's refreshing, colorful, and loaded with nourishing fruits and veggies, which is everything I crave in a summer meal.

Celebrating a Humble Veggie

Cabbage: one of the world's most under-appreciated vegetables. It has such a bad reputation.

But no! Cabbage is actually an incredibly versatile veggie. It has big, robust leaves, which can stand up to bold dressing that would wilt or overpower other greens. If left raw and cut into thin strips, these leaves can pack a huge flavor punch and really excel with citrus-forward or vinegar-forward dressings or marinades. Even better, cabbage has a long shelf life, making it perfect for having on-hand or for prepping in advance.

This salad, with its bold dressing, tames the cabbage flavor and makes use of all of cabbage's best qualities. It's remarkably bright and herbaceous, with ample lime, cilantro, and mint. It takes the cabbage stereotype (boiled in some sort of stinky stew?) and turns it on its head, creating a dish that is flavor-packed, fresh, crisp, and so versatile.

Types of Cabbage

The keys to a successful cabbage dish are two-fold: picking the right kind of cabbage for your dish and treating it properly.

There are numerous kinds of cabbage and they vary widely in taste and texture. The round heads of green and purple cabbage have thicker leaves that often need to be tamed a bit with cooking or a longer duration of marinading. This salad uses Napa cabbage, which has an elongate head and more tender and fluffy leaves. It excels in raw preparations like this, and doesn't require time to sit and tenderize. If you have someone in your life who is skeptical of cabbage, start with Napa.

Serving Suggestions

This salad will excel in any summery meal! It's a great side dish for a get-together or BBQ, especially because it's make-ahead and transport friendly. Thanks to its freshness and zippy, bright flavors, it's a lovely accompaniment to grilled fare.

But you can also easily make this into a main course! Just add a bed of quinoa and some stir-fried tofu on top. Or, keep it no-cook by just thawing out some frozen edamame!

Make-Ahead Tips

This salad can easily be prepared in advance. You can cut up the cabbage and carrots the day ahead of time, and even marinate them in the dressing overnight. I actually opt for that approach even when I don't need to, since the cabbage and carrots soak up so much wonderful flavor and become more tender. You can add in the cucumber and mango a few hours before serving, but I don't recommend having them sit in the salad overnight since they'll get soggy. When you're ready to serve, just toss in the fresh herbs and add the peanuts at the last minute so they keep their crunch.

Let's Talk Ingredients

Here's what you'll need for this recipe, as well as some thoughts, tips, and possible substitutions. If you make any substitutions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.

  • Lime juice
  • Honey. For a completely vegan version, agave would be the best substitution because of its mild flavor.
  • Toasted sesame oil. This is a rich, nutty-tasting oil that I highly recommend adding to your pantry. It's a flavor powerhouse, especially for Asian-inspired recipes. You can make this salad without it, but the end result will lack depth.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional sriracha. Personally speaking, I prefer this salad to be bright and citrusy, without heat. But if you love spice, I think sriracha would be the best option since it has such lovely floral/fruity notes.
  • Napa cabbage. Use half a head if they're large, or a full head if they're small. Overall, you want to get about 5-6 cups worth of ribbon-cut cabbage. Note that some stores will cut a head in half for you, so that you don't need to buy a whole head if they're absurdly large.
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Mango
  • Fresh cilantro. The herbs play a starring role here, so getting fragrant, fresh herbs is really the only way to go.
  • Fresh mint
  • Roasted salted peanuts. For sprinkling on top! These are so important for adding crunch, fat, and that classic Pad Thai flair. Almonds or cashews would be the next best substitution. If you can't do nuts, top the salad with sunflower seeds.

Closing Thoughts

And there you have it... a very Lee-approved Pad Thai spin. I absolutely love the crunch factor, bright colors, and fresh flavors in this salad. I know this isn't a popular opinion, but to be completely honest, I'm not really a noodle dish type of person. This is a much better (albeit highly non-traditional) Pad Thai for me.

How will you enjoy this salad? Will you bring it to a potluck? Maybe have it on the deck alongside some grilled tofu? Perhaps pack it on a picnic? Call it dinner when you can't bear the thought of turning on the stove on a hot summer night? However you choose to enjoy this salad, let's make sure to give cabbage the love it deserves!

Share It!

It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.

Suggested Pairings

Chai Tai

Tropical Guacamole

Fruit Salsa Guide (see especially the mango salsa examples!)

Blistered Shishito Pepper Salad

Mojito Corn Salad

Tropical Pad Thai Salad

A delightfully fresh take on Thai flavors, this no-cook salad is perfect for warm summer evenings. It's like Pad Thai in a veggie-forward, refreshing format!

Author:
Lee

Ingredients

For the Dressing

  • Juice of a lime
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 0.5 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • Generous salt and pepper
  • Optional dash of sriracha

For the Salad

  • Half a head of Napa cabbage
  • 2 carrots
  • Large English cucumber or several miniature cucumbers
  • Mango
  • Handful of fresh cilantro
  • Handful of fresh mint
  • Handful of roasted/salted peanuts

Instructions

  1. In a large mixing bowl (to which you'll eventually add everything else), mix up your dressing.
  2. Prep your cabbage by cutting it into thin ribbons. I like to do this by taking half a head, putting it cut-side down, and slicing perpendicular to the stem. Aim for slices about a pencil width in thickness for easy eating.
  3. Prep your carrots by first removing the skin, then using a peeler to create ribbons.
  4. Toss both the cabbage and the carrot in the dressing, and let it sit for at least an hour; this will lightly pickle, tenderize, and flavor the cabbage and carrots.
  5. Cut the cucumbers into rounds.
  6. Cut up the mango into thin ribbons so that it mimics the shape of the cabbage and carrots.
  7. Prep herbs by giving the cilantro a rough chop and cutting the mint into very thin ribbons.
  8. Add the cucumber, mango, and herbs into the salad and toss.
  9. Plate the salad in a serving bowl or on a platter, and garnish with a big handful of roasted/salted peanuts.

Leave a Comment

Please Share Your Thoughts!

Did you make this recipe? Did you make substitutions? How did you serve it? Any helpful tips? Please share your thoughts, since these insights are really useful to both me and to other readers.

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