The summers in Inner Mongolia are brief, and during the rest of the year, fresh green vegetables are in short supply. Like people in Tibet and in northern places (the Russians who live just across the border in Siberia, for example, or the Koreans), people in Inner Mongolia have figured out solutions. Cabbages and other vegetables that have been pickled or dried, dried mushrooms, and easily stored root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, radishes, and turnips, along with cucumbers grown under glass, do stand-in duty for all that is not available.
This crunchy late-autumn salad has beautiful curving shards of red onion tossed with fine shreds of Napa cabbage. One of many salads that we ate in the cold days of late October in Inner Mongolia, it includes elements from both sides of the border: Chinese flavorings are used to dress a Siberian/Russian-style salad, just the thing to add fresh bite to a winter meal. Because it can be made ahead and keeps its flavor and texture, it’s a great dish to take to a potluck dinner.
Yield: Serves 4 as a salad or appetizer
1 small or ½ medium-large red onion (¼ pound)
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 cups shredded Napa cabbage (see Note)
2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil, or to taste
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon rice vinegar, or to taste
About ½ cup coriander leaves
Slice the onion lengthwise into quarters, then very thinly slice each quarter lengthwise. You should have about 1 cup. Place in a sieve, add 1 teaspoon of the salt, and toss well. Set over a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes to drain.
Meanwhile, place the cabbage in a bowl and pour over boiling water to cover (about 4 cups). Let stand for a minute or two, then drain in a colander. Place back in the bowl and set aside.
Rinse the onion with cold water, then squeeze dry and add to the cabbage. Set aside.
Heat the 2 teaspoons sesame oil in a small wok or small skillet over medium heat. Add the ginger and cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Add the vinegar, and once it bubbles, pour the mixture over the salad. Toss to blend, then add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and toss again. The salad can be served immediately or left to stand for up to an hour so flavors can blend.
Just before serving, taste and add a little more sesame oil if you want to bring that flavor forward, as well as more salt if you wish. Add the coriander leaves and toss.
NOTE ON SHREDDING CABBAGE: To shred the cabbage, slice crosswise into very thin slivers with a cleaver or chef’s knife.