Not 'retro' as in 'a sausage salad that was eaten in Thailand back in the day', but 'retro' as in - a Thai sausage salad that we ate back in the day.
About twenty years ago (that qualifies as 'retro', doesn't it?) we were grad students in Boston, living in a long, narrow South End walk-up. It was a great apartment, on the third floor of a gorgeous old building, lovingly refurbished by our photographer landlord. The kitchen was huge, with reams of counter space. But it was in the center of the apartment, which had windows only at the front and the back. In short - no natural ventilation. No air con. No ceiling fan.
In the summer, when the sun beat through the skylight, the kitchen temp hovered around 86F (30C) degrees. As cash-poor grad students we normally cooked every day, but that summer we spent as little time at the stove as possible. We made sandwiches. We grilled gai yang (Thai grilled chicken) on a mini 'cue on our fire escape. We ate a lot of zaru soba (Japanese chilled buckwheat noodles) and pasta salad with tuna, mayonnaise, tomatoes, and capers (snicker all you like - it's fantastic). We discovered sliced cucumbers napped with chilled thick garlicky yogurt at Nadia's, a cheap Lebanese resto around the corner.
And we ate a lot of Thai sausage salad, which - if you're competent with a knife - takes about as long to pull together as it takes to steam rice in a cooker. It's perfect hot-kitchen food: few ingredients, minimal prep, maybe 2 minutes in front of the stove. And it's spicy-sour-sweetness and mix of textures (chewy and fatty-crackly Chinese sausages, cleanly crisp cucumbers, crunchy scallions) are just the thing to excite an appetite numbed by the heat.
History repeats itself. Our current place is almost perfect - great location, just the right size, pet-friendly, fits the budget. But the kitchen - oh, the kitchen. The ugly fake dark timber cabinetry and black countertop I can deal with. Ditto the refrigerator, the smallest we've ever had. But the heat is something else. No ventilation. No air con. No ceiling fan, and no room for a standing fan. KL is suffering a miserable heat wave, with no end in sight. In short, cooking means sweating, in the form of big, fat drops falling from my forehead.
So last month I pulled an old favorite from the recipe box. We're eating a lot of Thai sausage salad these days.
Perhaps my timing with this post is off. It's not quite summer in the US, well into winter in Australia. But I'm willing to bet that, somewhere in the world, it's as hot as my kitchen.
Thai Sausage Salad (Adapted from Thai Home Cooking from Kamolmal's Kitchen)
If you've ever wondered what to do with those wrinkly Chinese sausages (which, by the way, keep forever in the fridge), here's one possibility. Though they needn't be fried (you could boil or steam the sausages instead), browning them in a pan brings out their sweetness and gives them crackly-crispy charred spots that are a delicious contrast to the chewy rest of them. Proportions are pretty loose here - make the salad spicier, more sour, or sweeter according to your own taste, add more or less cucumbers or sausage. In Boston we used to use jalapeno chilies rather than Thai bird chilies, for the flavor. Use whatever type of chili suits you. Do serve this with steamed rice; the coolish salad with hot rice makes for another wonderful contrast.
Interestingly, we didn't encounter this exact salad, incorporating browned and crisped Chinese sausage, in Thailand until our last trip up north in February, when we found it at a Teochew restaurant in Lampang (photo above).
6 Chinese sausages
4 large cucumbers
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 fresh hot chilies (or more or less to taste)
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
2-3 Tbsp fine granulated white sugar
2 tsp black soy sauce
handful of coriander sprigs
- Slice the sausages on an angle (see opening photo) - this will expose the maximum amount of surface to the pan's heat. Fry them over medium heat in a dry skillet or wok until they start to blister. A few black spots are fine, but don't let them burn. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel
- Peel the cucumbers or not, as you please. Sliced them thinly. Halve the scallions lengthwise (white and green parts) and then cut them cross-wise into 1-inch pieces. Chop the chilies finely (remove the seeds first if you want less heat).
- Place the onion in a large mixing bowl and pour the vinegar over. Leave it aside to soak for 5 minutes.
- To the onions, add the sausage, cucumber, scallion, and chili.
- Mix the fish sauce, sugar, and soy sauce, and stir until the sugar's dissolved.
- Add the dressing to the onion-sausage-cuke mixture and toss. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired.
- Transfer to a plate, top with coriander sprigs, and eat with hot rice.