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Chinese Spinach and Peanut Salad Recipe

Why It Works

  • Blanching hearty greens then squeezing them brings out their natural sweetness, removes flavorless water, and locks in beautiful dark green chlorophyll.
  • Peanuts provide a nutty counterbalance to spinach in ways reminiscent of Korean sigeumchi namul with sesame oil and Japanese goma-ae with sesame sauce.

This combination of spinach and peanuts is most commonly found in Dongbei, Northeastern China, where both ingredients grow plentifully in the summer.

Importantly, this recipe demonstrates how Chinese salads almost always feature cooked and not raw vegetables (one of the big exceptions to this, of course, is also one of the most famous: smashed cucumber salad). The process is quite similar to Korean sigeumchi namul and Japanese goma-ae, in which dark leafy greens are also blanched and then squeezed. The idea is simple: water doesn’t taste like much, so blanching and squeezing removes that water, leaving behind more flavor, while also locking in the place the vegetable’s vibrant flavor and color.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

As for the vinaigrette, this recipe takes advantage of my “all-purpose” Chinese vinaigrette, altering that base recipe only with some additional garlic for a bit more punch. This vinaigrette recipe is one I created after surveying scores of recipes for Chinese cold dishes known as liangcai (涼菜). While variations are endless, I found enough common themes among the recipes to come up with a basic all-purpose version built on a by-volume ratio of three parts savory ingredient (like soy sauce) to three parts aromatic oil to one part acidic ingredient (like vinegar) to one part sugar.

It’s a versatile dressing that can grace countless dishes, hot and cold, and it can be altered as desired to create different flavor combinations, depending on the dish. Much like a Western vinaigrette’s basic 3:1 of oil to vinegar rule-of-thumb, this 3:3:1:1 Chinese dressing ratio is a helpful way to provide some structure and guidelines, making it easier to be creative while producing a flavor profile that is true to the cuisine.

This dish is best served as an appetizer to open up the palate for the rest of the meal or next to heavier braises and stir-fries, as would be traditional in Northern China.

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