When Emma wrote about learning to love green cabbage last week, my thoughts turned to one of my favorite childhood dishes. Gơi chay is a vegetarian version of the traditional Vietnamese gơi gà, a refreshing cabbage salad with chicken – or in this case, tofu – and fragrant herbs.
In Vietnamese homes and restaurants, one can find several variations of the basic gơi chay or gơi gà recipe. In addition to cabbage and tofu or chicken, some cooks add carrots, onions, cucumbers, or bean sprouts. Fresh herbs make the dish quintessentially Vietnamese and may include rau răm (Vietnamese coriander), various kinds of basil, mint, or cilantro. These ingredients are tossed with a tangy dressing made of some combination of rice vinegar, lemon or lime juice, nước mắm (fish sauce), soy sauce, garlic, chili peppers, or sugar.
Here's my version of the recipe that my mom passed down to me. In my family, we always ate gơi over rice noodles, making it a light yet complete meal. (Also called rice sticks or rice vermicelli, these noodles are usually sold at Asian markets or in the Asian section of some grocery stores.) It's simple to prepare for dinner and even better as leftovers, when the ingredients have have some time to marinate.
Gơi Chay (Vietnamese Vegetarian Salad)
1 pound extra firm tofu Vegetable oil 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 1/8 cup soy sauce 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1 serrano or Thai bird pepper, deseeded and finely chopped 1 head green cabbage, shredded 2 carrots, peeled and shredded Large handful of herbs (basil, mint, rau răm if available), coarsely chopped or torn Rice noodles (optional) 1/2 cup peanuts, crushed
Cut tofu into bite-size pieces and press between clean kitchen towels or paper towels to rid excess water. Heat oil in a skillet and fry tofu until golden brown. Drain excess oil.
In a large bowl, combine lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, and chili pepper. Add cabbage, carrots, herbs, and tofu to the bowl and toss to combine. Let sit for at least 15 minutes or refrigerate for up to a day before serving.
Serve the salad by itself or over cooked rice noodles and sprinkle with peanuts.