I started planning this meal with one request in mind: please, no more lasagna. I wanted to make the antithesis of a winter casserole without going too far astray from the season. I would make a salad. And there would be fruit in it.
Winter has plenty to offer by way of fruit. And not just apples. Feast on citrus! But hold your clementines because my favorite winter citrus, blood oranges, are not ready to make an appearance quite yet. So I picked up a few mangoes at the super market. Are mangoes in season? I'm not even sure. But I do know that mangoes know how to rock a salad, especially if they share the stage with cilantro and mint. This salad is practically tropical. The dressing is tangy and spicy, the mango is fresh and light, and the crab makes it special.
Take that, winter casserole.
Vietnamese Crab Salad
Nuoc Cham Dressing from Fine Cooking
1 clove garlic
2 to 3 Thai bird chiles (or 1 small jalapeño or serrano chile), cored, seeded, and minced; more or less to taste
1/2 tsp. ground chile paste; more or less to taste (the rooster will do!)
2/3 cup hot water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. shredded carrots (optional)
In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and fresh chiles to a paste. (Or mince them together with a knife.) In a small bowl, combine this garlic and chile mixture with the chile paste, hot water, and sugar. Stir well. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and combine. Float the carrots on top. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before using.
2 cucumbers, sliced thinly
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 mango cut into 1 inch matchsticks to the best of your ability w/o cutting off your hands
1/4 red onion, diced
1 lb jumbo lump crab
to taste: fresh mint and cilantro, chopped (I added about 3 tablespoons).
Warm the crab by heating up a small knob of butter over medium heat. Add crab and cook for about 2 minutes. Some of the edges will crisp, but mostly you are just looking to warm up the crab.
When crab is warm, assemble salad and dress.