Soup and salad. To some, these are staple, health-focused foods. To me, they’re also a way to test a cook’s culinary ingenuity. Few foods offer the same blank canvas allowing true creative expression. When taken one step further and inspired by an iconic, time-honored dish such as the Burmese tea leaf salad, the potential for creativity only grows deeper.
Much like introducing a child for the first time, as many people have said it would be, I’m ecstatic to introduce my new book: The Modern Salad: Innovative New American and International Recipes Inspired by Burma’s Iconic Tea Leaf Salad.
When I first started writing this book, some people looked at me with bewilderment. That reaction, every time, gave me pause. Not because I didn’t love the story, but because I started to wonder how I was going to honor the deep meaning and richness behind the iconic tea leaf salad, especially to those who haven’t been fortunate enough to taste it. Even more, how was I going to translate the depth and complexity of this dish throughout the other recipes? This is a salad unlike any other.
I decided it would be best to embrace this uncertainty, instead of resisting it. Then, I was able to connect with the reasons this salad has earned cult-status: It is full of fascinating, contradictory flavors and textures. Within those connected moments, floods of inspiration came my way. It was beautiful. And, at the same time, it was completely overwhelming. In her playful Ted Talk, Where Does Creativity Hide?, Amy Tan described these moments as “the arrival of luck”. While I felt fortunate to be flooded with this inspiration, harnessing that energy, that luck, was a challenge at first. Then I decided that I didn’t have to. Actually, that I couldn’t.
So I set off on a quest of whimsical curiosity. And I began to chase the innovative, those coveted contradictions that make food so irrefutably delicious: tart and sweet; salty and bitter; crunchy and tender; spicy and cool; fresh and cooked.
Within the recipes, you’ll find the following combinations: green mango with tangles of slippery noodles, vibrant citrus, and deep-ruby-red chile oil; smoky, spicy kimchi with sweet star anise and maple pork; saffron, tart green apple, and garlic prawns; bright preserved lemon, creamy goat cheese, and tart sumac; sweet watermelon, farro, grilled halloumi, and floral pink peppercorn; and briny sea scallops with crushed chamomile-grapefruit salt.
There’s also a pantry section with infused oils, spice blends, crunchy legumes, toasted chickpea flour, and time-honored methods such as fermentation and pickling, all of which provide even greater depth and make this food especially vibrant.
The core of this book is about reinvention and the transformative power of exhilarating whole food. Organic fresh vegetables, fruits, spices, herbs, teas, roots, nuts, seeds, and ferments form the epicenter. Innately, from these diverse ingredients, comes health. Deeply flavorful and full of harmonious contradictions, these salads are intended to optimize well-being. After all, food is information for the body. Awareness about the connection between eating whole, nutrient-dense food and leading a happy, balanced life is heightened. Fresh organic food, made from scratch, has the ability to make us feel invigorated and alive. This belief is the crux of my lifestyle – and this book.
The final core element to this story is honoring the sense of adventure found through food. Now more than ever, there is a deep longing to experience the world. Merging culinary traditions allows us to sit at the fringe of multiple cultures. There, we can be quickly transported and view the world through a different lens. Food is at the heart of a culture, after all.
There’s an elemental connection between food and love, a source of kinship discovered through the simple rhythms of life like cooking and eating. Food that surprises and makes us feel alive provides an opportunity for reinvention. The vibrancy of fresh ingredients, recipes steeped in tradition and meaning, and the intentional sharing of meals—this is the definition of power itself. I believe so many of our modern hardships could be solved, if we simply decided to take a seat at each other’s tables more often.
I hope you’ll find something to reinvent your approach to vibrant, health-driven food within these pages, too!
Order your copy of The Modern Salad here. And much gratitude for your support.