Re-creating Chef Susur Lee’s Singapore Slaw at Home.

Chef Susur Lee

I have really grown to love ZENTAN, internationally acclaimed chef Susur Lee’s Washington, DC restaurant located in the Donovan House Hotel (1155 14th Street, NW) in Logan Circle. I’ve learned to love Susur, even more since watching him compete on Top Chef Masters last year and earned the highest marks in Top Chef Masters history. If I ever have a chance to visit Toronto, his restaurants will be the only restaurants on my list to visit. In fact, going to visit Susur would most likely be the only reason for my travel to the Great White North. For now, I find solace in going to Zentan.

I’ve been to Zentan several times for various dinners and special events. My first outing was for winter Restaurant Week two years ago. I was slightly disappointed but I followed my own advice and decided not to dismiss the restaurant on just one meal, especially during restaurant week. Since that initial visit, I have been for a special Chinese New Year media dinner where I had the opportunity to meet Susur Lee, in person. I have also attended a special event with the Sushi Concierge, Trevor Corson. I also helped organize our DC Food Blogger Happy Hour there in June 2010 and took my husband, the sushi monger, for Father’s Day dinner. I’ve tried a variety of ZENTAN’s dishes but my favorite all-time dish is Lee’s signature dish, the Singapore Slaw with 19 ingredients. Executive chef, Jamie Montes de Oca Jr. at Zentan executes Lee’s dish perfectly each time. It never disappoints — except I always think there isn’t enough.

My husband's Signapore Slaw. Photo by Moi.

As a Valentine’s Day gift this year, my husband attempted to recreate the dish (initially as a surprise). Lee’s Singapore Slaw is an an extravagant and colorful re-creation of a ‘lo hei salad’, traditionally eaten during the Chinese New Year. The slaw is served at all of Lee’s restaurants, including Zentan in Washington, DC where I was first introduced to it (and fell in love with it instantly). While it’s not very difficult technically to prepare, there are a lot of steps using many ingredients that are very difficult to find, especially some of the seedlings that the recipe calls for.

My husband Ben said,
“There wasn’t much to cook, so it wasn’t really all that difficult. It was very labor intensive though, LOTS of chopping and peeling and slicing, and chopping again. If nothing else it will be faster the next time because I know where to go to find all of the ingredients.”

While my husband and I found most of the ingredients needed at the World Market (making several trips), I also think that owning a julienne slicer that would have made its preparation a lot easier. We never did find the dashi or purple basil (but we’re planning to grow it in our garden this year). My husband did an excellent job (as you can see!) and while it was not as delicately plated as chef Lee’s dish, it tasted delightful. The salted plum dressing I’ve used since in a few other dishes. It’s wonderful. Also, we have a lot of leftover onion oil that we’ve used in some other dishes.

Here is the recipe that we found from Susur Lee’s book, Susur: A Culinary Life and in an article in the Washington Post.

Susur Lee's Signapore Slaw. Photo by Lia Chang

Singapore Slaw With Salted Plum Dressing

Serves 4

2 green onions, both white and green parts, julienned
1 taro, peeled and julienned
2 ounces rice vermicelli noodles, broken into three pieces
1 large English cucumber, julienned
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small jicama, peeled and julienned
1 daikon, peeled and julienned
2 large roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 pickled red onion (see recipe below)
4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
6 teaspoons crushed roasted hazelnuts
4 teaspoons fried shallots
4 teaspoons edible-flower petals
4 teaspoons micro purple basil
4 teaspoons micro beet greens
4 teaspoons daikon sprouts
2 tablespoons pickled ginger
1½ cups salted-plum dressing (see recipe below)
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt as needed

Soak the green onion in a bowl of very cold water to keep it crisp. Heat a large pot of oil. When the temperature reaches 400 degrees, deep-fry half of the taro for 2 minutes, or until crisp and light gold in color. Remove slices from the oil, place on a paper towel, and lightly salt. Repeat with the rest of the taro. With the oil at the same temperature, quickly deep-fry the vermicelli, half at a time, for 2 seconds, or until they curl. Remove the vermicelli from the oil, place on a paper towel, and lightly salt.

To serve: Remove julienned green onion from bowl and drain. Divide vermicelli equally between 4 plates and arrange green onion, cucumber, carrot, jicama, tomatoes, and pickled red onion around noodles. Top with fried taro root. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and crushed peanuts (or hazelnuts) over each salad. In small bowl, combine edible flower petals, seedlings, sprouts, and fried shallots. Sprinkle the flowers, micro greens, daikon sprouts, and pickled ginger on the salad and serve with salted plum dressing on the side.

Pickled Red Onion

1 red onion, peeled and julienned
1 cup rice-wine vinegar
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme

Peel and julienne red onion. Place the onion in a medium bowl then set aside. In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and water to a boil. Season the mixture with the salt, peppercorns, fennel seeds, bay leaf, and thyme; continue boiling for another 5 minutes. While it’s still hot, pour it over the julienned onion and let it sit for 1 hour.

Salted Plum Dressing

1 cup salted-plum (ume) paste
½ cup rice-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon dashi
1½ teaspoons onion oil (recipe below)
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Onion Oil (can be made the day before)

Makes about 1 cup

1½ to 2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups loosely packed chopped leeks, white part only
2 green onions, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped

In a medium saucepan set over high heat, combine all the ingredients. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Decrease the heat to medium-high and cook for another 5 minutes, then decrease the heat to medium. Cook the mixture for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions and leeks are crispy and brown. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the oil into a bowl. Discard the solids. Let the oil cool before transferring it to a jar. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

I’d love to know if others have tried to make Singapore Slaw at home! If so, please comment below and send photos to diningindc at gmail dot com! Thanks!

One Response to “Re-creating Chef Susur Lee’s Singapore Slaw at Home.”

  1. I had this slaw at Lee in Toronto over the weekend and can’t wait to try this recipe. What a fantastic dish!

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