I’m curious–do you remember the time or the dish that led you to the beginning of your culinary journey? Or were you fortunate enough to be exposed to the diversity of taste at a young age? We have friends who are well-traveled and as such, their children are far more sophisticated and well-socialized than I ever was at their age. They are not only sophisticated culturally but so are they in their exposure to food.
My childhood dining table was rich with Filipino and American fare. When we dined out it was almost always for Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese), Mexican or Italian-American food. Nothing wrong with this at all–I just didn’t realize then how much there was for me to discover as my taste buds became more exposed to different flavors.
If there ever was such a dish for me, it would be this. I mentioned a few posts ago that I made frequent day trips to the Napa Valley while I was in college. Inevitably, my friend and I would find ourselves at Mustards Grill and I would always order this salad. On the face of it, this is nothing more than fried calamari on a bed of cole slaw…simple. However, at 20 or 21 years of age, I had not been exposed to the idea of fusion cuisine. This dish, in its simplicity, delivers well on that idea of combining the best of different ethnic flavors and creating something new.
Calamari (which has become the cognomen for all fried squid) is typically regarded as Italian food though variations of it are popular worldwide. Here, it is served with cole slaw, a cabbage salad that is a common American picnic item, but did you know that it has Dutch origins? The term is said to have been adapted from the Dutch name for cabbage salad, koolsla. Kool (cabbage) and sla (salad). But instead of using mayonnaise or plain vinegar as a base, this salad is dressed with a curry vinaigrette, a tasty salute to South Asian flavors. Oh, and the recipe also gives a shout-out to Mexican flavors with the use of jalapeño peppers and cilantro.
These components come together so perfectly. My taste buds have been singing in praise of the fresh seafood mixed with the crisp vegetables tossed in the spicy, earthy curry vinaigrette. When I enjoyed this dish over and over again in the early 90s I didn’t realize how much it would feed my burgeoning interest in food. All I understood at the time was how much I enjoyed this salad and when I started this blog, it was on top of the list of dishes I wanted to share here. It was my #1 motivation to try making this curry paste at home. I hope you won’t wait as long to try it yourself like I did.
What has been your foodie inspiration?
Mustards Grill’s Crispy Calamari with Curried Slaw
For the Curry Vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons curry vinaigrette (or Mustards’ version here)
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the salad:
- 3 pounds whole, fresh squid, cleaned
- 1/3 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, peeled and grated
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
- Peanut oil or canola oil for frying
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Mustards’ Secret Coating (see below)
- Fresh Cilantro leaves for garnish (I highly recommend though I had to omit since I didn’t have any)
- A few scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
For the Secret Coating (This makes about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup semolina flour (I skipped this)
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- 3/4 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the secret coating by sifting all the coating ingredients into a bowl large enough to coat the squid.
Prepare the vinaigrette: Whisk together the ingredients from the curry paste to the black pepper. When the salt is dissolved, slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Set aside.
Prepare the slaw: Toss the cabbage, carrot, and the one chile together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
To fry the squid: Pour oil about 3 – 4 inches deep into a deep, heavy saucepan. Heat to about 375ºF. While waiting for the oil to heat, prepare the squid by dipping the rings in a bowl of buttermilk, draining it then tossing in the secret coating. Place the squid in a sieve and shake off the excess coating, making sure to separate the pieces that stick together.
Working in batches, fry the calamari for about 2 – 3 minutes until just golden. Use a wire skimmer to remove the calamari from the frying pan and transfer on a plate lined with a paper towel. Make sure to allow the oil to come back up to temperature between batches.
To serve: Stir the vinaigrette and add just enough to the slaw to coat lightly. Arrange the slaw on a large platter and place the calamari on top. Garnish with remaining chiles, scallions and cilantro. Serves 6.