Cabbage Nectarine Salad

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My nectarines were of the perfect ripeness today — succulent but not too soft. I used them to make this simple cabbage salad and it turned out absolutely delicious — sweet and tangy with a hint of mint — a summery transformation of a cool weather vegetable. I used a sweet mulberry vinegar, but I imagine cider or white vinegar will work perfectly with it too.

Cabbages are one of the most nutritious vegetables, but few ever talk about them. They just seem so common place and boring. However, the seeming blandness is why I love them — they are versatile. I have often stir fried them or used them in Chinese pork vegetable dumplings. I have also pickled them or made salads with them.

As you can see here — cabbages are beautiful.

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Cabbage Nectarine Salad

Ingredients:

1 small head of cabbage, outer leaves removed and shredded (about 6 cups)

2 to 3 nectarines, thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 to 3 cups)

3/4 cup toasted walnuts

2 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped (optional)

Dressing:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons mulberry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

Gently toss together sliced cabbage, sliced nectarine, mint leaves with the dressing. Let sit for 10 minutes for the juice from the nectarine to release into the salad. Add walnut before serving.

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Beautiful Beet Sandwich

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Beautiful Beet Sandwich

Peter called in the the middle of the day and said he had a little free time and could we have lunch together. My husband knows there is always food at home. Having been hungry when I was growing up made me anxious when the food supply is low — my two large fridges in the kitchen are always full.  We live 5 minutes from his hospital and usually it means he can easily go back to work 24/7 at a moment’s notice. But today is one of the rare occasions that living close afforded him a quick stolen lunch at home.  I had just made Angela her favorite massaged kale salad when Peter called, and there was left over beet in the fridge from yesterday.

Ten minutes later Peter was home and this tricolored lunch was already waiting at the table as if I had been expecting him to come home all along. I almost felt like a magician. This very satisfying vegetarian sandwich could definitely last him until dinner.

If I didn’t already had the kale salad, I would have used arugula or cucumber. Or I could substitute pine nuts with pistachio nuts, or walnuts.

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Ingredients:

Cooked beet, sliced

Kale salad, click here for recipe

Goat cheese

Pine nuts

Avocado, sliced

Lemon juice or balsamic glaze

Salt and pepper to taste

Bread slices

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Preparation:

Spray goat cheese on bread and sprinkle pine nuts.  Toast in the toaster oven until the crust is crunchy and the cheese soft. Layer sliced cooked beet. kale salad and avocado slices. Drizzle with lemon juice or balsamic glaze or both.

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Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Orange & Avocado

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We are having the balmiest early spring here in San Francisco. I decided that it was a perfect day for a refreshing salad when I saw the beautiful, tender bulbs of fennel in the neighborhood grocery store. I love fennel. If you have not yet tried fennel salad, you ought to. For me, the best way to prepare fennel is marinating it in fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Simple, but perfect. I usually serve it with Burrata cheese, but decided to serve it today with avocado, orange slices and grapefruit slices.  It was crunchy, creamy, sweet, tangy and savory all at once. My favorite salad just got better.  It was absolutely delicious!

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Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Orange & Avocado

Ingredients:

2 heads fennel, thinly sliced

1/2 to 2 avocado, sliced

1 orange, peeled, pith removed and sliced

1 grapefruit, peeled, pith removed and sliced

1/2 cup tender green leaves of choice (I used watercress)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon lemon and orange zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon fennel fronds

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Ingredients for Dressing:

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

Salt & pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Place fennel, oil, zest and lemon juice in a shallow dish; season with salt and pepper. Let stand 15 minutes.

In the meantime, slice off the skin of the grapefruit and orange, remove the pith.  Save the juice in a bowl to use in the dressing.

Peel and slice the avocado.  Squeeze lemon juice on the avocado slices to prevent them from getting brown.

Mix ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.

Divide marinated fennel into four to six plates, top with orange and grapefruit slices, avocado slices, green leaves, fennel fronds. Drizzle with dressing before serving.  You need only very little dressing since the fennel is already marinated.

Note:

Use only very fresh and tender fennel bulbs for fennel salads. 

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Baked Ginger Scallion Shiitake Rock Cod

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I did my weekly shopping at Costco today.  As usual, I brought a shopping list, but ended up buying many more items that were not on the list, such as a bag of organic roasted seaweed chips with brown rice.  They were addictive and I wish I never saw them.  There was no rock cod on my list, but I saw that the fillets were packed only hours before the store opened and decided to buy a tray.  Freshness is the key to preparing any good seafood.  That’s why many Cantonese restaurants have tanks that house the live fish or shell fish.  When we order fish we would always ask for “swimming fish.”  Well, rock cod packed on the same day is the next best thing to “swimming fish.” 

Though my hometown Shanghai is a a coastal city, growing up I seldom had fish, which was usually reserved for special occasions or Chinese New Year. I never had any “swimming” rock cod either, only belt fish or yellow croaker.  Nowadays, if you visit an authentic Shanghainese restaurant, you will see fried belt fish or braised yellow croaker on the menu instead of steamed cod.  I began cooking and eating rock cod after I married my Cantonese husband, who measures the quality of a Cantonese restaurant by its steamed cod.

Today, I prepared the rock cod fillets by wrapping them in parchment paper with sliced ginger, scallion, red jalapeño and Japanese shiitake mushroom and then baking them in the oven.  Wrapping the fish in parchment paper seals in the moisture and the flavor, and it also ensures the tenderness of the fish. It is like steaming in the oven. I love the intensely aromatic steam that escapes from the piping hot pouch when I open it. And the broth from the fish is absolutely delicious over rice.

This recipe is relatively easy and is one of the tastiest fish dishes that I have ever cooked.  Try it!

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Baked Ginger Scallion Shiitake Rock Cod

Ingredients:

4 pieces 4 oz rock cod fillet

8 to 10 dried Japanese shiitake mushroom, rehydrated and sliced

3 stocks scallions, 2 inch slices

1 red jalapeno, sliced lengthwise

1 tablespoon thinly sliced ginger

2 tablespoons or more light soy sauce, separated

4 teaspoons or more Shao Xing cooking wine or other Asian cooking wine

4 teaspoons sesame oil

Sesame seeds for garnish

Marinade:

2 tablespoons Shao Xing cooking wine

Preparation:

Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for an hour or longer until completely soft and rehydrated. Keep the soaking water.

Marinate the fillets in the cooking wine and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes in a sealed container.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Wrap the fillet individually in parchment paper with 1 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon wine, 1 teaspoon shiitake soaking water, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, topped with slices of ginger, scallion and shiitake.  If you prefer your fish a little saltier, you can increase the soy sauce to 2 teaspoons.

Fold the sides of the parchment paper together and seal with a metal paper clip on top. 

Arrange the packets on a baking sheet.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or so depending on the size of the fish.  I baked mine for 15 minutes because the fillets were thick.  You can fold the tail end in two to match the thickness of the body.  It is important not to over cook the fish.  If anything, you should err on the side of under cooking it.

Serve hot from the parchment or transfer to a shallow bowl. The broth is so delicious that you will need a spoon.

Note:

If you don’t have dried the shiitake mushrooms, you can make this dish with fresh shiitake.  Dried shiitake has a more intense flavor.

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Orange Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad with Fresh Citrus Dressing

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We went to Los Angeles to celebrate Peter’s father’s birthday as we have always done in January over the years.  As usual, I brought an extra bag and looked forward to picking the bountiful crop of oranges from their yard.  Their tree bears the sweetest and juiciest oranges that I have ever tasted anywhere in the world.  As we picked the fruits together, Peter’s mother told me that this year she has harvested well over a thousand oranges from this amazing tree. 

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The first thing I did after I returned home was to make this orange salad with a fresh citrus dressing.  It was so refreshingly delicious that Peter and I finished the entire salad and I had to make a second batch for the kids.

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Orange Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad with Fresh Citrus Dressing

Ingredients:

5 to 6 heaping cups organic spring mix

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced (optional)

2 large fresh juicy sweet oranges, peeled and pith removed

2/3 cup of toasted walnuts

1/3 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Ingredients For Dressing:

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon coarse ground mustard

1 teaspoon honey

1 loosely packed teaspoon orange zest

1 loosely packed teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

Freshly ground pepper

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Preparation:

Toast the walnuts in a toaster oven or on a pan on the stove until slightly browned.

Using a serrated knife on a clean cutting board, cut off the two ends of the orange.  Stand the orange on the cut end on the board and cut off the skin as you turn the orange like a drum.  Slice the orange in half lengthwise, and then slice into thin half circles.  Save the juice and pour it into a bowl to make the dressing.

Mixing all the dressing ingredients and set aside.

Toss together the spring mix, sliced red onion and the orange slices in a salad bowl with half the dressing.  Separate into 4 servings and top with toasted walnut and crumbled gorgonzola.  Drizzle with the rest of the dressing and serve.

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Butternut Squash Salad with Pomelo & Pomegranate

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Butternut squash is in season.  Pomegranate is in season.  Pomelo is also in season.  When I saw them in my neighborhood grocery, I decided to put them together in this delicious winter salad that bursts with flavors and colors.  During the filming of Marco Polo in Malaysia, Chef Duyen often prepared the most refreshing pomelo pomegranate salads with Vietnamese dressing for us.  The sight of the pomelos in the store brought back memories of that extended “summer camp” in the tropics, where every Thursday, my friend Russel would buy pomelos for me from the “Pomelo Man” who drove a truck to a certain cross road in Johor to sell the fruit from his farm. 

This is a relatively easy and simple salad to make.  The only time consuming part is preparing the pomelo and pomegranate.  The best way is to use your hands after you open the fruits with a knife.  I happen to enjoy this type of work where your eyes and the hands are engaged in a task and the mind is free and relaxed, you feel the sensual texture, inhale the sweet scent of the fruits and free associate.

Pomelo is a fragrant citrus fruit that is sweeter than grapefruit.  If there is no pomelo in your super market, you can probably substitute with a grapefruit.

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Roast Butternut Squash Salad with Pomelo and Pomegranate

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 pomelo, peeled, pith and seeds removed

Seeds from 1/2 pomegranate

1 packed cup arugula

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for the dressing:

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon light maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix all dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Toss cubed butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast in a baking dish lined with parchment paper in a single layer for 30 to 35 minutes.

while the butternut squash is roasting, prepare the fruits.

When the butternut squash is done, take the baking pan out of the oven and let cool.

When the butternut squash is cool, mix in pomelo, pomegranate seeds and arugula.  Add the dressing and toss to coat before serving.

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Coconut Pomegranate Chia Pudding

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For a couple of days in the middle of a heat wave in Budapest this year, Audrey played Christmas music in the apartment and wished it was already winter.  “I can’t wait for Christmas,” she cried. “It’s my favorite time of the year!”  Through out the year, the thought of Christmas would come upon her suddenly just like that and she would say, “I wish it was Christmas already.”  And after each Christmas, she would keep the colorful lights in her bedroom until it is time for spring cleaning.

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I don’t know another person who is as excited about Christmas as Audrey, certainly no one from our family.  Last ChristmasI wrote about how I was the “Grinch” who stole Angela’s Christmas when she was four years old.  However, I doubt she would have been a Christmas enthusiast for long even if I didn’t ruin it for her on that fateful day.  Angela is fiercely independent and unique in a sense that she doesn’t buy into any preassigned emotional response — the simplistic templates that the society applies to something as complex as life.  She is someone who questions all popular sentiments, and since her early teens she has believed Christmas to be just a commercialized religious holiday.  There are certainly much worthier things to celebrate than that.  But in recent years, she has gone Christmas shopping with her friends and learned to enjoy gift giving.  I suppose that’s the true pleasure of the season — playing Santa Claus.

Having been raised in Communist China, I had never heard of that jolly pot-bellied man in a red suit and white beard until after I was 20 years old. I was alone in New York.  The festivity around me only made me more homesick.  Distant relatives and my parents’ friends took me in.  I remember feeling awkward and ashamed when I receive the gifts from them, but did not have any money to get gifts for them in return.  For a while, Christmas was a lonely and alienating time.  As years passed, I have come to love the Holiday season for the sparkling lights and glittery wrapping paper, for the piney scent of the tree and the toasty aroma of the fireplace burning, for the cozy family time playing banana gram and drinking hot chocolate with peppermint. And most importantly, for Audrey’s happy face when she opens her gift on Christmas morning.

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Audrey and I bought our Christmas tree today and she singlehandedly decorated it while the Christmas music played in the house.  I am finally feeling the season’s beckoning.

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A simple coconut pomegranate chia pudding seemed a perfect dessert for a day full of errands to run. it is delicious, healthy and it looks so cheerful.

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Coconut Pomegranate Chia Pudding

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup coconut milk (not from a can, but the beverage that comes in cartons)

3 tablespoon chia seeds

3 tablespoon shredded coconut

2 tablespoon xylitol or sweetener of choice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Seeds from 1 pomegranate

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Preparation:

Put the first 4 ingredients in a mason jar and shake vigorously before storing in the fridge for 8 hours or over night.  Stir in pomegranate seeds before serving.

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Coconut Macadamia Blondies At Home

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The master shower is broken.  One of the garage doors does not work properly.  The heater needs repair.  It’s almost amusing how the appliances seem to know that the superintendent has been away and they can misbehave.  The kitchen floor is scummy.  The formal (or former) dining table is piled with opened and unopened mails…  None of this matters. I am finally home.  Nothing is better than being home. 

It’s intensely gratifying and almost a bit shocking to be able to touch the warm bodies of my loved ones after seeing them only on my cell screen for the past months.  Audrey, who was an inch shorter than me when I left for Malaysia, shot up and is now taller than me.  I am officially the shortest person in the house.  When I was away, I clung to the comforting memory of my family — the one constant in my life.  But even the most familiar and constant is ever changing.  What I have missed in their lives will remain missing. I think humans possess imagination because we need to conjure up the missing pages in our lives — be it past or future.

Angela was writing her English paper today — a fictional piece based on real history.  Over hot chocolate and blondies, we talked for hours about my upbringing in Shanghai and how the Cultural Revolution impacted my family and my peers.  Her interest in my previous life — one that seems to have little to do with who I am today, but is in fact the most integral part of my character — was moving to me. 

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At Grandparents’ house before my parents were sent down

Before returning to San Francisco, I went to Shanghai to visit my parents for a week.  Being a mother myself, I understand much more viscerally how they must have missed my brother and me when they were sent down to the countryside for “re-education” during the Cultural Revolution. How they must have worried sick about our well being. I was 8 and my brother was 10.  We had the use of their salary and decided to subsist mostly on red bean popsicles.  Other than popsicles, we had rice.  There were two pots of scallions on the window sill and we always ate our rice mixed with a little soy sauce, lard and chopped scallion.  Though it was only for a few months that both my parents were away, it felt like forever to me.  I was the happiest little girl when my mother finally came home.  She surprised me with two colorful pullovers with checkered pattern in the front.  A book worm and a pure intellectual all her life, she has been inept in doing anything domestic except for knitting those two beautiful sweaters for me in the dim light of an oil lamp in the re-education camp.

Now, a little about these delicious blondies — they are vegan, gluten free and pretty easy to whip up. High in dietary fiber and low in simple carbs, they are guilt free to indulge.

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Healthy Coconut Macadamia Blondies

INGREDIENTS:

1 15.5 oz can white beans, washed and drained

1/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup shredded coconut

1/4 cup roasted macadamia nuts

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

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PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Blend all ingredients except for shredded coconut and macadamia nuts in a food processor until smooth.  Mix in shredded coconut by hand.  Pour mixture into a greased 8×8 baking pan.  Add macadamia nuts.  Bake for 30 minutes.  They are a little crumbly, so make sure you let them cool completely before handling.

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Lotus Root Salad with Soy Sesame ginger Dressing

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After pigging out for the past two days, I decided to eat light today.  Light, but very satisfying.  Our chef Duyen gave me a bag of fresh water chestnuts and a few packs of fresh baby corn so I could prepare the lotus root salad exactly the way she made it for me at lunch the other day — lotus root with snap sweet peas, baby corn and water chestnuts.  These four crunchy, refreshing and slightly sweet vegetables make a perfect combination.  If you have never tried these vegetables before, this dish will be a great way to introduce something new and exciting into your diet.

Lotus Root Salad with Soy Sesame Ginger Dressing

Ingredients:

2 cups thinly sliced and lightly blanched lotus root

1 cup baby corn, light blanched and diagonally sliced

1 cup lightly blanched, peeled and sliced water chestnuts

1 1/2 cup light blanched sweet snap peas

Green onion, chill flakes and sesame seeds for garnish

Ingredients for Dressing:

1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (optional)

1 1/2 tablespoon lime juice or rice vinegar

1 to 2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon finely minced or grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon chopped green onion

1 tablespoon 100 % pure black sesame oil

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Prepare the dressing by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl.  Set aside.

Boil a pot of water and when the water is boiling add washed water chestnuts.  When the water boils again.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Set aside to cool.  Peel the water chestnuts when they are no longer hot.

Boil another pot of water and when it is boiling, add baby corn.  When the is boils again, use a slotted ladle to take them out.  Rinse with cold water and set aside.  Add the sweet snap peas into the same boiling water.  When the water boils again, drain and rinse the peas with cold water.  Set aside.  Slice the baby corn when it’s no longer hot.

Boil the last pot of water and when it’s boil, add thinly sliced lotus root.  Drain when the water boils again.  Rinse with cold water and set aside.

Let the vegetables cool completely before serving.

Alternatively, if you want to prepare the salad ahead of time, you can mix the salad dressing without the sesame oil and set aside.  Mix the sesame oil with blanched and drained vegetables and leave it in a closed container in the fridge for up to 2 days.  Add the rest of the dressing before serving.P1090198

Lotus Root Salad

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A couple of days ago, Chef Duyen from our Marco Polo kitchen made me a crunchy and refreshing lotus root salad for lunch.   It was so delicious that I had to try and make my own version of it. Hers had sweet snap peas, fresh water chestnut and fresh baby corn, and it was absolutely perfect.  Since I’m trying to finish what I have in the fridge before my departure, mine had sweet snap peas and bell peppers.  I also added some pickled red onion to give the otherwise subtle tasting salad a little piquancy. 

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Lotus Root Salad  with Soy Sesame Dressing

Ingredients for Salad:

1 cup lotus root, very thinly sliced

3/4 cup sweet snap peas

3/4 cup sliced red and yellow bell peppers

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 to 2 red chili peppers, seeded and minced

2 packed tablespoons pickled onion (see recipe bellow)

Sesame seeds and minced chive for garnish (optional)

Ingredients for pickled onion:

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/ 2 cup Thai red onion, sliced

Ingredients for Dressing:

2 tablespoon lime juice

2 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 to 2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon 100% pure black sesame oil

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Preparation:

Bring vinegar, sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add onion, bring to boil again and then remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes; drain. Let pickled onion cool.

Mix the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and set aside.

Boil a pot of water to blanch the sweet snap peas.  When the water is boiling, add the sweet snap peas into the pot and when it boils again, drain the water and rinse the cooked peas in cold water for a minute or two.  Drain and set aside.

Blanch the thinly sliced the lotus root the same way.  

Toss together all the vegetables with the minced chili and garlic.  Add dressing and garnish before serving.

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Note:

You can prepare the salad ahead of time.  Pour the sesame oil into the salad without the rest of the dressing ingredients and leave it in the fridge.  Add the rest of the dressing before serving.