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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Vegetable salad: A central highlands delicacy

By Phuong Nga

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When venturing through the enchanting landscapes of the Central Highlands, one culinary delight that should not escape your taste buds is the unique vegetable salad, a cherished specialty deeply intertwined with the region’s heritage.

The cornerstone of vegetables salad lies in its leafy ingredients, harvested from both cultivated gardens and lush forests. The composition of this delectable dish shifts with the changing seasons, offering a diverse array of flavors. In the dry season, a selection of 30-40 types of leaves takes center stage, while the rainy season ushers in a bounty of greenery, boasting an impressive array of 60-70 leaf varieties. Among the stars of this culinary show are bứa (Garcinia oblongifolia), wild apricot (Paederia foetida), sesame, mật gấu (Gymnanthemum amygdalinum), đinh lăng (Polyscias fruticose), perilla, mustard greens, lettuce, and more.

Accompanying these vibrant leaves are an assortment of delectable sides that elevate the dish to new heights. Thinly sliced pork belly, tender braised Bien Ho (T’Nung Lake) shrimp, the freshest catch from the Se San River, and a crispy concoction of thinly sliced pork skin blended with powdered grilled rice all make their appearance. A medley of flavors, including ginger, Siamese chili, and white pepper, add an extra layer of complexity to the dish. However, the pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the dipping sauce—an essential component that elevates this Central Highlands delicacy to perfection. This rich sauce is crafted from roasted rice flour, expertly blended with ground pork belly and succulent shrimp.

To savor the dish, diners carefully select their favorite leaves, fashioning them into delicate funnels. Into these green vessels, they add succulent morsels of pork, shrimp, and fish, then sprinkle a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper. A final flourish comes in the form of a drizzle of the exquisite dipping sauce. Each leaf, bursting with its unique flavor, harmonizes seamlessly with the others, leaving an indelible imprint on the hearts and palates of those who partake in this Central Highlands treasure.

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