This easy Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe makes a refreshing salad that is delightfully crunchy and slightly tangy, the perfect contrast to rich oily Burmese curries. Mostly made with white cabbage, for colour we’ve used purple cabbage or red cabbage, which is incredibly healthy. This Burmese ‘coleslaw’ should definitely be packed in your picnic basket.
This quick and easy Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe makes a fantastic side salad to a roast chicken for a picnic basket or the perfect companion to a rich Burmese curry if you’re cooking up a feast of food from Myanmar, which I highly recommend. Not only is this raw cabbage salad delicious and versatile, it’s also super healthy.
Raw cabbage is low in calories, high in fibre, and packed with vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin K (for bone health and blood clotting), Vitamin C (boosts immune system, helps iron absorption), Vitamin B6 and folate (good for metabolism and nervous system), and calcium, potassium, and magnesium (great for the heart, gut health and digestion).
And raw red cabbage or purple cabbage is even healthier than white cabbage. Like other red and purple vegetables, fruits and grains, they’re loaded with anthocyanins, a pigment that boasts high levels of antioxidants, which fight cancers and diseases.
I’ve adapted this Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe from cookbook author Mi Mi Khaing’s wonderful Cook and Entertain the Burmese Way (1978), which, printed on light paper stock and bounded in a soft cardboard cover, has become very precious to me this year, since who knows when we’ll get to return to Myanmar.
This Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe is next in our series of recipes from Myanmar aimed at drawing attention to the tragic situation in the country, in case you’re not aware of events in Myanmar, as infuriatingly the country seems to have disappeared from the pages of most mainstream news sites. So far we’ve published recipes for Burmese coconut rice, a Shan vermicelli noodle salad and a Shan tomato salad recipe.
If you aren’t aware (and if you are, by all means scroll down to the recipe notes), in February a coup d’état ousted Myanmar’s democratically elected government, which inspired a nationwide civil disobedience movement, to which the military responded with extraordinary brutality, violence against peaceful protestors, raids on homes and abduction of activists, massacres in the streets, and airstrikes on villages, resulting in thousands of deaths of innocent civilians, including frontline workers.
We’ll soon be publishing a dedicated guide to how to help the people of Myanmar and after we do, we’ll continue to share recipes for our favourite dishes from Myanmar with links to the guide. Until then, we’ll highlight organisations that need your support, such as Myanmar Now. The military regime is targeting journalists and the independent news site desperately needs donations to continue its essential reporting work.
Now let me tell you about this Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe.
Burmese Raw Cabbage Salad Recipe and the Secrets to Making the Best Burmese Salads
While researching our first trip to Myanmar some years ago, we continually came across comments on how bad Burmese food was – including in most Myanmar travel guidebooks, when you’d expect country experts to know better.
The main complaint about Burmese food, which we read time and time again, was how unpleasantly oily Burmese curries were. We embarked on that first trip to Yangon from Bangkok with very low expectations of the food, only to be not only pleasantly surprised, but absolutely delighted when we got there.
What those critics of Burmese cuisine and Myanmar’s rich Burmese curries didn’t appear to understand was that you don’t eat the curries on their own, you eat them with rice to soak up the oil and gravies and an array of wonderful Burmese salads that provide contrast and texture and refresh the palate.
We became absolutely smitten with Burmese food, but also the other cuisines of Myanmar, particularly Shan food. More on Myanmar’s cuisines in future posts. For now, the secrets to making the best Burmese salads, as revealed by cookbook author Mi Mi Khiang.
Secrets to Making the Best Burmese Salads
When making this Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe and other Burmese salads, I always keep in mind Mi Mi Khaing’s guidelines to making Burmese salads or “lethoke”, which actually means salads “mixed by hand”, in her cookbook Cook and Entertain the Burmese Way.
In her introduction to the section “Salads, Which Burmese Mix By Hand” Khaing explains how Burmese cooks always use their hands to combine their salads – which you would have seen on the streets of Myanmar (gloved hands!) – but says that this “may of course be done with salad utensils”.
She insists “it must be thorough, to combine the base ingredient entirely with the other ingredients for balancing of flavor, consistency, colour, and fragrance” and then tells us that the ingredients are usually chosen from the following:
For salty taste – fish sauce, salt, soy sauce
For “heavier taste” – shrimp paste, soybean powder
For sour taste – lime, tamarind, vinegar, tomato, sour fruits or vegetables shredded
She says that some of the flavouring ingredients are liquids or made from a wet paste which should provide enough ‘moistness’.
For Filling and Counter-Acting Moistness
Shrimp powder, gram flour, peanuts, soybeans, sesame seeds (which also add their own flavour)
Oil (“cooked and raw”), mainly sesame and peanut oil chiefly (“the most important element”). Although it should be noted that her recipes sometimes call for vegetable oil.
Fragrance, Colour and Finish
Chilli oil, fried onion, fried garlic, roasted chillies, raw sliced onion, raw pounded garlic, and fresh herbs such as coriander (cilantro) and mint, citrus leaf, lemongrass etc.
To make the best Burmese salads, which means well-balanced salads, from each of these categories you choose one or more ingredients to suit your salad base, which might be vegetables (raw, parboiled, soured, or “sunned”), meat or fish (boiled or steamed), or cooked cereals or noodles.
In the section that follows, the author covers preparation of the ingredients above, with the introduction “Most housewives on slow days prepare some of these agents and keep them ready for easy use”.
It is too detailed for me to share here, but it’s worth buying the book for her tips to making Burmese salads and preparation of the ingredients as much as her tidbits that provide insights into Burmese cooking in the 1970s.
The author charmingly concludes the section by advising us that “with such prepared ingredients to hand, salads are not troublesome to make” and she’s right. Burmese salads are some of the easiest to prepare, and yet some of the most delicious.
Tips to Making this Burmese Raw Cabbage Salad Recipe
As usual, just a few quick tips to making this easy Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe as it’s very straightforward and comes together quickly.
In her Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe in Cook and Entertain the Burmese Way, Khaing recommends soaking the shredded cabbage for two hours before preparing the salad. Two hours results in quite soft cabbage.
I prefer a crunchier cabbage salad that still has height and shape when I plate it, so I only recommend soaking the cabbage for one hour. If you want to make a more traditional salad, or you simply prefer softer cabbage, by all means soak the raw cabbage for a couple of hours.
Khaing’s Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe calls for “onion”, however, I’ve specified purple shallots, simply because I love using them for their flavour, as much as for the colour.
She also recommends green chillies, which are mainly used in Burmese cooking, however, we have an abundance of red chillies here in Cambodia and rarely see green chillies, and once again, I prefer the vibrancy and bite of red chillies. But do use green chillies if you can get them.
Khaing’s Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe only calls for shrimp powder, but I’ve followed her guidelines for making Burmese salads and I’ve added crushed roasted peanuts, which I think work so well with this salad.
When you taste the salad, do add more salt if needed and don’t hesitate to add a little sugar if it’s too salty, spicy or sour for your palate. As I say in the recipe instructions, below, the salad should taste a little sour, spicy and salty but it should also be balanced. And if it’s not tangy enough, add a splash of white vinegar.
Don’t forget to save some of those crushed peanuts and shrimp powder to sprinkle on top before serving. I’m sure Mi Mi Khaing wouldn’t object to sesame seeds.
Burmese Raw Cabbage Salad Recipe
- 2 cups raw cabbage - finely cut or shredded
- 1 medium sized purple shallot - sliced
- 2 green or red chillies - sliced and de-seeded
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil or peanut oil
- 1 lime - juice only
- ½ tsp salt or to taste
- 1 tbsp peanuts - roasted and crushed
- 1 tbsp shrimp powder
- One hour before serving the salad, soak the shredded cabbage in water.
- Fifteen minutes before serving, drain the cabbage well and transfer to a mixing bowl with the purple shallot slices, chilli slices, oil, lime juice, salt, and half the crushed peanuts and half the shrimp powder.
- Combine the salad well with gloved hands as cooks in Myanmar do, or use salad spoons if you prefer.
- Taste and add more salt if needed, or a little sugar if it’s too salty, spicy and sour for your palate. It should taste a little sour, spicy and salty but should also taste balanced.
- Transfer to a salad bowl or serving plate and sprinkle the remainder of the crushed peanuts and shrimp powder on top and serve.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make this Burmese raw cabbage salad recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.