Japanese Restaurant Salad Dressing

Serves 4 to 6; with about 2 cups of dressing, there’s enough for a few more salads

This salad happens to be my older son’s favorite part of dinner at any Japanese restaurant. It’s a great change of pace from the usual vinaigrette and a perfect companion to any Asian dish.

The thick dressing also makes a great topping for steamed or roasted veggies like broccoli, asparagus, sugar snap peas, green beans, or cauliflower and is a nice dunk for raw veggies, too. You might sauté some tofu or chicken, mound it on hot rice, and spoon the dressing on top—that to me is comfort food.

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For the Japanese carrot-ginger dressing

  • 3 medium-size carrots, peeled and cut into about 1-inch chunks
  • 1 piece (2-inches) fresh ginger, peeled and cut into disks
  • 1 shallot, minced, or 1⁄4 cup minced onion
  • 3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar, or 11⁄2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cups canola, peanut, or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoons Asian (dark) sesame oil (see Note)
  • 1 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons miso paste (optional, but recommended)
  • 2 teaspoons mirin (optional)

For the salad

  • 6 to 7 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce (about 11⁄2 heads lettuce or 2 hearts of romaine)
  • 1/2 cups shredded peeled carrots
  • 1/2 cucumber (preferably seedless or English), peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced crosswise
  • Handful of cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 cups steamed tiny broccoli florets (optional)

1. Make the Japanese carrot-ginger dressing: Place the carrot chunks, ginger, shallot or onion, rice vinegar, canola oil, sesame oil, and sugar in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until well combined. Add the miso and mirin, if using, and 1⁄4 cup of water and puree until nicely blended and fairly smooth. If you want your dressing a little thinner, you can add another tablespoon or two of water and puree again.

2. Make the salad: Place the lettuce, shredded carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, and broccoli, if using, in a large serving bowl and drizzle about 1⁄2 cup of the dressing on top, or more if desired. Toss the salad and serve.

Sesame Oil

Asian (or dark or roasted) sesame oil is made from toasted sesame seeds and has a deep, nutty, very appealing flavor.
Make Ahead

The Japanese carrot-ginger dressing lasts in the fridge for at least a week, so that’s why this is a recipe for a big batch, more than double what you would use for a salad for a family of four or so. Might as well make it worthwhile to rev up the food processor, right? The salad part is just a suggestion—use whatever lettuce and veggies your family is into.

What the Kids Can Do

Did you know you can peel ginger with a teaspoon? It’s true—the skin is very thin, and if you take a teaspoon and turn the bowl part in toward the ginger and scrape away with the edge of the spoon, it will take the skin right off quickly. A spoon can get into those creases and crevices of the ginger better than a regular vegetable peeler. This task can safely keep a young sous chef busy for a while. Kids can also measure and dump things for the dressing into the food processor. And they can assemble the salad.

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