In the Philippines, fried fish is often accompanied by a salad made with fresh tomatoes and itlog na maalat (salted duck eggs). It’s not that there’s something wrong or lacking with the traditional combination of diced tomatoes and salted duck eggs. In fact, it’s really great. The slight sourness of the fresh tomatoes and the salted eggs go wonderfully together. But even a good thing can become tiresome without variety. I have been experimenting by adding other ingredients to the basic tomatoes and salted eggs salad. Not too long ago, I added some kalamansi (native citrus) juice, pepper, salt and chopped basil leaves and it turned out great. Early last week, I did another experiment — I made my favorite dressing and poured it over tossed tomato and cucumber wedges, hand-torn Romaine lettuce, chopped basil and diced salted duck eggs.
The dressing was made with kalamansi juice, sugar, a little salt, some pepper and olive oil. It’s not a traditional dressing by any standard. Lemon juice with olive oil is the popular combination. But adding sugar? Well, actually, the result is something akin to the Chinese sweet and sour sauce except that this one is not thickened with starch because it is for a salad rather than for a stir fry. The strange part is how it enhances the flavors of the vegetables. Everything just seemed to become more alive.
For those living outside the Philippines where salted duck eggs are not sold, you can make them yourself. Manang Kusinera provides very detailed instructions.
a large bunch of Romaine lettuce
4-5 salad tomatoes
2 salted eggs
a handful of fresh basil leaves (or a teaspoonful of dried basil leaves)
For the salad dressing :
juice of 12 large kalamansi (or 2 lemons), strained
3-4 tbsps. of sugar
1/4 c. of extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of salt
Make the salad :
Prepare the dressing by mixing together the kalamansi juice, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper. The amount of sugar given above is only a guide. Use more or less according to your preference.
Peel the cucumbers then cut into wedges.
Cut the tomatoes in the same size as the cucumbers.
Shell the salted eggs then roughly chop or dice them. You will have to handle them carefully since they crumble easily and they’re much better as chunks rather than minced.
Roughly chop the basil leaves.
Tear the Romaine lettuce into three or four parts. You can easily do this by hand. Just grab an entire bunch then twist the leaves.
Place all the vegetables in a salad (or any large) bowl and toss. Pour the dressing over them then toss a few more times.
Serve with fried or grilled fish, meat or chicken.