Food

This Is More Than a Salad

seaweed salad by Hetty McKinnon

Growing up between two cultures — Australian and Chinese — it took me a long time to understand the person I saw staring back at me in the mirror…

But when I started cooking and, specifically making salad, my own reflection suddenly made much more sense. Food became a gateway for me to understand my own heritage, while also offering a window into other cultures and their unique histories. Making salad with my mum brought us closer together; with cooking as our common ground, I felt like we were finally on the same side, that the disparate stories of our intertwined lives were finally being told on the same page.

Salad was not a part of my diet when I was a child, but it is the dish that has given me life. Even today, nothing feels more natural than making a salad. In many ways, I equate salad making to living, to thriving, to being. In discovering flavor and experimenting with ingredients I have become a more compassionate person, more worldly, better equipped to ask questions and to seek answers.

This salad, from my book To Asia With Love, is an easy and delicious way to add a little more seaweed to your diet, paired with fresh, crispy greens and a punchy sesame dressing. Seaweed is the vegetable I’m trying to incorporate more of into our family diet — it’s one of the world’s most nutrient-rich and sustainable foods. I like to use kelp (kombu) in this salad, but it’s also good with wakame or hijiki. Dried seaweed can be found at many supermarkets, healthfood stores, Asian grocers or online.

Hetty McKinnon

Seaweed Lettuce Salad
Serves 2-4
Vegan and Gluten-Free

Salad

5 x 9-inch piece of kelp (kombu), about ¾ ounce, soaked in warm water for 15–20 minutes
1 head of lettuce (red oak or butter), leaves separated, washed and dried thoroughly
1 avocado, sliced or cut into thin wedges
1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds
1 scallion, finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper

Spicy Sesame Dressing

1 garlic clove, grated
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean red chile flakes) or 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the seaweed and boil for 12–15 minutes until tender-crisp. Drain. When cool enough to handle, tear or slice the kelp into bite-sized pieces.

For the spicy sesame dressing, mix together all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Combine the seaweed, lettuce and avocado in a bowl and pour over the dressing. Season with sea salt and black pepper, top with the sesame seeds and scallion and serve immediately.

Thank you, Hetty!

P.S. Nine rules for better salads and a killer salad trick.

(Photo by Hetty McKinnon. This recipe and essay was reprinted from Hetty McKinnon’s new, stunning cookbook To Asia, With Love.)

  1. Kathleen says...

    Reporting back to day this sauce is AMAZING! Had no plans for dinner this evening and stuck a tray of chicken and veggies to roast in the oven. I’ve been thinking about this sauce all week, and had all ingredients on hand (minus scallions) so it came together quickly. Tossed it on top at the end. My husband couldn’t stop raving and I am a believer that this sauce is magic! Thanks for saving dinner Hetty!

  2. Em says...

    I love Hetty! I feel like such a proud Sydney-sider seeing her brilliance discovered by the world this year :)

  3. Vero says...

    Wow, this sounds so delicious. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to try it :)

  4. Rosie says...

    I’ve been wondering how to eat more seaweed too and this looks so delicious!

  5. Kate says...

    I just made this dressing and put it over a simple salad with red leaf lettuce and golden beets and WOW. My life is forever changed! When Whole Foods had their delis open I loved to treat myself to the golden beets with sesame dressing, but it was expensive. Now I can make it on my own!! It’s so amazing, thank you for sharing!!

  6. AMK says...

    Yuuuuummmm!! I recently learned that I have a food sensitivity to sesame. I am so bummed because I love sesame seeds! Soo delicious!!

  7. Amy says...

    Yum. This looks so good. Now that spring is here, I’ll all for more fun, vibrant salads!

  8. Kerry says...

    This salad sounds amazing. Trying to push myself out of my usual food comfort zones, so I’d like to give this one a try! Also, my maiden name is McKinnon, and it’s always so nice to stumble upon other McKinnons! We’re few and far between. :) Cheers!

  9. Kate says...

    Ohh, I have all the ingredients for this! Can’t wait to make it!

  10. Sarah says...

    One of the best cookbooks I have ever owned! Love everything I have made from it. Highly recommended!!

  11. em says...

    !!! hetty, thanks so much for sharing your recipe! can’t wait until we move in a few months and I allow myself to buy objects again to get your new book. kind of a closet fan girl here- met you ever so briefly at a fundraiser at Bourke street bakery and just thought you were such a warm and gracious soul. it doesn’t hurt that you helped to open my husband’s eyes to the fact that vegetarian food can be incredible:) hugs

  12. Love Hetty! My Mum and I bonded during lockdown when we were separated by a sea by cooking the same recipe from her book Community a couple of nights a week with lots of photos shared and calling each other to review the recipe.

  13. Meghan says...

    “Food became a gateway for me to understand my own heritage.”

    I relate to this SO much. I’m Eurasian, but don’t speak Cantonese, like my mother’s family. I am also white-passing. I grew up with a lot of people (from all different backgrounds) doubting my heritage: “Really?! You’re Chinese? Are you sure? You don’t really look Chinese. I guess in the eyes…” (those who are more blunt would simply say my eyes “look squinty”). One of the only ways I could “prove” my Asian-ness was by the way I ate. Chicken’s feet? Yes. Jellyfish? Yes. Dousing everything with red vinegar? Yes. That even became to go-to joke with my family: “She may not speak Chinese. She may not look Chinese. But she can sure eat Chinese!”

    • Deanna says...

      Meghan! I’m also Eurasian—my dad’s Cantonese—but I’m not white-passing; I don’t necessarily look Asian so much as *extremely* ethnically ambiguous. I’m more of a juk with the yuk sung/fried rice with Chinese sausage girl myself but your comment resonated with me and made me feel so validated! If I ate chicken feet, my dad would fall over.

    • Shirley says...

      Love your comment Meghan!! My daughter is Eurasian and can also eat Chinese :) My family is also Cantonese and I could understand it but I could not speak it. I grew up understanding everything everyone was saying about me but could not respond. So frustrating! Anyway, I just wanted to share that I was super nervous to introduce my parents to my then-boyfriend (who is Jewish)- he was the only person I ever introduced to them. We met at a dim sum restaurant and I had no idea how they would react to him. Well- he was able to “eat Chinese” since he had eaten similar dishes growing up, and said yes to EVERY DISH they offered. My parents were so impressed and immediately took a liking to him (which is not an easy thing to accomplish!). We have been married for 16 years! Completely agree with Hetty that food can help us understand and bring together cultures. Looking forward to exploring this cookbook further!

  14. Clara says...

    A question on the instructions:
    Should you soak the seaweed before you boil it? Or do you choose to just soak it just boil it?

    Sounds so tasty!

    • Emma says...

      In the ingredients Hetty said to soak the seaweed in warm water for 15-20mins. I’m guessing that part of the prep rather than the cooking instructions.
      My parents always soaked and rinsed before cooking in case there was any stray bits of sand etc. :)

    • Clara says...

      Oh ok! That makes sense. Thank you Emma :)

  15. Jill says...

    I love Hetty! She has a cult following in Australia from her amazing salad recipe books – (once you’ve tried a couple of the recipes you’ll understand why she says salad is the dish that gives her life!). Wonderful to see her here!

  16. Alexis says...

    This sounds so good!
    There are seaweed salad mixes that I’ve seen that might be good in this as well – they come dried in the package and require soaking in water, like the kombu.
    I keep a stash of kombu at home and find that the hidaka variety works best, as it gets softer faster! It’s a great staple to have on hand to make broths and sauces with. Then you can save the kombu itself for dishes like this or to stew it with soy sauce and mirin, then finely chop it to make a flavorful rice topping.

  17. Lou says...

    This looks delicious!

  18. Katie says...

    Love vegan recipes!!!! Thank you :)

  19. jen says...

    Yum, this sauce is the korean mother sauce! it tastes good on anything.

    • K says...

      I agree! Such a delicious combo. Mmmm, I need to make this salad. Love seaweed with avocado!

  20. This sounds amazing! Since COVID started, we’ve been eating a big kale salad at home for lunch almost every day. Just washed a big batch of kale before reading this article, will definitely switch it up and try out your recipe soon. Thanks! :)

  21. Jacquie says...

    Hi! Thanks for the recipe! Can you use dried seaweed in this too?

    • Alexis says...

      I’d use it as a topping – dried seaweed would get soggy.

  22. Claire says...

    Thank you for both the salad recipe and for sharing your personal story. I most often love the flavors in Asian food but I am not familiar with a lot of the ingredients or how to use them. I will check out the cookbook.
    I have a couple questions- do you toast the sesame seeds yourself or buy them already toasted? and what tool do you use to grate garlic? a microplane?

    • Jeanne says...

      I buy sesame seeds toasted and use a microplane :)

  23. Amy says...

    I’m so excited to see Hetty here! Thanks for sharing this!!!

  24. Tis says...

    Amazing! I was just thinking about the magic of seaweed yesterday. Thanks!

  25. Lala says...

    can’t wait to try this. the dressing looks delicious. thank you and congratulations on your book!

  26. Joanne says...

    Sounds like something I could eat every day and never get sick of. Thanks so much for sharing!

  27. b says...

    This recipe sounds delicious. I haven’t had Asian flavors too often, but this salad feels like a good entry point.

  28. R says...

    I nominate Hetty for a beauty uniform!

    • Laura says...

      Agreed! xx

    • Honeybee says...

      Yes!!

    • em says...

      YES

  29. AN says...

    this looks & sounds perfect!

  30. katie says...

    This salad sounds delicious and that I can’t wait to try that dressing! I’ve been experimenting with soba noodles and I want the drenched in your dressing recipe! Thank you so much for sharing on CupofJo!

    Growing up, my mom fixed a lot of canned vegetables. There were a few we’d eat fresh from our little garden or a local farmer, such as corn on the cob, asparagus, green beans and tomatoes. I grew up in the Midwest. Today, I love cooking with fresh vegetables from a farm. It’s my comfort and reminds me from where I came.

  31. Love this. Thank you!!! Can’t wait to make. xx sk

  32. Jill says...

    Hi Hetty! Such interesting heritage. :)) I just purchased your cookbook a couple of days ago and have really enjoyed thumbing through it! Loving the seaweed idea and I’m looking forward to incorporating your recipes into my routine. Have a beautiful day.