I’m Calling It. The Salad Of Summer Is Deep-Fried

The seasonal tomato salad from Ototo restaurant and sake bar.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)


- This week, I’m making the case for salads. These will not help you achieve your ideal summer bod, but they will make the most of some very good produce.
Morning glory salad at Jitlada

My favorite salad in all of Los Angeles is deep-fried. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my predilection for food that is brown. Fried is my vibe.

The morning glory salad at Jitlada is my go-to salad in the summer, winter, spring and fall. Chef and owner Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong says she and her late brother Tui Sungkamee were inspired to create the salad after a trip back to southern Thailand more than a decade ago.

“I saw that they serve crispy papaya and crispy morning glory and crispy pork, fried tofu and noodles everywhere,” she said. “I came back and thought no one is making crispy morning glory in L.A.”

Singsanong’s salad starts with fresh bunches of water spinach (morning glory). She dips them in a batter made with Gogi tempura flour, a multipurpose, self-raising batter she mixes with water. Once fried, the coating is light, crisp and clings to the vegetable.

For the dressing, she mixes citrus juice (the exact variety is a secret) with chile and fish sauce and adds chopped steamed shrimp and slivers of raw red onion. It’s refreshingly tart and just a tad spicy. It’s what keeps the salad tasting fresh, even as you crunch through the fried bits.

Just before serving, the dressing and shrimp mixture is poured over the fried vegetables and topped with a mound of fried shallots. Give the salad a good mix before digging in and consume quickly. The morning glory should still be crisp by the time you finish.
Warm cabbage salad and mushrooms with garlic soy butter at Gunsmoke

The warm cabbage salad at Brandon Kida’s new Hollywood restaurant looks like a flower. It arrives in a tight bunch with the individual leaves arranged neatly in a circle. It’s topped with tiny, crispy fried anchovies, fresh herbs and delicate shavings of Parmesan cheese. Your server uses a spoon and helps the flower bloom, gently spreading the leaves across the plate.

“The tableside presentation gives us a chance to tell a story with the dish,” Kida said.

The story he wants to tell is of a Caesar salad inspired by a lifetime of eating kimchi. His favorite bites are the thick shingles, the ones close to the base of the cabbage. He takes those leaves and chars them until just wilted.

The dressing has the funky punch of a Caesar thanks to a green goddess base fortified with an intense reduced dashi and white soy.

Post-salad, there’s the mushrooms. Simply labeled “mushrooms” on the menu, you might not guess that it’s essentially a plate of mushrooms prepared like escargot. Kida uses rehydrated shiitakes for their firm texture, similar to an actual snail. They sit in tiny dimples in the plate, seething in hot butter with garlic, white soy and parsley.

The mushrooms are served with a soft baguette, similar to the kind you’ll find at a good banh mi shop. Rip, dip into the tiny puddles of butter and repeat.

I’ve never been a fan of tomatoes in things. Sliced tomatoes ruin a good cheeseburger. They act as wet cardboard in an Italian sub. They bring the soggy to the crispy falafel wrap party. But during the summer, as the heroine, they really shine.

While momotaro tomatoes are in season, you’ll find them in a tomato salad at the Ototo sake bar, dressed in a garlicky, citrus shoyu. The tomatoes are cut into big chunks so that the dense, sweet fruit is front and center. A wedge of soft, creamy supreme Meiji tofu almost melts into the tomatoes.

The salad is seasoned with toasted nori and plenty of sesame seeds. During my last visit, there were grilled ears of baby corn strewn across the top. The various toppings may change by the time you visit, but if you see any variation of “tomato salad” on the menu, order it.