amba slaw

amba slaw

I recently wrote a bit about the shared culinary roots of a few of my favorite South Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. The article focused mostly on biryani, but I also briefly mentioned one of my favorite Iraqi foods: amba! Amba originated as pickled mango in southern India (and it continues to be pickled mango in door of my grandmother's refrigerator), but I learned from my friend Sham that in Iraq, amba can be just about anything pickled in a fenugreek brine. It's one of those foods that's always developing and adapting to include different veggies.

This salad is inspired by some of the veggies typically used to make amba in Iraq, like cabbage, mango, and carrot. But instead of turning them into a traditional pickle, I shredded the cabbage and turned it into a bright summery slaw, with a fenugreek vinaigrette. While this salad is primarily inspired by Iraqi amba, it might also remind you a little bit of Vietnamese green mango salad. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's what inspired me to add fresh cilantro to it. It's vegan, gluten free, healthy, not too expensive, and it goes with just about everything. I can't possibly list all the things, but I'll name some of my favorites:

amba slaw
amba slaw

This slaw is the perfect side dish to liven up a monochromatic meal. Bring it to any pot luck, and everyone's mood will instantly brighten. It's a fabulous topping for a black bean burger, especially with a sesame bun. It's so delicious on fish tacos (oh my gosh, now I'm having regrets about not making this a fish taco with amba slaw post). And I haven't actually tried this idea yet, but I have a feeling it would be delicious in fresh spring rolls.

The dressing in this salad is basically a less acidic, much mellower version of the brine that I use to pickle mangoes. Even though it's not mouth-puckeringly tart (something you want in a pickle, but not so much in a salad), it still gives me all the amba feels, and it's one of my favorite things about this recipe. In fact, I recently served this to some friends who have two little kids, and their one-year-old spent the whole dinner just sucking the dressing off of the mango pieces, so it sounds like this one is a winner (I know pretty much nothing about children, but I do know that they're honest and don't like most foods, so that feels like a definite success).

amba slaw

amba slaw

download a PDF to print
serves: 8 as a side

active time: 10 minutes with a food processor, 20 minutes by hand
total time: 25 to 40 minutes

  • 10 ounces red cabbage (about 1/2 of 1 head), shredded*

  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder**

  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • packed 1/4 to 1/2 cup cilantro leaves (to taste)

  • 1 pound semi-ripe mangoes (about 2 mangoes), julienne or cut into match-sticks***

  • 12 ounces carrots (about 2-3 carrots), julienne or cut into match sticks*

  1. Soak the cabbage in cold water while you're prepping the rest of the ingredients (this will prevent its color from unattractively bleeding). Strain, rinse, and dry it after about 10 to 30 minutes.

  2. Combine the apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, yellow curry powder, crushed red pepper, and salt in a salad bowl.

  3. Whisk the salad dressing together, and then immediately pile on the dried cabbage, mango julienne, and carrot julienne. Toss everything together a few times, then add the cilantro leaves and toss together until everything is coated evenly.

* To make it easier to shred the cabbage, feel free to use a food processor. Use the slicer attachment for the cabbage, and use the grater attachment for the carrots. Make sure you always use the plastic pusher to send veggies through the feed tube.
** Try to find a blend with fenugreek in it to make this really taste like amba, or mix up a batch of my yellow curry powder, which has a decent amount of fenugreek. But if you can't find a curry blend with fenugreek seeds, it'll still taste delicious.
*** Whatever you do, don't use super ripe mangoes, which will turn to mush when you mix everything together. Amba is made from unripe green mango, so it's better to err on the side of unripe for this recipe. When I developed this recipe, I used semi-ripe mangoes, which were still firm but yielded very slightly to pressure (they're not hard as rocks, but they're definitely not soft).

amba slaw

tahini lemon sauce | roasted carrots and cauliflower

roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini

A couple days ago, I posted about tahini date dressing, the perfect thing to splash on your favorite summer salad. And today the tahini posts continue with a classic pared-down sauce, the base of all the other recipes this and next week. This is the tahini sauce you're probably most familiar with, and it's the most important one to know how to make—it's the one you'll usually find alongside falafel, Jerusalem salad, and shawarma, as well as my roasted cauliflower and carrot recipe below. Everyone makes their tahini sauce a little differently, and I (maybe not so surprisingly) like to make mine with a decent amount of lemon juice.

roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini
roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini
roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini

Exactly how much lemon juice and water you add will determine the consistency. But tahini has the magical ability to go from thin to thick, and then back to thin again, and if you don't know how this works, it can be very frustrating to work with. So here's the deal:

When tahini is on its own, it's very thin and pours easily. But even though it's naturally pourable, tahini isn't at its best plain. It's extremely bitter, a little gritty, overwhelmingly earthy, and certainly on the heavy side, and it really needs a little something extra to taste like itself. If you were to add a bit of lemon juice to give it some vibrancy and acidity, it would indeed taste a lot more balanced, but it would counterintuitively thicken from the additional liquid. Indeed, with just a few drops of moisture, once-pourable tahini becomes extremely thick and gluey. But if you were to continue adding liquid (like, probably more liquid than you'd think!), the tahini will eventually thin out again. The easiest thing to compare this to is melted chocolate, which seizes when it comes in contact with just a little moisture, and becomes pourable again once you introduce enough liquid.

A lot of recipes (like my falafel, for instance) just ask you to "thin the tahini out with some lemon and water," and if you don't know that you have to keep adding liquid to push through the thickening stage, you might think something went horribly wrong. On the other hand, if you follow my recipe, you don't actually need to know any of this, but it might come in handy if you ever feel inspired to improvise.

roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini
roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini
roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini

In addition to the sauce recipe itself, I've also included one of my favorite ways to enjoy it. Carrots and cauliflower roast along with flavorful ground coriander seeds, thyme, sliced garlic, and sultanas. If you're tempted to omit the raisins, I encourage you to consider leaving them in. By sprinkling them on in the last few minutes of roasting, they plump up and take on so much phenomenal flavor. My grandmother always makes her rice with vermicelli noodles by sautéeing the raisins in butter, instead of adding them in raw, and this makes all the difference in the final dish. Once everything's roasted, you sprinkle on some ground pistachios and chopped cilantro, which add fresh flavor and crunch. No one component is the star of the dish, but the tahini sauce beautifully brings everything together.

roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini
roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini

Lemon Tahini Sauce

  • 1/4 cup tahini

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 3 tablespoons water

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Whisk everything together until it smooths out into a salad dressing. This makes twice as much sauce as you need for the following recipe, but you can easily cut it in half (or store the other half in the refrigerator for about 1 week).

roasted carrot and cauliflower with lemon tahini

serves 6 as a side
active time: 10 minutes
total time: 30 minutes
download a PDF to print

  • 1 pound carrots, cut on the bias into thick slices

  • 1 pound cauliflower, cut into florets

  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

  • 2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan (optional)

  • 1/3 cup sultanas (or black or golden raisins), coated in 1/2 teaspoon olive oil

  • Lemon tahini sauce (above)

  • 3 tablespoons ground raw pistachios

  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.

  2. Place the carrots, cauliflower, and garlic on a sheet pan. Combine the olive oil, ground coriander, thyme, and salt, and then pour it over the veggies. Use your hands to coat everything evenly, and spread the veggies into a single even layer. Sprinkle with parmesan. Set the sultanas aside for later.

  3. Roast the veggies for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the cauliflower begins to char. Sprinkle the sultanas on in the last 2 to 3 minutes of roasting. While everything's roasting, throw together the tahini sauce (above).

  4. Move the veggies to a serving bowl, drizzle with tahini sauce, sprinkle with pistachios and cilantro, and enjoy.

more serving inspiration

  • Serve in a falafel sandwich, or serve as a sauce with your falafel platter.

  • Serve with shawarma.

  • Drizzle over roast veggies, especially root vegetables (like potatoes roast with za'atar)

  • Dress Jerusalem salad with this instead of lemon and olive oil.

  • Dress any salad that would benefit from some extra acidity and nuttiness.

roast carrot and cauliflower with tahini