Onions may seem a perennial ingredient since they’re available all year, but red onions taste especially fresh and crisp now. We’re nearing the end of the harvest, but these purple bulbs are still coming straight out of the ground and into our kitchens at the end of summer. That means they don’t have the harsh bite, dry petals or papery skins that older onions develop.
To highlight red onions’ mild sweetness and crunch, I toss thin slivers raw into pasta salad. They turn it into a dish I actually like.
Normally, I have a love-hate relationship with pasta salad. It’s everything I need — fast, easy, make-ahead, portable, big batch — and not what I want. At least not in its usual form. The cold noodles are too hard or too soft, too bland or too gloppy.
Here, they’re just right. When tossed warm with a Thai-inspired fish sauce vinaigrette, the pasta stays tender and soaks up the sauce’s spicy, savory tang. Red onion brightens the mix while pork jerky, a snack that is quickly becoming a pantry staple, adds heft and saves you the hassle of cooking meat. Crinkles of red cabbage take this dish into September and beyond and turn this into a hearty yet light one-dish meal.
This salad is delicious with any pork or beef jerky, especially Asian-flavored varieties. For the tastiest version, seek out freshly made, deep-fried pork jerky at your local Thai market. While you’re there, get fresh Thai lime leaves. They deliver an herbaceous bite without the risk of wilting like most leafy herbs. If you can’t find them, substitute the freshly grated zest of a lime or two very thinly sliced fresh bay leaves.
THAI PORK JERKY PASTA SALAD
1 pound fusilli or other short pasta
3 Thai bird or other small hot chiles, seeded, if desired, and minced
5 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons everyday extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces pork jerky, preferably Thai, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
½ small red cabbage, diced
8 fresh Thai lime leaves, veins removed and very thinly sliced
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package’s directions.
While the pasta cooks, whisk the chiles, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar and olive oil in a large bowl. Drain the pasta in a colander and rinse under cold water until just warm. Shake dry in the colander, then immediately transfer to the sauce. Toss until well-coated.
Add the pork, onion, cabbage and lime leaves, mix well and serve.
Takes 30 minutes; makes 6 to 8 servings.
Roast Pork Pasta Salad: Substitute char siu (Chinese roast pork) for the pork jerky.
Tofu Pasta Salad: Substitute Thai marinated and deep-fried tofu for the pork jerky.
Gluten-Free Pasta Salad: Substitute cooked rice noodles for the fusilli.
Make Ahead: The pasta salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days. Bring to room temperature to serve.