Can't get dressing to stick to salad

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I often make Thai Cabbage salad, it's kind of an Asian cole slaw: mainly finely sliced green and red cabbages, sometimes I add finely sliced red bell pepper, cucumber, green onions... Dressed, then finished with minced cilantro and crushed peanuts. 

The dressing: 

- Garlic

- Palm sugar

- Lime juice

- Fish sauce

I make a garlic and sugar paste in a mortar and pestle, then mix in the lemon juice and fish sauce, pour in the salad and mix. 

The problem:

After a few minutes, the dressing ends up at the bottom of the dish and the veggies are bland. 

I have tried to use less fish sauce and more salt, in order to have less liquid, but that doesn't seem to help much. 

Any idea what I could do? Thanks!
 

phatch

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Dressing on the side and dip each bite. 

Add some neutral oil and make a vinaigrette so it's thick. But this complicates getting the right flavor balance. 

Gel the water portion of your nuoc cham with some corn starch. Then blend the rest of your ingredients in. That should give you some sticktion. 
 
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It won't stick without a little oil.  Try peanut or roasted sesame oil.  Or try adding a little natural peanut butter, it has enough fat to stick.
 
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A very , very tiny bit of Mayonnaise or miracle whip whisked into the dressing will make it an emulsion and it then will stick
 
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Marinate the slaw in a flat container (glass 13X9 would work).

Stir every so often in case the top is getting dry.

mimi
 
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Thanks for the answers. I think I'll try emulsifying a bit of toasted sesame oil next time to keep it Asian-themed... 
 
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You should also try pre-wilting your cabbage. When you season shredded cabbage, especially with things like sugar and salt, it lets off a LOT of liquid. This could be making your cabbage wet and hard to stick dressing to, and also be watering down your dressing and thinning the flavor. Try shredding the cabbage, tossing it with salt and some palm sugar, and let it drain for a couple of hours. Gently squeeze out the cabbage, place into another bowl and dress then. This is a common technique with coleslaw so you don't end up with a puddle of liquid mayo/dressing at the bottom of the bowl. 

And yes, some viscosity in the dressing will go a long way as well. You might also try a bit of mustard to help thicken/emulsify. 
 
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What I usually do is soak all vegetable ingredients in ice cold water which helps lessen water leakage and then make sure after cutting everything is really nice and dry by spinning in a salad spinner. Keeping the sauce cool helps keep it more viscous and cling to the foods, even more so if you do decide to add oil. Also adding the sauce at the very last second before serving helps.
 
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You should also try pre-wilting your cabbage. 
Thing is, I want to eat fresh crispy cabbage, not wilted cabbage! 
What I usually do is soak all vegetable ingredients in ice cold water which helps lessen water leakage and then make sure after cutting everything is really nice and dry by spinning in a salad spinner. Keeping the sauce cool helps keep it more viscous and cling to the foods, even more so if you do decide to add oil. Also adding the sauce at the very last second before serving helps.
Great, thanks! I will have to try those ideas. 
 

phatch

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A non Asian slaw I like is a sweet and sour dressing without oil. It's based in a simple syrup of rice vinegar and sugar thickened with corn starch at the finish of the boiling. It should work equally well with music cham or what you're doing here.

It will stick to your veggies.
 
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If you want it to stick, then yes, sesame oil. Or a touch of peanut butter.

However, I live in a very SE Asian part of Chicago and eat a lot of SE Asian food. Mostly the dressings do not adhere to the various salads I've eaten over the years. And, the cabbage or shredded papaya or whatever does not seem especially wilted. You just kind of have to swish your next forkful around the dressing pooled under the vegetables. Could be why the vegetables are usually shredded or shaved thin. Easier to sop some up with every forkful. The only thing that seems to lend a little viscosity to the dressings seems to be sugar? Maybe palm sugar? 
 
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If you want it to stick, then yes, sesame oil. Or a touch of peanut butter.

However, I live in a very SE Asian part of Chicago and eat a lot of SE Asian food. Mostly the dressings do not adhere to the various salads I've eaten over the years. And, the cabbage or shredded papaya or whatever does not seem especially wilted. You just kind of have to swish your next forkful around the dressing pooled under the vegetables. Could be why the vegetables are usually shredded or shaved thin. Easier to sop some up with every forkful. The only thing that seems to lend a little viscosity to the dressings seems to be sugar? Maybe palm sugar? 
Yes, that's what I'm doing, palm sugar, which I pound into a paste along with garlic. 

Thanks a lot for adding those comments @ChicagoTerry  , much appreciated, as many suggestions seem like they would stray away from the flavor profile I'm looking for... which seems to be more authentic... can't imagine adding corn starch to a Thai cabbage salad (even though I'm sure it would solve my issue, it's not the texture I"m looking for in a salad). I'm not really excited at the idea of using oil in that specific salad either (In Asian salad dressings, I generally like to use either sugar or oil, but not both at the same time). Peanut butter is a great idea, and it would stick with the flavor profile, but still make the salad heavier I feel....

But anyway those are just me playing with ideas in my head. At some point I'll have to experiment with some of the suggestions shared here. 
 
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