Some Chinese places will give you a little bowl of some kind of salad as an appetizer, if they think you will appreciate it. Usually something like the Korean side dishes -- sometimes sweet or sour or spicey, or all three.
This summer I made a whirlwind strategic-strike eating tour out in LA, and one great place we went was Luscious Dumpling in San Gabriel, California. This was a very specialized little noodle and dumpling house. Just a tiny place filled with old Chinese guys eating big bowls of noodles and plates of, well, luscious dumplings. They are famous for their Xiao Long Bao, which means "little dragon dumplings", known popularly as "Soup Dumplings." This is a dumpling filled with hot soup, which will squirt out when you bite into it.
When you sit down at Luscious Dumpling, they give you tea and a little bowl of Celery Peanut and Pressed Tofu pickle (pictured at top). The great sweet, sour and nutty taste reminded me that I used to make a celery and dried shrimp salad like it. Dried shrimps are fine, but ever since our visit to LA, I've been making this peanut version, and it has beena major hit.
And very simple to make. It's basically sesame oil, sugar and vinegar. I like to use a combo of distilled vinegar and sherry, but you can replace both of them with another vinegar. (Rice wine vinegar is traditional. I think apple cider vinegar would probably make a nifty experiment.)
- 1 tbl sugar
- 1 tbl distilled white vinegar
- 1 tsp rice wine or sherry
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 cup sliced celery
- 1 handful of roasted cocktail peanuts
You can add garlic, ginger and or hot pepper slivers or flakes. The flavor of the garlic is really strongly enhanced in this dish, so while raw garlic is great (and traditional) you can use garlic powder or no seasoning at all if you sensitive to the taste. (Just don't use garlic salt, as the peanuts already add salt to the dish.)
You can eat it right away, but it is best to let it marinate at least a half hour. It will be great all day, but not as good the next day, so I tend to whip this up as I need it.