Crispy, juicy mouthfuls of fresh raw daikon and asparagus layered with aromatic Japanese sesame dressing and wispy savoury bonito flakes. This is a refreshing Asian side salad worth trying.
Why You’ll Love Shaved Asparagus and Daikon Salad
There is something about toasted sesame seeds. The aroma itself makes you feel warm and comforted.
I have typically bought my Japanese sesame dressing in a bottle. I love the nutty flavours matched with a quiet tang. Japanese sesame dressing goes well with so many different dishes. You can pour it over a leafy green salad, a bowl of cut cucumbers or drizzle over your own DIY poke bowls.
However, after tasting a homemade Japanese sesame dressing made by a friend, I decided I need to ditch the bottled version. She made the version without the creamy base, but it was packed with so many yummy umami flavours. Plus, it had extra tang in it that I adored. I could not get enough.
So I decided to give it a go myself and make my own Japanese sesame dressing. And to match it, I created a refreshing daikon salad.
The result was crispy, juicy mouthfuls of fresh raw vegetables layered with aromatic sesame dressing and finished with wispy savoury bonito flakes. Delicious Japanese side salad worth trying.
What is Daikon?
Daikon is a winter radish popular in Asian cooking. It has a long white root with a green leafy top and resembles a large white plump carrot. It is sometimes mistaken for parsnip as well because of the similar appearance.
Depending on the region, daikon has a variety of names. You might see it being called white radish, winter radish, Chinese radish, mooli, white carrot and even turnip.
Traditionally a winter vegetable, but you can generally source daikon all year round.
What Does Daikon Taste Like?
I find daikon to be milder in taste and less peppery compared to other kinds of radish. Raw daikon is a little sharp with a crisp and juicy texture. When you cook daikon, the peppery flavours disappear, and it becomes a soft sweet flavour.
How To Cook Daikon?
Daikon is a versatile ingredient that can be eaten raw, pickled, fried, stir-fried, grilled, boiled or stewed. I find the mild flavour of it great to absorb other flavours.
I use daikon in a few different ways at home. First up, I like to use it raw in salads. You can thinly slice just like this daikon salad, or you can shred and add to a Yee Sang recipe.
Daikon has a higher water content than other raw vegetables. When you shred it, I find you need to squeeze the water out; otherwise, it will make the salad very wet.
Another popular use of daikon is to pickle it. You often see the yellow pickled version (takuan) served alongside your Japanese donburi rice bowl. Daikon is also used as a pickle in Korean kimchi paste, and Chinese love to pickle it with chilli and garlic.
I also love to use daikon in soups and stews. When cooked, daikon is sweeter and has a lovely soft texture.
It also holds up very well in stews keeping shape and not breaking down completely. The popular Cantonese dish of beef brisket stew would not be complete without daikon added in.
What Are Bonito Flakes?
Dried bonito flakes are derived from katsuobushi, smoked and dried bonito.
Bonito is a type of tuna – skipjack tuna, to be exact. To make katsuobushi, bonito fillets are deboned, boiled, smoked and then dried to rock hard. The whole process can take between 5 months to 2 years.
You can purchase whole blocks of katsuobushi, but generally, we buy it already shaved. To shave dried bonito, you need a special shaver. If shaven incorrectly, you will get powder instead of thin bonito flakes.
Bonito flakes have a smokey, savoury taste which is packed with umami flavour.
Essential in Japanese cooking, bonito flakes form the base for the quintessential dashi broth. Bonito flakes are also used to sprinkle on vegetables, takoyaki (octopus) balls and okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) to give a deeper flavour.
Why Do Bonito Flakes Move?
My kids always ask why bonito flakes move, especially when they serve hot takoyaki balls or okonomiyaki.
Shaved bonito flakes are very thin, and any amount of steam makes them sway and curl. Bonito flakes are not alive when served; they are just dancing with the steam.
Flavour/Texture: Savoury, nutty and fresh all rolled into one.
The fresh daikon, asparagus, cucumber and radish delivers a crisp, crunchy texture. Whilst Japanese sesame dressing melds the ingredients together with a flavourful nutty and tangy taste.
Added on top to finish is the wispy bonito flakes, which gives the daikon salad extra umami depth.
Ease: Don’t be afraid to make your own Japanese sesame dressing in this recipe. You can easily buy a bottle of creamy sesame dressing, but the aromas and taste of your own grounded sesame seeds at home are second to none.
Other than spending a little more effort on your own homemade Japanese sesame dressing, everything is very easy.
Time: This is salad recipe does not take too long. Only as long you need to slice and shave your ingredients. The only cooking component is to toast the sesame seeds.
Lebanese cucumbers: I generally prefer Lebanese cucumbers compared to one longer continental cucumber in salads. No idea why but possibly as there’s no wastage?
Asparagus: As you are using raw asparagus, it is important to have fresh spears. Make sure the stems are firm and not limpy. The tips should be closed and are bright green or with a violet tinge. Avoid stems that look dry and woody as they should be green and plump.
Daikon: I find daikon can vary in size A LOT. I tend to choose one that is not so big. Be sure to check that the vegetable is firm and not limp, feels heavy, with minimal blemishes and has a small green-ish top.
I have sometimes chosen ones that are not good. When passed its freshness, daikon tastes bitter and very peppery even when cooked.
Radish: I prefer smaller ones as they are milder but still gives a peppery taste.
Bonito flakes: You can purchase bonito flakes in a large bag or smaller individual servings. I prefer a larger bag to get the most value. It stores well in the cupboard.
Sesame seeds: It is important that you toast the sesame seeds before grinding. Toasting releases the oils and aromas, which adds another level of flavour.
Rice vinegar: You can use another white vinegar in this recipe, but I usually use rice vinegar for most of my Asian style salad dressings.
Soy sauce: The salt component of the Japanese sesame dressing
Sesame oil: Complementing the toasted sesame seeds in the salad dressing, sesame oil delivers aromatic flavours.
Brown sugar: To balance the sour in the vinegar, I use brown sugar to add sweetness and a touch of caramel flavours.
How To Prepare The Salad
Peel and slice cucumber in half lengthwise.
Using a teaspoon and scoop the seeds out of the middle. This leaves a hollow centre.
Place the cucumber cut side down and then thinly slice in half-moon shapes.
Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus. Lay the asparagus flat on a chopping board and use a wide peeler to start shaving the asparagus from stem to spear. Keep shaving until you can no longer shave.
With the middle sections of the asparagus you can no longer shave, thinly slice into long strips.
Depending on the size of your daikon, you want to yield 1 cup of thinly sliced daikon.
Peel daikon and cut in half.
Use a mandoline and thinly slice daikon into rounds.
Wash and trim radish. Take 4 small radishes and cut into quarters.
For the remaining radishes, use mandoline and thinly slice into rounds.
You can use a sharp knife if you don’t have a mandoline to slice thinly.
How To Make The Salad Dressing
Over medium heat, toast sesame seeds in frypan until golden brown. The seeds will start to pop, so you know they are ready. Remove from heat.
Place 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle. Leave 1 tablespoon for salad later.
Grind until a fine powder forms. You can also use a small food processor or coffee grinder to ground the seeds.
Remove sesame seeds from mortar and pestle.
In a mixing bowl, add grounded sesame seeds, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar.
Mix well until combined.
How To Assemble The Salad
For an easy family dinner serving, I would put the salad together in a big bowl and top with bonito flakes. However, you can also present the salad individually with your own creative plated version. I will go through both styles.
In a large mixing bowl, place asparagus, cucumber, daikon and radish together. Add sesame dressing and toss well.
Transfer the dressed salad to a large serving bowl. Scatter toasted sesame seeds on top.
Finish with a generous amount of bonito flakes on top. Serve immediately.
Variations and Substitutions
To serve salad as a starter: If you wish to serve daikon salad as a starter, you can plate it on individual plates in a more creative way. Follow these instructions:
Start with 4 plates.
Layer 6-8 pieces of daikon slices in a zig zag on the bottom.
Fill the gaps of the zig zag with radish slices.
Then scatter a few pieces of sliced cucumber on top of the daikon slices. Gently place them at the top, middle and bottom sections of the plate.
Add a couple more smaller slices of daikon next to the cucumber.
Take 3-4 slices of shaved asparagus. Roll up to circle. Place each circle in a zig zag diagonally opposite cucumber slices.
Take 4 quarters of radish and place in the gaps between the rolled shaved asparagus.
Using a teaspoon, scoop a small dollop of sesame dressing and place in three sections of the plated salad.
Place a few spears of cut asparagus and layer across the salad.
To finish, scatter a few shaved pieces of bonito flakes and a few drops of sesame oil.
Asparagus replacement: If asparagus is not in season, zucchini ribbons will work as a replacement.
Great Mains for This Salad
Seared Ahi Tuna Steaks: These tuna steaks take a mere 6 minutes to make and are cooked high and fast on each side only for a couple minutes to medium rare perfection, after marinating in a flavourful, savoury, and slightly spicy soy sauce and sesame oil marinade. Serve it up with this shaved asparagus and daikon salad for a lovely Asian inspired meal.
Tom Kha Gai: After flavourful Shaved Asparagus and Daikon Salad with Sesame Dressing, enjoy rich, delicious and comforting Tom Kha Gai, which everyone loves and leaves you feeling satisfied.
Kimchi Stew: Kimchi Stew is one of the best things you can ever have that pairs together nicely with a salad. It’s spicy yet flavourful and when combined with the flavours of asparagus and daikon, will definitely be the highlight of any meal.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can easily slice everything ahead but definitely cannot dress the salad until you are ready to serve. Daikon has high water content, and together with the Japanese sesame dressing, it can induce more liquid. You don’t want a soggy salad.
You can toss the salad ingredients together and assemble when ready to eat.
If you do have any leftover salad dressing, you can store it in the fridge for a few days. Try it with your next everyday leafy green salad or even drizzle over steamed asparagus, beans or broccoli.
Dried bonito flakes are generally available at Japanese or larger Asian grocery stores. You can also check online at Amazon or speciality retailers.
Yes, you can eat raw asparagus. Most people will prefer to cook asparagus, but I like it thinly sliced or shaved in salads.
I was super happy that I tried to make my own Japanese sesame dressing. It was totally worth the effort. And it wasn’t even that hard! Together with the fresh raw vegetables and savoury bonito flakes, you need to add this Daikon salad to your repertoire.
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Shaved Asparagus and Daikon Salad
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- Peel and slice cucumber in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon and scoop the seeds out of the middle. Place the cucumber cut side down and then thinly slice in half moon shapes.
- Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus. Lay the asparagus flat on a chopping board and use a wide peeler to shave asparagus lengthwise. Keep shaving until you can no longer shave. With the middle sections of the asparagus you can no longer shave, thinly slice into long strips. Peel daikon and cut in half. Use a mandoline and thinly slice daikon into rounds.
- Wash and trim radish. Take 4 small radishes and cut into quarters. For the remaining radishes, use mandoline and thinly slice into rounds.
- Over medium heat, toast sesame seeds in fry pan until golden brown. Remove from heat.
- Place 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle. Leave 1 tablespoon for salad later.
- Grind until a fine powder forms. Remove sesame seeds from mortar and pestle.
- In a mixing bowl, add grounded sesame seeds, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and brown sugar.
- Mix well until combined.
- In a large mixing bowl, place asparagus, cucumber, daikon and radish together.
- Add sesame dressing and toss well.
- Transfer the dressed salad to a large serving bowl. Scatter remaining toasted sesame seeds on top.
- Finish with a generous amount of bonito flakes on top.
- Serve immediately.
- You can serve this salad in a large bowl to share or present the salad individually with your own creative plated version. There are additional instructions above on how to serve individually.
- If asparagus is not in season, zucchini ribbons will work as a replacement.
- You can purchase dried bonito flakes at Japanese or large Asian grocery stores. Otherwise, try online at Amazon or speciality stores.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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