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On the Town: Simple Pleasures

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Duolan Li and Joshua Walker’s fried rice and celery root and sweet potato salad; (inset) the couple at home; photographs (2) by Libby Williams

January 25, 2017

Simple Pleasures
The owners of acclaimed restaurant Xiao Bao Biscuit share a favorite recipe
from their at-home repertoire


written by Jenny Ouellette & Marion Sullivan

After spending long hours in the kitchen of Xiao Bao Biscuit, the downtown “Asian soul food” eatery he opened with wife Duolan Li in 2012, Joshua Walker isn’t too keen on making a complex meal at home. “I try to keep things streamlined,” says the former graphic designer who earned a master’s degree from Brown University before heading into the culinary field, even staging at David Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York. “At the restaurant, we take so many steps to create the best dishes possible. But at home, being efficient is key—putting in the least amount of effort to get great results. We keep things straightforward and simple.”

Yet simple doesn’t have to mean boring. After the couple married in New York in 2009, Li and Walker quit their jobs and spent a seven-month honeymoon touring Asia, learning about various regions’ food cultures and researching the culinary pizzazz for which their food at Xiao Bao is known. The trip also impacted their home cooking, as evidenced by this celery root and sweet potato salad with a creamy yuzu-based dressing. “It was inspired by our time in Tokyo,” Walker explains. “In New York, you might see street vendors selling hot dogs or peanuts, but in Tokyo, there are older men selling baked sweet potatoes from a cart. When I think about winter, I’m reminded of the warm street snack.”

Read on to find out how to make the salad in your own kitchen:

Celery Root & Sweet Potato Salad
(SERVES 4)

For the yuzu dressing:
1 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1/2 cup Kewpie mayonnaise, available at H&L Asian Market
1/4 cup yuzu juice, available at H&L Asian Market

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.

For the salad:
2 sweet potatoes, about 2 lbs.
2 tsp. canola oil
2 tsp. kosher salt (do not substitute table salt)
2 celery roots (celeriac), about 1½ lbs., any stalks removed and a few leaves saved,
for garnish
1 red and 1 green Belgian endive, cut on the bias into bite-size pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Wash the sweet potatoes but do not peel them. Cut them into one-inch cubes and toss in the oil and salt. Spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven, but leave the potato cubes on the baking sheet.

Scrub the celery roots well. Cut off the top and bottom, then the outside rough edges, trimming the tough outer layer off. Cut them into thin slices, preferably using a Japanese mandoline (smaller and less expensive than traditional French models) to make the job easier. Then julienne the slices (cut them into matchstick-size thin strips). Because the celery root will oxidize (turn darker in color as it’s exposed to oxygen), toss it with the dressing immediately. The dressing will prevent browning.

Toss the endive and warm sweet potato with the celery root and dressing, and garnish with the reserved celery root leaves. Serve immediately.

To complete the meal, click here for the couple’s classic fried rice recipe and here for a miso-crusted chicken recipe.