Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Thai" Chicken Salad (But Please Don't Blame Thailand)

I don't know where the idea came from the saddle poor Thailand with the ubiquitous "Thai chicken salad" that you see on millions of café menus, especially when the best one I've had was at a café in Vermont that had not an Asian employee (or customer) in sight.

However, of all the things to be saddled with, this particular dish is not such a burden. It's not like baloney (poor Bologna) or Mongolian beef (a pure mall food court creation) or Neapolitan ice cream (Italians would never be so cruel as to interrupt the chocolatey goodness) or Long Island ice tea (although, on second thought, maybe LI deserves that one).

The genius of Thai chicken salad is the dressing, which is spicy and nutty and zingy and gingery, and tastes good on a whole lot of things. It's brilliant with chicken, salad or no, and makes a great dressing for a crunch slaw as well as a leafy salad. Ideas below.

Thai-style Nutty Dressing
Makes about 1 cup

You can use any nut butter you'd like in here—I used peanut butter, but cashew or almond butter would work just as well. 

1/4 c smooth peanut butter
3 TB unseasoned rice wine vinegar
juice of one lime
3 TB neutral oil (canola or grapeseed)
1 TB sesame oil
1 TB soy sauce
1 tsp (or more, or less) chile sauce of your choice, such as sambal oelek, Sriracha, etc.
2 TB honey
1 plump garlic clove (or two svelte ones), peeled and smashed
1 inch ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 TB cilantro leaves (optional)
salt to taste

1. Throw all ingredients except salt into a food processor or blender, and puree until very smooth. Taste: add more rice wine vinegar if it needs a bit more acidic bite, and add salt to taste. Whirr again, and it's ready.

"Thai" Chicken Salad
Serves 2

This is dinner at our house. Hearty and full of health. You can cook a chicken breast, or substitute any other protein you'd like—baked or grilled marinated tofu, shrimp, whatever you desire. You can also use rotisserie chicken or other pre-cooked meat or seafood. Use whatever vegetables are fresh—this is definitely something I improvise depending on what's up at the CSA.

1 chicken breast
1 tsp canola oil
2 heaping TB sliced almonds
3 cups romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces, washed and spun dry
1/2 c shredded napa cabbage
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thinly on the bias (I use a Kyocera slicer/mandoline)
1/2 cucumber, sliced into thin rounds
2 radishes, sliced thin
2 scallions, sliced
a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
Thai-style nutty dressing

1. Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper. Brush grill pan with canola oil; grill chicken breast until cooked (about 10 minutes; nick it with a knife to make sure it's cooked all the way through). Allow to rest on a cutting board. In a small skillet, toast the almonds over medium-high heat, shaking the pan regularly so they don't burn. As soon as they turn golden and toasty, remove from heat.

2. Prepare all the vegetables. In individual salad bowls, arrange lettuce and top with other vegetables. Make it pretty.

3. Cut chicken breast into bite-sized chunks. Arrange artfully over the vegetables. Sprinkle almonds on top, and drizzle generously with dressing to taste. Voilà.

"Thai" Peanut Slaw
Serves 4

This is another "put a bunch of crunchy things in a bowl and mix with dressing" recipes. Good in a lunch box.

4 c shredded napa cabbage
1 c shredded red cabbage (optional)
3 scallions, sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned or shredded, depending on the tools at your disposal
5 radishes, thinly sliced
1 pint sugar snap peas, blanched and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 cucumber, seeded and julienned (but only if you're serving the slaw right away and don't plan on leftovers)
1/3 c sliced almonds, toasted, or the same amount of crushed, dry-roasted peanuts
1/3 c cilantro leaves, washed and dried
Thai-style nutty dressing

1. Put everything into a bowl. Add dressing—start with 1/3 c, and add more until it's got enough for your taste. (I like it fairly lightly dressed.)



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