Thursday, February 17, 2011

Something light. And healthy. Crunchy Lime and Chilli Chicken Salad

Kitchen Helper, who I love*, has a well-honed and perversely indiscriminate palate. That is, an appreciation, certainly, of extremely tasty and fancy food, but also a willingness to eat just about anything. This makes experimentation, travel to weird and exotic places and my very occasional lack of effort** pretty much risk free, culinary speaking. On the other hand, Kitchen Helper is a rubbish muse. Primary contribution to meal planning? “Something light. And healthy”. Every. Single. Time.

We eat a lot of salad.

In between summer storms the weather is muggy. Of course, talking about the weather is so passé, so ordinary, so boring (a little like my muse's efforts). And yet with flash-floods and cyclones and violent and damaging storms it is impossible not to be hyperaware of the moisture in the air, the colour of the sky, the direction of the wind, flashes of lightening.

And Kitchen Helper is moping because of the weather, like a chocolate Labrador melting in the sun. It is, apparently, too hot today.

On days like this there is no need to consult (okay, on no days ever is it ever necessary to consult, given the uniformity of response). Because a salad is perfect.

But not just any salad. Oh sure, I love a good Caesar salad or salade Lyonnais or Greek salad, salty with olives and fetta. But tropical conditions call for tropical salads, sour and salty and spicy and so very, very fresh with ginger and lime zest. Bright and colourful and refreshing, just about any crisp vegetables (or fruit) that can be eaten raw can be shredded and tossed in. Snow peas. Green papaya or mango. Carrots. Celery. Just get the dressing perfectly balanced and go to town. The resulting pile is crisp and tangy and hot and pungent with stinky fish sauce and so absolutely right in 90% humidity. And light. And healthy.

* Deeply, passionately, always
** Yes, there are days when I really cannot be bothered. On those days we eat paella. I have no idea how paella became the standby dish of appathetic cookery, but it works out well, because routine as it is for me to cook now, it always tastes amazing.

Vietnamese(ish) chicken salad

Serves four

1 whole chicken, butterflied (with a sharp knife, cut chicken along backbone and open out flat)
Olive oil
Sea salt

2 medium Lebanese cucumbers, seeds removed and cut into julienne (or your nearest approximation)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into julienne
1 medium red capsicum, cut into julienne
1 small to medium kohlrabi, peeled and cut into julienne
200 gm bean shoots (about two handfuls)
5 long spring onions, cut into 7cm lengths and then strips
¼ cup unsalted roasted peanuts

3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp fish sauce
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar, if you must)
1 ½ tbsp castor sugar
2 bulbs garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, crushed
1 hot red chilli, finely sliced
2 tbsp sesame oil

Preheat oven to 200ºc. Rub chicken with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Place into the oven on a tray, cook for 30-40 minutes (until juices run clear from a knife inserted into the thigh bone joint). Remove from oven and rest for 20 minutes (or do the day before, and have cold instead of just warm). If you like, you can glaze the chicken in equal parts honey and soy sauce before cooking.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the carcase and shred with your fingers into smallish strips. Remove the skin if you prefer (this makes it even lighter and healthier).

To make the dressing, whisk together all ingredients. Taste. Does it have a good flavour balance? Adjust – if too salty, add a little extra oil and vinegar, if too sweet, more vinegar and lime. Too oily? More fish sauce (go easy though). Way too spicy? A bit more sugar. The longer you leave the dressing to sit, the more the flavours will infuse and develop.

Toss chicken and all salad ingredients except peanuts through the dressing until coated.

To serve, pile portions onto a plate and scatter with roasted peanuts.

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