I may have mentioned this before, but I’m completely addicted to Vietnamese food. Milder, but just as intensely flavoured as Thai, and nowhere near as cloying and sticky as Chinese, it is a perfect combination of flavours – freshness from lime, herbs and chillies, depth from slow-cooked stocks and sticky marinades, and texture from crisp leaves and toasted nuts.Luckily, I seem to have imprinted my obsession onto the boy, who now requests this salad approximately once a week. Apart from it being completely delicious, it’s a break from the Pret sandwiches and frozen pizzas that seem to be the standard fare of one studying for financial exams. Plus it’s an excuse for him to eat an unholy amount of Sriracha.
Although the ingredients list is quite extensive, it’s really not hard and is perfect if you’re in the mood to faff around in the kitchen, wine in hand and music playing. This generally suits me best on a Friday night, when the results can be eaten in front of the telly. Occasionally straight from the bowl.
The ingredients here are my favourites, but by no means law, so mess around as you see fit. One thing I would insist on though is that you use carrot and cucumber – without their pickled crunchiness the salad loses a large part of its charm, and do try and find unsalted peanuts – cashews just don’t have the same impact. If you want to bulk it out a little more you can add 300g straight-to-wok udon noodles, tossed in a hot frying pan for a couple of minutes with a little oil, but even without them, it’s surprisingly filling.
Oh, and make lots. Between two of us we can usually polish off enough for 4, but it’s almost completely fat-free, and gorging yourself on veg really isn’t a big deal. Any leftovers are great for lunch the next day too – just keep some herbs and nuts back to add a touch of freshness. I sound like a Lenor advert don’t I?
Vietnamese chicken salad with peanuts and ginger
So much greater than the sum of its parts
Prep time: 40 mins
- 3 medium carrots
- 1 large cucumber
- 1/2 white cabbage, shredded
- ½ red onion, very finely sliced
- 3 free-range chicken breasts
- 2 star anise
- chicken stock to cover
- 3 garlic cloves, bashed and peeled
- thumb size piece sliced ginger
- 2 little gem lettuces, shredded
- 100g unsalted peanuts, toasted
- large handful each coriander and mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
for the dressing
- 4tbsp each fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce and rice vinegar
- 11/2tbsp finely grated root ginger
- juice 2 limes, plus extra wedges to serve
1 Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together. Using a veg peeler, peel the carrots and cucumber, then drag it lengthways to make long ribbons of the flesh. Stop when you get to the lighter centre of the carrot, and the seeds of the cucumber. Toss these through with the white cabbage and red onion then pour over 2/3 of the dressing. Set aside – the dressing will gently pickle the veg.
2 Put the chicken breasts in a saute pan with the star anise, chicken stock, garlic cloves and ginger. Heat gently until the odd bubble is rising to the surface, cover and cook for around 20 minutes – don’t let it boil or you’ll dry out the chicken. Remove the chicken from the liquid, allow to cool slightly then shred. Keep the stock – it makes great noodle soup.
3 Toss the chicken through the veg with the little gem and most of the peanuts, herbs and chillies. Pour over the rest of the dressing, toss everything together, then scatter over the remaining nuts, herbs and chillies and serve with the extra lime wedges, and lashings of chilli sauce (optional…).