Tag Archives: salads

A rather wonderful salad

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.

With my Hipstamatic

 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?

...And looking slightly more refined.

Vietnamese chicken salad with peanuts and ginger

So much greater than the sum of its parts

Serves 4

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…).

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Filed under Recipes, Savoury

The Art of Dressing (salads, that is)

My flatmate doesn’t get salad dressings. Great cook though he is, he just can’t be bothered with them. He’ll julienne peppers to within a (quarter) inch of their lives, but when it comes to dressing them, he looks a little helplessly towards the storecupboard until I invariably take over.

I’m pretty sure this inability stems not from a lack of talent, but from a lack of interest. After all, whisking up a salad dressing isn’t exactly the most glamorous of tasks in the kitchen. There’s no flambéing or elaborate pastry-work needed. But I still don’t understand the reticence. For me, salad dressings are probably the most important component of a salad – a collection of simple, unassuming ingredients that can transform even the most depressing lettuce leaf into something memorable and delicious.

A mustard sharp vinaigrette on a little gem lettuce, a salted lemon and dill infusion with cucumber, the honeyed sweetness of balsamic and wholegrain on a ripe tomato – if food’s success is reliant on its balance of flavour, then these combinations are right up there. And the beauty of a well-made dressing is that it also balances the rest of the meal. A slow-cooked pork belly, melting and rich might leave you feeling over-indulged, but add a sharp, bitter salad to it and suddenly the flavours come together.

Like everything with cooking, there are some rules you have to adhere to, in order to achieve success. The first holds true for everything – always season it! I am never without Maldon, but any good sea salt will do, and just a small pinch will lift your dressing hugely.

The basic ratio I use for vinaigrettes (ie, vinegar, mustard and oil) is equal quantities of vinegar and mustard, and about 2-3 times as much oil, then sugar or honey to taste. Always mix the vinegar and mustard together well with the sweetener before slowly whisking in the oil – this will give you that gorgeously thick emulsion you’re aiming for.

And the wonderful things about salad dressings is that you can pretty much make them out of anything. Some of my favourites include:

  • A classic French vinaigrette, made with Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, sugar and oil (not extra virgin). Add finely chopped shallots to this and you’re pretty near perfection.
  • Natural yogurt mixed with a couple of tsps of harissa, chopped mint and lemon. Works brilliantly with salads to go with middle Eastern dishes
  • A Vietnamese dressing with fish sauce, fresh lime and rice vinegar. The quantities are pretty specific, so click here.
  • Balsamic, wholegrain mustard, honey and extra virgin olive oil. This is my go to for all Italian dishes, and is an absolute winner with basil.

So tonight, don’t reach for that sacrilegious bottle of ready-made stuff in the back of your fridge, get your oils and vinegars out and whip up a saucy frenzy. It may not be Blumenthal, but that doesn’t mean it’s not brilliant.

Click here for more salad ideas.

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Filed under Musings, Recipes, Savoury, Uncategorized