Monday, August 2, 2010

Vietnamese-inspired salad with cabbage and chicken

This is not a bread-baking blog. Or a desserts blog. Or even a food reading blog (though you may be forgiven for thinking so at times). Lately I have been thinking about the mission behind this blog and what I really want to share with you. My main desire to to make healthy, plant-based eating more tasty and desirable.

I realised that over the last few months I have been writing a lot about bread--it's been quite a kitchen experiment for me recently, since Ant and I decided that if we wanted to eat healthy bread in a shape we were used to, we would have to make it ourselves. In the sidebar, where the post labels are listed, I noticed that bread posts were now equal in number to salad posts--something I never thought would happen. Salad is the best meal on earth!

I love salad; it's just a name for a whole host of delicious ideas and can be interpreted in so many ways. At its most basic, a salad is a mixture of plants (and other ingredients, too, sometimes), combined to bring us eating pleasure. Lettuce is not essential, but some kind of crunch is nice. Not all the ingredients have to be raw, and a few warm ones makes a salad feel more like a meal. A dressing is a great way of adding texture and flavour.

The last few times I have been to the market and supermarket, I have tried to buy only produce grown in Hong Kong or China (avoiding tomatoes grown in Holland!). Thus I have had an influx of veggies that I wasn't sure how to combine. A trip to the Hong Kong library and an enjoyable afternoon browsing saw me bring home a couple of Asian cookbooks to adapt from.

This salad is based on a Vietnamese recipe I read about, but feel free to adapt it further to your veggies at hand. For example, I used napa cabbage, also called Chinese (white) cabbage, which I know you can probably buy at your nearest large supermarket, but you could also use another cabbage variety that is local to you. The cabbage provides the crunch in this salad. I didn't have a very big head of cabbage, so I added some choy sum as well. I have discovered that choy sum is the real name for the Chinese flowering broccoli that I wrote about previously with angel hair pasta. Choy sum was the most common vegetable on sale in my local market this week.

And the recipe called for shredded, poached chicken thighs, but I had a package of minced chicken on hand--so I poached that instead. Using minced pork would be quite Asian in flavour as well, but why not substitute any bite-sized meat you have on hand (if it's leftovers from another meal that would be quite easy). Or go vegetarian with cubed tofu, dense mushrooms, or some beans.

Finally, the true Vietnamese part of this is the dressing. It would be best made with limes and fish sauce, but lemons and soy sauce are a good option, too, and very tasty.

Vietnamese-inspired Cabbage and Chicken Salad
adapted from Green Mangoes and Lemon Grass: Southeast Asia's Best Recipes from Bangkok to Bali by Wendy Hutton
serves 2 as a main dish

for the salad:
200 g minced chicken
2 t salt, divided
1 large onion
400 g of a mixture of napa cabbage and choy sum (400 g is about one head of napa cabbage)
a handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves
a few thai basil leaves

for the dressing:
4 T lime or lemon juice
3 T fish sauce or soy sauce
2 T sugar
1 T rice vinegar
1/4 t crushed red pepper/chilli flakes
crushed black pepper to taste

Add the chicken and 1 t salt to a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and poach the chicken, about 5 minutes. Remove and drain the chicken and allow to cool while preparing the rest of the salad.
Slice the onion very thinly and place in a bowl. Sprinkle over 1 t salt and rub in well with your hands. Leave for 30 minutes, then rinse and drain well.
Finely chop or shred the cabbage and choy sum, coriander, and thai basil leaves. Place in a salad bowl.
Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
Add the chicken and rinsed onion to the salad bowl and pour over the dressing. Toss everything to combine.


Ann Ha said...

Yes, certainly quite close to Vietnamese chicken salad actually. The mix of greeen is interesting. I might try. Another popular Viet salad is the sliced pork with shrimp, vinegar lotus and carrot with peanut on top (in a nutshell).

Sarah said...

Hi Ann, great, I'm glad for some authentic confirmation. Your salad also sounds very tasty. What does lotus vinegar taste like? I will look for it at the shop. Do you think I will find it here in Hong Kong?

Healthy In Heels said...

I'm a "bread" girl myself, but these is something so refreshing about eating a filling salad. You end up with that nice satisfied but not stuffed feeling.

Also, I admire your ambition for eating healthy when it sounds like fresh produce is hard to come by locally (and I'm assuming quite expensive).

Sarah said...

Hi, Healthy in Heels, there's plenty of produce around but it is not all local by any means. I think my supermarket's managers think us ex-pats prefer to eat things we know that have been flown around the world than try new, local, foods. So I'm giving trying new things every time I go, and also eating a lot of carrots!

Unknown said...

Hi Sarah, really love the blog but am particularly inspired by the light-box idea! I've been moaning recently that my photo's aren't up to scratch, I have a great camera but I think if I make your light box I may be in with a chance...

Sarah said...

Hi Dom, Nice to meet you! I updated the light box post today because I've made "version 2" now and it has one significant improvement: an open bottom. Have a look at the post again to see a photo. I hope you try it because it only took a small amount of time to build and it's been so handy.

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