Food feature: Vietnam inspires a healthy post-holiday chicken salad (recipe)
Call it a resolution or just a last-minute attempt to button your pants, but come January, many of us strive to put the cookies behind us and make thoughtful food choices. But one sure-fire way to find yourself off track on a healthier eating plan is to fill your refrigerator with bland and boring foods after a month of decadent party snacks.
Fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats and proteins are important foundations for a well-balanced diet, but on their own, they’re not always a thrilling culinary experience. If you need some inspiration to take your healthy post-holiday dinners from fine to fabulous, look no further than our neighbors on the other side of the globe.
Vietnamese cuisine is regarded as one of the healthiest in the world, for its lean meats and proteins, fresh vegetables and limited use of dairy. Vinegars, spicy chilies, and fragrant and flavorful herbs are characteristic of familiar Vietnamese dishes, like the banh mi sandwich and cold rice noodle bowls. Layered together, they elevate minimal ingredients like boiled chicken and raw carrots to create exciting recipes that can help you out of that boring salad slump.
This recipe recommends serving the chicken salad with rice for dinner, but it’s also great used as a topper for salad greens, served with riced cauliflower, or scooped over toasted whole-grain bread. It is also the perfect make-ahead recipe, since its flavors will deepen in the refrigerator, and leftovers will make for a lunch you can really look forward to. Just be prepared for the longing looks from your co-workers with their boring salads.
You can use either poached or roasted chicken to make this salad. If you can’t find rau ram, substitute an equal quantity of additional cilantro and mint. Vietnamese sambal is a fiery hot chili paste. You can substitute a good hot sauce if it cannot be found.
HUE CHICKEN SALAD
(Start to finish: 20 minutes; makes 4 servings.)
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
1 1/2 pounds shredded cooked chicken meat
1/4 cup rau ram leaves, torn
1/4 cup mint leaves, torn
1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves and stems
1 Thai bird chili, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon Vietnamese sambal
2 teaspoons sugar, or as needed
Salt, as needed
Freshly ground black pepper, as needed
4 Boston lettuce leaves
2 cups steamed jasmine rice
1 red Fresno chili, sliced paper thin
1/2 cup crispy shallots (optional, see recipe below)
Combine the onion slices with enough cold water to cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Combine the chicken, rau ram, mint, cilantro, and Thai bird chili slices in a large bowl. Drain the onion slices and add them to the chicken. Add the lime juice, peanut oil, fish sauce, and sambal to the salad and toss gently until combined. Season to taste with sugar, salt, and pepper.
Arrange the Boston lettuce on chilled plates. Top with the salad and serve with steamed rice and the Fresno chili. Garnish with crispy shallots if desired.
Select a large, firm shallot with smooth skin. Use a sharp paring knife to trim away the ends and pull off the skin. Cut the shallot into thin slices and separate them into rings. Plan on about 1/2 cup of sliced shallots to make enough garnish for 4 servings. That works out to about 1 large shallot.
Pour an inch of oil (canola, peanut, or olive oils are all suitable) into a small, heavy-gauge saucepan. When it reaches 350 degrees F, add the shallots and fry, stirring them occasionally, until they have a rich, sweet aroma and a good brown color, usually about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to lift the fried shallots from the oil. Transfer them to a plate or bowl lined with paper towels. You can hold them at room temperature for up to one hour.
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