I used to mock the quick kitchen section in my Gourmet magazine. Calling for pre-chopped and frozen onions? A serious and disturbing sign of "things to come." The decline and fall of a culture that values food. A dangerous lack of appreciation for the mundane and beautiful--the way slivers of onion fall from the knife, the faint scent of allium on the fingers...
Sometimes that judgmental bitch I was really irks me. She actually had time to read, let alone cook. Now that I have about 15 minutes at 5:30 pm to prep dinner while the baby is in the high chair, pre-chopped and frozen onions sound pretty nice.
But I still like chopping, and I know there is something to be said for freshness when there's time. So I make this salad, loosely based on this recipe, in the spring when days get hot. It may be Vietnamese-ish, but I'm clearly not going for ethnic authenticity here.
Vietnamese Sticky Chicken Salad with Rice Noodles
(Serves 2 for dinner with lunch leftovers for parents and spice-loving baby)
Cut 2 medium carrots and an equal amount daikon radish into thin, long matchsticks using a Japanese Benriner or your good old-fashioned knife skills. Toss with a good amount of seasoned rice vinegar and put in fridge until dinnertime.
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 teaspoons Sriracha
Mix in a bowl and add about 1 1/2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick. Toss and marinate until you are ready to cook.
1 package rice noodles
lettuce or salad mix
basil, mint, and/or cilantro leaves
additional rice vinegar and Sriracha
Put the noodles in some cool water and let sit until dinnertime, or until pliable but not soft. Prep other salad stuff and set aside.
Then, at go-time:
1. Heat a splash of oil in a wok. Scoop up chicken and add to wok, leaving marinade in bowl. Stir fry until chicken starts to turn golden in spots. Add marinade and bring to a boil.
2. Drain noodles and add to wok. Stir fry until noodles are soft, adding a splash of water if the mixture gets dry and sticks.
3. Put a pile of salad mix in each bowl. Top with a portion of chicken and noodles--wilting is OK. Garnish with generous amount of daikon/carrot pickle and herbs. Squeeze lime juice over the top and add additional rice vinegar and Sriracha if you like.
Time-saving prep hints:
--I don't have a Benriner and do the cutting by hand--it doesn't take that long if you cut your veggies crosswise into about 2-inch chunks, cut each chunk longways into flat strips, and stack these up to cut longways again.
--I get my chicken breasts frozen from Trader Joe's, set 2-3 still-frozen breasts on the cutting board while I get the baby settled and prep the rest of the meal, and then slice while still frozen but a little soft. It makes it easy to get thin slices without the chicken sliding and smooshing under your knife. I throw the rigid slices in the marinade and let them sit and defrost until dinnertime.
--After dinner, prep more salads in Tupperware and throw in fridge for the next day's work lunch. It keeps fine overnight.