I‘d like to say I’m the kind of cook that never feels like ordering a takeaway. That fresh, nourishing (if indulgent) food is the name of the game in my kitchen. But that would be… an untruth.
Having had a surplus of tired evenings when my brain was wrung out and rewards were necessary, the takeaway drivers of South Glasgow were indeed summoned to my door bearing hot, naughty aluminium- and cardboard-encased dishes from far and near. And, let it be said, I have no regrets.
However, in the bright light of day, I’ve been craving something that sets the balance to rights. It’s all very well and good to yield to temptation on occasion (and doesn’t it just feel great?), but the body wants it wants. And mine wanted zing. That mouth-puckering freshness that comes from citrus. The cleansing crunch of fresh veggies. And chicken because, well, who doesn’t love chicken?
Having some leftover Zuni roast chicken and an overflowing citrus bowl that boasted a whole host of gleaming globes – including limes – my mind turned, as it is wont to do, to a past tried-and-true recipe. Originally hailing from Nigella Bites by the estimable Ms Lawson, the Vietnamese chicken salad seemed like just the thing. Especially since I had work to do and a reprieve of 10 minutes was to be mine while I made the dressing. The 30 minutes the dressing needed to let the flavours blend would give me just enough time to wrap up my tasks, at which point I’d return to the kitchen, hungrier, to slice carrots and rip apart the chicken. Hunger, indeed, makes little monsters of us all.
Which is to say that, with a little bit of prep, this is a quick recipe to knock together, even if you’re not fueled by mid-morning monster munchies. And you should feel free to play around with whatever raw veggies you have lying around. For example, some mange tout or sugar snaps would be great in this. As would ribbons of courgette. Or some julienned cucumber and chopped cherry tomatoes. I’ve even added some freshly podded peas for an extra burst of colour and crunch. Same goes for the herbs. Parsley and basil would be lovely as a substitute for mint, if that’s what you’ve got in the garden/window sill/fridge. Or coriander; after all, this salad loves its aromatics. Need to make this vegetarian? Try substituting pan-seared tofu for the chicken or adding some noodles to the dish. Want a final bit of crunch? Go nuts and sprinkle over a few crushed peanuts. Go on, make it yours. This recipe will generously serve two, with leftovers.
Lime and chicken rainbow salad
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s “Nigella Bites”
1 chilli, sliced/diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice (or to taste – I like it very tangy and add the juice of about one whole lime)
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium white onion (or 1 shallot), sliced into thin half moons
100g red cabbage
3-4 finely sliced radishes (or a small handful of your choice of crunchy veg)
1 carrot, peeled and julienned or grated (or sliced into ribbons with a veg peeler)
100-200g cooked and shredded chicken (up to you, this is a substantial salad even without the meat)
Small bunch of mint (basil and parsley, or coriander makes a nice variation)
With regards to the cabbage and chicken in this dish, I tend to eyeball it. There’s no need to obsessively measure lumps of cabbage. A 1/4 head of cabbage will be more than enough to serve two, as would the meat from one or two chicken drumsticks, for example.
Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, along with a hearty grinding of black pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes to let the flavours come together. (It’ll be fine if you leave it a bit longer than this, don’t worry).
Mix together the salad ingredients, pour over the dressing, and toss gently but thoroughly to make sure everything is coated.
Eat. Be happy.