Tuesday, March 22, 2016

RECIPE: Vietnamese Chicken, Grapefruit, and Cabbage Salad

Vietnamese may be my favorite of all the various and wonderful Asian cuisines of the world. And though it breaks my heart that I've still not made it to Vietnam, to actually taste the cuisine in its country of origin, I swear that I will, one day soon, make it to that southeast Asian "motherland" of fine food and gorgeous landscape. Until then, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant for culinary escapism happens to be just a few miles down the road from my parents' home in Boca Raton, Florida at La Tre (yes, this restaurant really is THAT good), and I have the owner's brother's out-of-print cookbook, from when his brother ran a sister restaurant in Connecticut. For some dishes, like this one, I no longer need the recipe -- that's how often I make this amazingly delicious and simple salad. But I'll provide my version of it now, for my readers.

This is a salad that's equally delicious in winter as it is in the summer. It's always refreshing, but it's also reminiscent of the Sicilian fennel-blood orange-olive salad that I'm so fond of in winter months.
This is when the citrus in the U.S. is at its peak, so enjoying this salad between Thanksgiving and Easter will get you that wonderful Florida grapefruit -- or even pomelo, which was probably the original fruit used in this dish -- at its sweetest and juiciest. Called goi-ga in Vietnamese, this salad is easily prepared and tossed in a flavor-rich, balanced, umami-packed dressing. It feels indulgent, but really, it's an incredibly healthy, light meal, or precursor to one. 

(Serves 6-8)

3 large poached and chilled chicken breasts, shredded
1 large carrot, grated into thin strips or julienned (optional)
1/2 head of green or napa cabbage, finely shredded
1/4 small head red cabbage (if desired), finely shredded
1/2 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
2 large pink grapefruits or pomelos, peeled and sectioned
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
2 TBS. chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup toasted chopped peanuts

Simple marinade:
2 TBS. white vinegar
3 TBS. sugar
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water 

Nuoc Cham Dressing:
Mix all ingredients, heat to a simmer, then remove from heat, and chill in fridge for an hour.
1 small red chile, minced (or 1.5 teaspoons dried chile flakes)
1 TBS. white vinegar
1/2 cup Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam) 
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup light brown sugar 

- Prepare both the marinade and the dressing and set aside.

- In a large bowl, combine the cabbages, carrot, and onion. Dress with marinade, and set aside to soften for 10 minutes.  

- Drain off most of the marinade and add the Nuoc Cham dressing. 

- Add the shredded chicken and grapefruit sections, and toss to coat.

- Place the salad on a platter or large flat bowl, add the fresh herbs and peanuts, and serve.  

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