I used to like watching Nigella Lawson on FoodTV until she did the show about producing meals fast by using all kinds of unappealing-looking shortcuts. Nonetheless, I still use a number of her cookbooks fairly frequently, and quite like how lyrical she is in her writing.
I first tried this recipe for Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad from Nigella Bites about 10 years ago, and it’s been a favourite for me ever since. I don’t make it all that often, but each time I do I’m enchanted by the colour and freshness of it, and the heady combination of fish sauce, lime juice and other tasty things in the dressing, complemented by the freshness of the mint. Talk about elevating the humble cabbage! This is a great way to use leftover chicken, but if you don’t have any, it’s easy to poach a couple of chicken breasts just for this salad.
This makes for a hearty salad, just perfect for lunch with the girlfriends, or in this most recent case, an easy Sunday dinner for me and the Culinary Enthusiast (who was quite appropriately enthusiastic in a culinary way). We each had a generously plateful, and the leftovers made a pretty satisfying lunch for me on Monday.
Definitely in my High Flavour, Low Fat repertoire. And isn’t it pretty on the plate?
Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad
From Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson
Serves 2 to 4
- 1 red chile pepper, seeded and minced (Nigella recommend a hot Thai chile, but I think that might be a bit much for me)
- 1 fat garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1-1/2 tsp rice vinegar
- 1-1/2 tbsp lime juice
- 1-1/2 tbsp Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (nuoc nam or nam pla)
- 1-1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
- half a medium onion, finely sliced
- black pepper
- 200 g white cabbage, shredded (I generally use a little more, about half a smallish cabbage)
- 1 medium carrot, shredded, julienned or grated
- 200 g cooked chicken breast, shredded or cut into fine strips (I use 2 breasts)
- fat bunch of mint, about 40g stemmed weight
Don’t you just love how Nigella describes food? Why use a large clove of garlic when you can go all out with a ‘fat’ one?
In a bowl, combine the chile, garlic, sugar, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, oil, onion and black pepper to taste. Put to one side for half an hour. The onion and garlic will soften and lose their sharpness in the dressing.
Mix the cabbage, carrot, chicken and mint in a large bowl or on a serving platter. Then (and these directions are pure Nigella) “pour over the onion-soused, chile-flecked dressing and toss very well – slowly and patiently – so that everything is combined and covered thinly.”
Check for seasonings and add salt and pepper if desired. Serve on a plate with more mint on top.
I didn’t chop my mint very finely this time. Really, it’s up to you! If you serve this salad to me, I’ll be happy to have it with whatever size of mint you like, and whether you choose to shred, julienne or grate the carrot (such a plethora of choices, but what’s the difference between shredding and grating a carrot anyway?)