I always say I won’t talk about the weather on this blog but it’s hard to avoid when you live in California. We’ve had such an extended dry season that, finally, the arrival of some rain has the entire state breathing a sigh of relief.
Unless you’re my husband. The discussions have gone something like this:
Me (commenting on recent rainfall): Isn’t it nice that it’s finally raining?
Him: This is not rain. (Yes, it’s rain.) This is barely a drizzle. We need it to rain so hard that water is rushing in the creeks and there are puddles everywhere. We need it to rain like this for four straight days and nights.
Okay, Noah. Why not 40 days while we’re telling Mother Nature what to do.
Finally, after a serious downpour which started during the night and continues this morning my husband greeted me with, “This is the kind of rain I was talking about.”
And I have to admit he’s right. If this keeps up we might enjoy verdant fields around here for a while.
With the sometimes brisk temperatures and recent downpour I’ve been craving soups and heartier meals but I can’t seem to shake the salad fever just yet. Salads usually scream warm weather but with the right accompaniments to the greens they can be a substantial, satisfying cold-weather meal, too.
If you’ve recovered from the Thanksgiving binge, here’s one worth trying. The chicken is the star here. One of my favorite preparations for chicken is the thinly-pounded, marinated and grilled version that is a staple in Vietnamese restaurants. I love to douse the tender, caramelized meat in nuoc mam cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce).
My homemade take on this restaurant favorite is loaded with the bright flavors of lemongrass, shallots, garlic and lime. After marinating for four hours, the chicken breasts are grilled on the stovetop. The chicken adds a lot of substance to a simple salad and the traditional dipping sauce served as a salad dressing makes this an exotically, fresh, tasty meal. But feel free to toss in rice noodles to make it even more substantial (or skip the salad altogether and serve it with potatoes or rice. The chicken is so moist and flavorful that it really will pair well with a lot of other foods). This dish could be a year-round staple from now on–rainy season included.
Note: I served these with pickled daikon radishes and carrots for a little extra zing but they are not absolutely necessary here.
- ***For the chicken and marinade***
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (each half split in two and pounded thinly so you get four pieces of chicken breast)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh lemongrass (green part only)
- 1 small minced shallot
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- chili flakes, to taste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon regular salt)
- Juice and zest of one lime
- ***For the Salad***
- Enough mixed greens for two people
- ⅓ red onion, sliced thinly
- Pickled daikon and radish
- ***For the pickled Daikon and Radish (See Note)***
- ½ pound EACH daikon radish and carrots, peeled and julienned into thin strips
- 1½ - 2 cups water, just warm enough to dissolve the salt and sugar
- 3 - 5 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 6 - 8 tablespoons rice vinegar
- ***For the Dressing (Nuoc Mam Cham, Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)***
- ½ cup water
- 2½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce (preferably Vietnamese fish sauce; I use the Red Boat brand)
- Marinate the chicken: Slice each chicken breast half in two (you should have four pieces) and pound each piece until thinner. In a dish that is large enough to accommodate the chicken pieces, combine the marinade ingredients from the lemongrass to the lime. Lay the chicken pieces in the dish in a single layer (or use a gallon-sized storage bag), spooning some of the marinade to coat the tops of the chicken. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least four hours, turning over the chicken halfway to marinate evenly.
- Prepare the pickled vegetables: In bowl large enough to accommodate the water and the vegetables (a large jar would be better), combine the smaller amounts noted for the sugar and rice vinegar and also add the salt. Taste to see if the salt/tart/sweet balance suits you. Add the additional amounts of sugar and vinegar to suit your taste. Then add the water. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar then add the daikon radish and carrots. Cover in plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for a few hours.
- Prepare the Dressing: Dissolve the sugar in the water; add the lime juice; add the minced garlic then add the fish sauce, to taste. Everyone likes a different balance of salty/sweet here and this is the combination that I like, not to sweet and not too salty.
- Grill the chicken: I used a stovetop cast iron grill pan. Preheat the pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is ready, lay the chicken pieces on the hot pan (Let most of the marinade liquid drain off) and grill on each side for 3-4 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken pieces. Don't be tempted to move them around to prevent sticking. Let sit for a minute or two before slicking the chicken.
- Assembly: Arrange mixed greens on plates, top with chicken and red onions and pickled daikon and carrots. Drizzle with the dressing and serve.