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The popular dish Americans label with the name “Chinese Chicken Salad” has absolutely no ties to China and does not resemble the food found anywhere in the Far East. Because most Chinese Chicken salad dressing recipes include “traditional” Chinese ingredients (i.e. soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and sesame seeds), I suppose I understand my countrymen’s insistence on the name. But when it comes to incorporating ingredients like ramen noodles or fried won ton wrappers (no thank you) or mandarin oranges (double no thank you) – I draw the line.
Regardless of my reservations about the title of this dish, I must admit that this salad is a “go to” item to have on hand for the summer – especially for large groups or visitors who tend to arrive without much notice. I have the greens, the peppers and such in one bag, the nuts and sesame seeds and herbs and chicken ready to go, the dressing pre made. And voila! It takes me exactly one minute to either pack a lunch or to serve this to anyone who drops by. Everything stays fresh as can be for five days or even longer, and those who have had this salad at my home rave about the unusual flavors.
It is pretty much a no brainer – not really “cooking” per se but toasting nuts and seeds, and preparing everything else in advance…chopping – lots of chopping. Whenever I roast or make rotisserie chicken on the BBQ, I do an extra bird so I can save it to shred for lunches. If I am feeling very lazy or haven’t planned ahead, a store bought rotisserie chicken works too. Just remove the skin and take the meat off the bones. The carcass can always be used for stock that same week or frozen for items like risotto.
Note: Really anything fresh and seasonal could be added to this mix. The other night I added sliced fresh radishes, leftover roasted green beans, farmers market English cucumber batons, and some tiny cherry tomatoes from my rooftop garden. I put the salad ingredients in a 6-cup sealed container, poured some dressing in a repurposed bottle, stuck in a plastic fork and a few napkins and when noon rolled around I merely poured the dressing on top, sealed the container and shook the whole thing. Such a lunch!!
Consummate Chinese Chicken Salad
Makes 10-12 large servings
Ingredients for the dressing:
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup seasoned rice vinegar
- ½ cup tamari
- 2 tsp. black pepper
- 4 tsp. dry mustard
- 1 ½ tsp. fresh ginger-peeled and grated on a microplane grater
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- ½ cup canola oil
Heat sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved, then add the rest of the ingredients and keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The salad has a kick to it from the mustard, pepper and ginger, so back off on these ingredients if you like milder flavors.
Ingredients for the salad:
- 1 large head or two regular size heads of Napa cabbage, sliced 1/8 inch
- 1 large head romaine, sliced the same as the cabbage
- 3 julienned carrots, 1 ½ inch, done on a hand held peeler like you use for green papaya
- 2 red peppers, cut into matchstick pieces 1 ½ inch by 1/8 inch
- 1 yellow pepper, cut like the red one
- 2 cups edamame beans, cooked (I buy them frozen and already shelled – just defrost them)
- 4 cups snow peas, trimmed and cut into ½ inch pieces
- 2 lb. shredded cooked chicken
- ¾ cup chopped cilantro
- ¾ cup mint leaves, chopped
- 1 cup toasted sesame seeds
- 1 cup toasted slivered almonds (I bake them at 350 for 3 minutes in the toaster)
- Optional: sunflower or bean sprouts, sliced radishes, halved grape tomatoes or anything else you like
I keep all of this separate from the dressing with the lettuce/cabbage mixture in a huge bag, and another container with veggies etc. That way at the last minute you can make one or two servings of salad. OR you can make a huge bowl of this for company.
You can easily make half of this recipe if you wish.