The Reluctant Blogger


The salad you should be making soon (also, hi! I’m back!)
August 14, 2011, 11:35 am
Filed under: Dairy-free, Salad, Wheat-free

Well. I never intended to let more than two months pass between posts. It has been a busy couple of months (kind of a lame excuse – are there ever months that aren’t busy?!?), and I definitely let myself go down the self-pity road a little further than could possibly be healthy while on my [not really all that restricted] restricted diet – both factors that added up to days, then weeks, then months going by without writing anything here. But now I’m back, at least for today (though I have a few things I want to tell you about, so maybe I won’t stay away as long this time).

Although I’ve now reintroduced dairy and wheat to my diet on a somewhat limited basis, what I want to tell you about today actually fits the dairy and wheat free diet I continue to try to follow during the week. This salad is one I’ve already made a few times, and will be making many more times, restricted diet or no.

The backstory: I’ve been wanting to go to Noodle Boat in Issaquah ever since I first heard about it a few years ago, but Issaquah isn’t exactly on the way to anywhere I go, and it’s pretty hard for me to justify driving two and a half hours one way to get to dinner when I already spend an inordinate amount of time getting to and from work. However, after finally making it out to Issaquah a month ago, I’m pretty sure I’ll be finding a way to justify that drive once in a while. Or making desperate “please bring me takeout” calls to my sister, who only lives about 30 minutes away from Noodle Boat, lucky girl.

I finally made it to Noodle Boat in early July when my sister and I decided to take a weekend road trip to Montana to visit our parents. Since we wanted to start out really early on Friday morning, I stayed over at her house after work on Thursday, and suggested we go to Noodle Boat for dinner. My grasp of the Eastside is pretty limited – it all seems like it’s in the same general area if it’s east of the water  – so Woodinville seemed close enough to Issaquah. It’s not quite as close as I’d thought, but fortunately we made it there about 30 minutes before closing. They were busy and it was going to be at least 20 minutes before a table was available, so we had to order before we were even seated. But at least they let us in. Everything we ordered was good – actually, better than good, and I was quite happy to have leftovers for road trip snacking – but what really stuck with me was the Queen of Banana, a dish of poached chicken, banana blossoms, and more. I could not stop thinking about it, and knew I was going to have to figure out something with the same kinds of flavors or I’d be spending a lot of time in my car.

Banana blossoms aren’t something I can get on any kind of regular basis (though Uwajimaya often stocks them), and I wanted this to be something I could make whenever the mood struck, since I knew it would strike often. Since the banana blossoms seem to add more of a textural element than a real contribution in the flavor department, I decided to just create a salad I could make with things I always have on hand* but that would still hit all of the right flavors. The salad I came up with is, if I do say so myself, incredible. It’s not the Noodle Boat salad, but it’s something I can make at home, anytime I want. Served with some sticky rice, it even passes muster with my husband, whose claims of not being all that fond of SE Asian food are starting to fall apart. I’d even make this for dinner guests. In fact, if you’re coming to my house for dinner in the near future, don’t be surprised if this is what I serve you!

Think of this recipe as a guideline (which, incidentally, is how I approach almost all recipes), and substitute or add ingredients as you see fit. What follows is how I’ve made it and liked it best, but you may find you like different lettuce (or some cabbage, perhaps?), prefer to omit the peanuts or coconut flakes, or maybe you’re just not quite the fish sauce fiend I am.

*I keep my pantry (and freezer) stocked with a lot of Asian ingredients, so I almost always have everything required for this on hand. I always have a bag of kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and birds eye chiles in the freezer, and there’s a section of my refrigerator dedicated to things like fish sauce and tamarind concentrate. You may not keep the same kinds of things on hand, but this is definitely worth a trip to the nearest Asian market, and once you have all of the ingredients for this, you also have almost all of the ingredients for making pad Thai at home, which you should definitely consider. If you don’t have access to a good Asian grocery store, importfood.com carries just about everything required for this recipe (and most SE Asian recipes).

Noodle Boat style poached chicken salad with sticky rice
Two large servings (or two regular servings and leftovers for lunch the next day)

For the rice:
2 cups Thai glutinous rice

Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then place the rice in a bowl and cover with water. Soak for at least two hours and up to 12 hours, then drain. I generally steer clear of single-use kitchen items, so haven’t gotten an actual sticky rice steamer, but I’ve found that my Le Creuset dutch oven, a folding vegetable steamer (mine has three inch and a half legs and no center post), and some cheesecloth or a paper towel make a fine substitute. To use this method, put an inch or so of water in the pan, then put the steamer in the pan. Place a cheesecloth or paper towel in the steamer and then dump the drained rice on top. Spread it out in an even layer, put the lid on, and turn the burner on medium. Once the water comes to a boil, it only takes about ten minutes for the rice to steam. When it’s cooked, turn the burner off and remove the lid of the pan so the rice doesn’t get mushy. I’d suggest not cooking the rice until just before you’re ready to eat, but since it requires the most planning ahead, I thought I should list it first.

For the salad:
Four large handfuls chopped red leaf lettuce (do you have a salad spinner? This is one single-use item I use all the time.)
One chicken breast
One bunch cilantro, leaves roughly chopped and stems reserved
Four or five stems of mint, leaves thinly sliced and stems reserved
Two stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced (remove outer layer, tough tops, and bottom part and reserve)
Six kaffir lime leaves, very thinly sliced and any stems reserved
One large red shallot, thinly sliced
Two to three birds eye chiles, thinly sliced

For the garnish:
1/8 cup peanuts, toasted
1/8 cup flake coconut, toasted (shredded coconut is not a good substitute. I’d probably skip the coconut if flake isn’t available.)

For the dressing:
1/4 c unsweetened coconut milk (I like Chaokoh brand best and usually use the rest of the can to make a version of Tom Kha Gai)
2 Tbsp tamarind concentrate
juice of one lime
2 Tbsp fish sauce
3 loosely packed Tbsp grated palm sugar (brown sugar is an okay, but not perfect, substitute. If using brown sugar, start with less and add more to taste.)

Poach the chicken breast with all of the reserved stems. For a fresh, boneless chicken breast of average size, use a small pot with a tight fitting lid. Cover the chicken breast with water by half an inch or so, bring to a boil, cover with the lid, then remove from heat and let rest for 15 minutes off the heat. After 15 minutes, check to make sure the chicken breast has cooked through (if it hasn’t, put it back in the water with the lid on for another 5-10 minutes), then slice very thinly and allow to cool.

While the chicken breast is poaching, toast the peanuts and coconut flakes in a small baking dish at 350F, or in a skillet over medium heat. Watch them carefully, as the coconut will toast pretty quickly and can burn. When they’re toasted to your liking, set them aside.

Mix the dressing in the bottom of a large bowl, stirring well to dissolve the sugar (and, of course, tasting as you go and adjusting to your liking). Put the shallots, chiles, lemongrass, and lime leaves in the dressing and set aside until the chicken is done. Once you’ve sliced the chicken, add it to the dressing as well to allow it to soak up the flavor. This is usually the point at which I turn on the rice, which gives me ten minutes to set the table, pour something to drink, and put the dishes in the dishwasher.

When the rice is cooked, toss the lettuce and herbs with the chicken mixture, garnish with the peanuts and coconut flakes, and serve alongside the rice.

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