I’m one of those people who doesn’t do a big weekly shop but rather picks up bits and pieces almost every day. I like it because I’m indecisive; I like to plan what I’m eating based on my mood that day, the weather outside, that sort of thing. Granted, sometimes I’ll get all ambitious and plan out a week’s worth of meals. but I change my mind. All the time. So for the most part I’m the person who can’t go from work to home without stopping along the way to pick up some tomatoes, or meat, or fresh fruit or greens.
But living like this has its downsides: I don’t always eat everything I buy. And then, because I haven’t had the foresight to think about what I’ll do with that other head of baby cos languishing in the fridge, or the other half of the cucumber I didn’t eat the night before, I forget about them. They sink to the bottom of the vegetable crisper in the fridge. And they stay there.
In light of the fact that my flightiness is responsible for some serious wastage of food (not to mention money) I’ve been challenging myself to use up what I’ve got and buy only what I really need. I know, I know, it’s common sense for most people, right?
Back to that poor forgotten head of baby cos. I had actually bought a couple right before going away for Christmas. Rather predictably, I didn’t end up using it before I went away. By the time I rediscovered it (several days into 2012) it looked like it was beyond saving, all wilted and limp on the outside. But I peeled back a few outer layers of leaves, and underneath? Crisp-as-new, vibrant-green baby cos leaves. Magic!
So there was one thing to use up. Among the others? One of about six or seven pieces of ginger I had hanging around (I honestly don’t know why I keep buying them, I mean really, is ginger-hoarding normal? No.), half a cucumber, some scraps of red onion, other assorted greens. Everything was pointing towards salad, perhaps something with gingery Asian flavours. I cheated a little bit and bought a couple of chicken thighs, but aside from that I was pretty proud of the fact that I was using up stuff that would’ve otherwise gone to waste.
For this salad I wanted something light yet substantial, with the sort of fresh, clean flavours you get in Asian food. This was perfect: light and crunchy greens, silky-soft steamed chicken. It’s perfect for a hot summer day but would work just as equally well for a winter lunch, served with a piping hot bowl of miso soup. And you could change up the green bit depending on what you have wilting in your vegetable crisper.
So. Next time you have a languishing head of lettuce in the fridge, take a look inside before throwing the whole thing out – you might be missing the best part. The inside bit, anyway – as the leaves get smaller and smaller until you reach the heart – is the best part, I reckon: all tender-sweet crunch, juicy and fresh and earnest, untainted by its tired exterior. Treat it kindly. Don’t let it go to waste.
GINGER & SESAME CHICKEN SALAD
(makes enough for 2 people as a side dish)
200g(ish) chicken breast or thigh
30g piece of ginger
1 or 2 spring onions
25g kaiware sprouts
50g baby cos (romaine) leaves, torn into small pieces
50g cucumber, sliced on the diagonal
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thinly
First, prepare the chicken: trim off any excess fat, then season on both sides with salt. Place on a plate or small bowl inside a steamer. Peel the ginger and cut off the green tops of the spring onions; add these to the chicken like this:
Steam, with the lid on, over a pot of boiling water until the chicken is cooked through (I used some smallish thighs and they cooked in about 20-25 minutes). Let cool, and shred by pulling the meat apart with your fingers (or a couple of forks if you prefer).
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the salad: slice up the cucumber and onion (I like to let the red onion soak in a bit of water so it doesn’t overpower the rest of the salad) and rinse the greens. Slice the bottom bits of the spring onions on the diagonal:
Place all the salad ingredients in a bowl and prepare the dressing.
for the dressing:
1 tbsp grated ginger (this will be approximately what’s left of the piece you peeled earlier)
1 clove crushed garlic
2 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp peanut oil
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp palm sugar
1 tbsp toasted, coarsely ground sesame seeds*
Mix the ingredients together so that the sugar dissolves completely. Taste and adjust amount of vinegar, sugar or soy sauce if needed.
Set aside a tablespoon or so of the dressing to pour over the chicken.
Once everything’s ready, toss the salad ingredients in the dressing. Top with the shredded chicken and pour the rest of the reserved dressing over the top.
*toast the sesame seeds in a hot, dry frying pan or skillet, then loosely crush in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.